The Crime at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham

“The view from the narrow window was dreary and inexpressibly lonely.”

Invited to spend the weekend at Black Dudley, an imposing and isolated manor house, a group of people are left wondering if one of the party is a murderer after a party game goes horrifically wrong in the dark. Their notions of law and order are further challenged when they find themselves held captive in the house, caught up in a dangerous power struggle between rival criminal gangs. And through it all, everyone is left to wonder: who is the mysterious Albert Campion?

I suppose I should review the book rather than the format, but this was the first time I’ve listened to a complete audio book, which does rather colour my experience. At first it was very odd, and I did wonder if the narrator ‘doing the voices’ was going to put me off. Plus, it was a very slow way for me to get through a book, given my usual reading speed.

However, once I forced myself to settle a bit, I loved it! Probably elements of remembering being read to as a child, there was something extremely relaxing about putting on a chapter or two before bed and focusing complete attention on the words – no letting your mind wander, if you want to follow the story!

So, that story. I think it was well-suited to the audio format, the whole thing gaining some weight purely from the length of time it took to listen to, while actually being a relatively slight volume. I learned how visual my recall is, struggling a little with the cast of characters at times, despite the different attempted voices. The accents, though, did add to the mood of the piece.

I was surprised when the story changed quite dramatically several chapters from the end, against my expectations. It was also unexpected how little Campion himself is in the story: a key character, but not the lead role. A little reading up shows that Allingham probably intended for pathologist, Dr Abbershaw, to star in an ongoing series, before response to the book suggested the foppish, not-what-he-seems character of Campion to be the more intriguing.

Overall, the story is more rounded and self-assured than Allingham’s first, The White Cottage Mystery, and like that book I loved the less-than-grim mystery and period setting. Slightly flat characters and the pacing of the story structure mean I can’t give it a very high rating, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the break from my more usual kind of reading.

Audiobook: ~208 pages / 7 hours 33 listening time / 29 chapters
First published: 1929
Series: Campion book 1
Read from 9th-28th June 2016

My rating: 6/10 for the quaint mystery, higher for the audio book experience

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