I picked this up because it’s one of the British Library Crime Classics, of course, but also because I remembered one of the others in this series by Bellairs being pretty entertaining. Surfeit of Suspects begins with a bang, literally: dynamite is set off in the buildings of a small struggling joinery company, during a meeting of the directors. Scotland Yard get called in once the presence of dynamite becomes apparent, and Superintendent Littlejohn starts to pick his way through the tangled web of shell companies and marital mishaps to figure out what the motive might be.
It takes quite a long time to actually see the culprit; I never really suspected most of the potentials, though, because their motive didn’t seem clear enough, so surfeit of suspects is a bit of an exaggeration. There were lots of characters who could’ve done it, but you either suspected they didn’t have the guts or it was just too obvious and therefore obviously wrong. It’s not a bad set of thumbnail sketches of characters, though: you can almost smell the fug of old tobacco coming off some of them.
Bellairs was pretty workmanlike, and his writing is satisfying in that way I find specific to these Golden Age mysteries: you know that there’ll be no hanky-panky, you’ll find out whodunnit, and there’ll be a nice little puzzle along the way. The policemen are professionals, and there’ll be no intimidating of witnesses — though there might be (and there is) a clever scene in which the suspects are gathered to flush out the real criminal.
It’s a good thing I rate by enjoyment, rather than originality or any kind of objective measure like that, because I’d feel bad giving this a low score. If the formulaic nature of these Golden Age mysteries bothers you, most of the Crime Classics series won’t be for you; personally, there’s something very comforting about the world being put in its place. It’s all a mirage, of course — there never was a simpler time quite like this — but it’s a satisfying picture postcard of the past all the same.