George Bellairs is one of the writers in the British Library Crime Classics series who is reliably entertaining: perhaps not the literary heights of Sayers’ best, or the memorable twists of Christie’s work, but solid and enjoyable, rooted in places and people that feel familiar. It’s well-worn without being tired; the literary equivalent of a duvet day.
This particular mystery features the discovery, over the Christmas season, of the body of a murdered man… a man who was himself suspected of being a murderer twenty years before. Obviously his discovery — just metres from where they found the body of the man he was alleged to have killed — sheds new light on the old mystery, and requires that murder too to be investigated again. Inspector Littlejohn is just spending Christmas away from his usual beat, but he agrees to help investigate, being a Scotland Yard man.
Through patient work and a little insight into human nature, and his willingness to depend on local knowledge rather than think himself above, he… well, it’s a Golden Age mystery, so you won’t be surprised to know that the killer is found, and all is made comfortable again. The killer became obvious to me fairly quickly, and the twist in the tale as well, but I enjoyed the journey nonetheless. Bellairs may not be a particularly fine prose stylist, but he evokes the village and the people within it beautifully. Mrs Myles is rather good, and the Inspector Emeritus as well. Not stunningly original, perhaps, but there’s enough of their speech patterns and gestures and thoughts that they feel just real enough.
Definitely a worthwhile one.
(The Murder of a Quack is a separate book, unrelated apart from the shared detective, so I’ll review that later, separately, even though it’s reissued in the same volume.)