Book – I have a fundamental problem with the term ‘cozy mystery’. I agree that it’s a useful term to distinguish the darker, faster-paced, harder-edged tone of a thriller like Gone Girl from an all-ages mystery puzzler like the marvelously re-readable Westing Game. It seems patronizing, however, to imply that there is anything remotely ‘cozy’ about the slow-burn psychological horror of stories featuring protagonists trapped in increasing danger, like Christie’s terrifying And Then There Were None or J. Jefferson Farjeon’s pleasingly creepy Mystery in White.
For the same reason, I would hesitate to label The Crime at the Black Dudley–the first book in Margery Allingham’s classic Campion series–as a ‘cozy’. Yes, it’s written by one of the Queens of mystery’s Golden Age, and yes, it features an eccentric amateur sleuth in an English country house. But it’s also a story about a group of innocents, and one unknown murderer, locked in a remote house by a gang of international thugs, in the company of their dead host, facing increasing and violent pressure to hand over a document which one of the party has already destroyed. It’s a nightmarish (if over the top) scenario, and Allingham skillfully milks the claustrophobia of the situation for all it’s worth. The story is wonderfully told in other respects as well, like the fact that the narrator, an undercover policeman, turns out not to be the one who saves the day; Allingham intended him to be the star of her series, but Peter Wimsey caricature Albert Campion unexpectedly stole the show instead.
The Crime at the Black Dudley was a great find hidden away in our stacks, a reminder of the manifold delights of cozy mysteries–or whatever you might want to call them.