The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs
This is “A Yorkshire Mystery” yet it starts off in a very different part of the country. As usual with Bellairs’ books, this 1961 novel now republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics contains a complex plot. Further, the characters Bellairs so brilliantly creates are not only consistent but have depth and variety. Unlike some detection writers of the era who seem to struggle to write effective female characters, in this novel the female characters are varied and always interesting, even when unlikable. It is the little touches that make this and other Bellairs’ books so enjoyable and indeed memorable; the fate of bunch of flowers in this book is lodged in my mind. Martin Edward’s Introduction gives a fascinating insight into Harold Blundell and his writing “career” in which he wrote alongside his job in a bank: ”He was an amateur enjoying a paying hobby”. Given the success he enjoyed during his lifetime, and the popularity of the reprints of his titles today, his writing may not have made him rich but was and is popular. I was so glad to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent novel.
From the finding of a body in the flooded fenland to investigations in Yorkshire, Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard has his work cut out to find out the who, what, where and why. It does not help when he learns that the deceased, James or Jim Lane, apparently a fairground worker, has a whole other life in the north of England. Relationships and the truth of Jim’s true affections must be dealt with before Littlejohn can begin to investigate the series of events that led to his death. For a man that was quite quiet and secretive, he excited strong feelings among those who knew him. Those feelings may be positive or negative, but the understatement of the character of the victim contrasted with several of the other characters who were at least in one case over the top.Littlejohn gets dragged into at least two family situations which he finds rather wearing. It is fortunate that his sidekick, Cromwell, is around to help, and when crisis points are reached there is help at hand.
This book is so well constructed that the plot works well with the characters and setting. There is a contrast between the flooded fens and the resilience of those coping with dramatic water damage, and the stoicism of those who are trying to sort out the situation, with the rather interesting family situation Littlejohn discovers in the north. I found this a really engaging novel to read, sensitively written with excellent characters. The mystery is thought provoking and Littlejohn’s thought processes very interesting There is an impressive logic to the narrative arising from the characters involved. There is a sense of loss for the victim which feels genuine. I can certainly recommend this as a good volume in the series of British Library series, and works very well as a positive example of Bellairs’ work.