On Easter Tuesday, what better than a bit of Murder at the Vicarage – fictional of course! A recent British Library Crime Classic is two stories featuring Inspector Littlejohn, and very good stories they are too.
This book features at least two murders; good solid mysteries which kept this reader guessing to the end.
I enjoyed the first particularly as it opens with a description of a performance of Messiah in a Methodist church, featuring Superintendent Haworth, local detective with whom Littlejohn agrees to break his holiday to investigate a local crime. The performance is described in loving detail and leads to some funny exchanges, as news of a “cold case” comes into the police station. A message is sent to the church; “Now don’t go and upset him in the middle of Why Do the Nations, but give it him as soon as you can.” As the blushing constable considers exactly when to interrupt his boss, it begins to sink in that a body missing for many years has been found on the moors. It soon becomes clear that a murder assumed to have been motivated by the love of a local woman is not as straightforward as it seems, as death and disappearances mount. The final twists, appreciated by Littlejohn in all its implications, made this a murder mystery I did not solve before the end. This is a super piece of writing as the detective is seen as human, with his reactions and understanding well expressed as he tracks down those involved and guilty.
The other short novel in the book deals with the murder of a “Quack”, an unlicensed medical practitioner whose unorthodox treatments of otherwise hopeless cases may or may not have contributed to an almost locked room murder. Littlejohn is brought in to investigate a mysterious death, and discovers a family tradition of complementary medicine which depends on observation and calculated experimentation. Within the local community and family there are tensions to be discovered, and soon more than one suspect emerges. I enjoyed Littlejohn’s reactions to the people he must encounter, as he realises that not all of them as are a straightforward as they imagine. He detects how one character has been unduly influenced by another she has been close to, and reflects on this nonsense that his wife would soon have dealt with in her own way.
I have enjoyed the books that the British Library have reprinted by George Bellairs, or Harold Blundell as he was known in his real life in banking. As Martin Edwards says in his introduction, he was a steady, detailed writer rather than a superstar like Sayers, factors reflected in his detective creation, whose patience is needed in these tales. Of this ever growing collection of novels (a new shelf is needed for the forty plus editions in this house) this is a good buy and as murder goes, most enjoyable.