Although they’re both detective mysteries, and the years of their production overlap, you wouldn’t want to wade in the gulf that separates the Albert Campion series by Margery Allingham and the Maigret series by Georges Simenon. That gulf gets dramatically deeper and much murkier on its French side.
But there’s some shallow, water-splashing fun to be had in the British shore. When Allingham created Albert Campion (a seemingly vapid Wodehouse escapee), she meant him only as comedy relief (and a red herring) in “The Crime of Black Dudley.” Popularity forced Campion to the foreground of 19 novels, which saw him evolving beyond the initial parody of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. Many of the novels were adapted for the British series from the late ’80s-early ’90s… You know, with Peter “5th Doctor Who” Davison! And with a jaunty theme song!.
“The Crime of Black Dudley” actually stars a certain George Abbershaw, a serious bore of a non-character. He’s invited to the titular dark castle where, after some Gothic nonsense, the guests become prisoners of a silly German villain who’s made to resemble one of those ever popular Beethoven busts, like the one Schroeder used to worship in Charles Schulz’ “Peanuts.” Here is where Albert Campion distinguishes himself, his inane patter masking a mercenaries’ efficiency. The novel loses steam at the two-thirds point, when the guests escape the castle, the villain is eliminated, and Campion exits the picture… but the novel persists on continuing, mistakenly assuming the reader cares.
Allingham can’t deliver one of those those intricate, satisfactory Agatha Christie puzzles, (few can), but “Black Dudley” is a charming enough whodunit, even if it’s done in by the obvious flaw: Campion is much more fun than the dull lead.
Call it “The Case of the Wrong Protagonist.”
RATING : COOL!