Forty years after the fact, Albert Campion returns to the scene of his very first crime.
When the designated Visitor to the University of Suffolk Coastal is suddenly mired in scandal, the bishop of St. Edmondsbury needs a replacement posthaste. Since the campus has been built on the site of Black Dudley, the stately country house in which Margery Allingham first introduced Mr. Campion to the world (The Black Dudley Murder, 1929), the bishop’s persuaded to sponsor the ebulliently feckless sleuth, who’s now 70. Mr. Campion responds by giving an anodyne speech to the freshmen, chatting up everyone who crosses his path for three days, and then repairing to Monewdon Hall, the home of his wife’s sister and her husband, just in time to get a phone call summoning him back to campus. Professor Pascual Perez-Catalan, a geochemist appointed to head USC’s Earth Sciences division, has been stabbed in the back, and Detective Superintendent Appleyard, who doesn’t take kindly to Mr. Campion’s interference, figures it’s inevitable anyway and asks him to make discreet inquiries. Another round of circulating among the geochemist’s colleagues and students, from Dr. J.K. Szmodics, head of Languages and Linguistics, and professor Yorick Thurible, head of Arts and Humanities, to Nigel Honeycutt, the mentee who openly attacked Pascual’s politics, and Edwina Meade, Pascual’s nosy cleaner, soon persuades Mr. Campion that “it’s a wonder you haven’t had a murder here long before now.” Was the motive for the don’s death the political causes over which USC students are demonstrating, the bevy of lovers he’d bedded, or the endless jockeying for those precious appointments to use the university’s state-of-the-art 1970 computers? Fans of Ripley’s pastiches (Mr Campion’s War, 2018, etc.) will know better than to worry their heads about the crime and concentrate instead on every nuance of Mr. Campion’s amusingly self-effacing blather, which this time finds its perfect counterpoint in the blather of the academics convinced they’re all smarter than him.
The solution is piffle, but that’s appropriate to an outing that’s all piffle—sparkling, sublime piffle.