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Book Report: The Crime at Black Dudley

Your Humble Blogger went through a longish period of reading British Crime Novels. It’s a pretty common thing, not altogether unconnected with the rest of the Anglophilia. Masterpiece Theater, Monty Python, Miss Marple. I read the Agathie Christie novels and short stories, the Dorothy Sayers ones, and the Carter Dickson ones. I even read some of the Leslie Charteris ones. I somehow did not read the Margery Allingham ones at the time, most likely because my mother didn’t own any at the time I was going through her shelves of mystery paperbacks.

Albert Campion is presumably the least known of that group of fictional detectives. Certainly, if the category Fictional Detectives came up in Word-O-Rama, and you had a nice word like WHACK, you would come up with Wimsey pretty quickly, and Holmes, and for an A there’s, um, the Avenger? Lew Archer, that’s it. And for K, there’s, you know, there’s got to be somebody named King or Kingsley or Knight or something. OK, I’ll leave the K blank, the way I always do. But in the C square, I’ll probably put Nick (and Nora) Charles or Lt. Colombo or Steve Carella, or make a case for the Continental Op, or try to make a case for Raymond Chandler (because there are novels where a fictional version of Mr. Chandler acts as the detective), and maybe dredge up Mike Church (as played by the Lipless One in Dead Again) all before I remember about Albert Campion.

So, having gone back and read a couple of Ms. Allingham’s novellas and one of the Campion novels, and seeing a bunch of the Campion books on the shelf at the library, I picked up The Crime at Black Dudley, the first book in which Albert Campion appears. He is in a minor role, albeit a featured one. It’s a fine book, even if it makes very little sense. It doesn’t have the backwards problem I’ve talked about before. It has the other major problem of detective fiction, the one where two or three different complicated plans happen to overlap in a way that makes the murder difficult to figure. If the writer handles it very well, the plans come together not by coincidence but the inevitable result of a short window of opportunity. Usually, though, it just happens that the old scoundrel betrays his associates on the same night that the young zealot decides to murder him, and the Missing Papers happen to wind up in the hands of the one person who won’t recognize them, but who happens to be in the country house with an agenda of his own.

And perhaps it’s a character flaw of YHB, but that sort of thing doesn’t bother me much at all. I mean, I notice it, but coincidence is entertaining to me in a way that the plot that only works backwards is not.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


One of the great truths (and there are lots, because all things are true) is that Coincidence Happens. Stuff that only works backwards also happens (because all things blah blah), but that's not one of the great truths (unless it is, in which case, I'm mistaken).

(But I don't think I am.)

At any rate, it's not one of the great plots.


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