After her pedestrian story of police investigation, The White Cottage Mystery, which she later removed from her list of works, Margery Allingham hit on a character who would dominate her novels and the imaginations of her readers for half a century. He was Albert Campion, the pale, scholarly, seemingly ineffectual aristocrat whom she introduced in The Crime at Black Dudley. As Allingham herself commented, the changes in Campion’s character that were evident over the years reflected changes in the author herself, as she matured and as she was molded by the dramatic events of the times through which she lived.
When Allingham began to write her novels in the 1920’s, like many of her generation she had become disillusioned. Unable to perceive meaning in life, she decided to produce a kind of novel that did not demand underlying commitment from the writer or deep thought from the reader, a mystery story dedicated to amusement, written about a witty, bright group of upper-class people who passed their time with wordplay and pranks—and occasionally with murder. In Allingham’s first novels, Albert Campion is somewhat like P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, pursuing one girl or another while he attempts to outwit an opponent. The fact that Campion’s opponent is a murderer is not particularly significant; he is an intellectual antagonist, not a representative of evil. Furthermore, most of the action itself is comic.
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