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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Crime at Black Dudley

****½ The Crime at Black Dudley by Marjorie Allingham. Mystery.

I bought this first Albert Campion mystery after being wowed by
Mystery Mile (#23).

Sadly, Albert isn't the main character in this story, though it's his first appearance, so I'm glad I read it.

The Crime at Black Dudley is an English country house mystery. There's an odd assortment of guests at Black Dudley, and during the evening, they decide to reenact an old ritual game involving an odd family heirloom--a sinister dagger. The lights get extinguished, the servants are all banished, and the idea is to wander around the mansion in the dark while the dagger passes from hand to hand.

Well, it's pretty evident what's going to happen in a case like this: somebody will be stabbed to death. It turns out to be the host's uncle, a wheelchair-bound invalid who wore a mask to cover severe scarring.

Except that the guests are initially told that he's just been taken ill, until one, a young new doctor, is asked to falsify a death certificate citing natural causes. He refuses, but the hero of the story, Dr. George Abbershaw goes along with it until the authorities can be notified.

Unfortunately for everyone, the murder only complicated things. Albert Campion was at the house party to retrieve a set of secret plans from the uncle, but Dr. Abbershaw found them and burned them, prompting one of the guests, who turns out to be a criminal mastermind, to hold the entire party hostage until the plans are returned to him.

There are wonderful twists and turns and even a sweet romance. Secret passages, spies, uneasy alliances, entertaining and eccentric characters, a decrepit-looking old car hiding a Rolls Royce engine under the hood... er, bonnet... Just a nice, complex yet light mystery with a surprise ending.

I wasn't nearly as impressed with Campion in this book, but then again, he wasn't the star. I'm sure he'll acquit himself admirably in the next one. It's on my to-be-bought list.


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