Thursday, November 16, 2017

“Death of a Busybody” by George Bellairs

Miss Tither is the busybody of the village of Hilary Magna (not to be confused with Hilary Parva). She hears things, and repeats them, and has no compunction about confronting fellow villagers about their sin. She specializes in information about infidelity and other related activities, but no kind of gossip and knowledge is beyond her reach.

And then someone kills her. Her body is found floating in what was once called a cesspool but we would more recognize today as a septic stank or household waste recycling system. The suspects may be endless; the motives certainly are.

The local police call in Inspector Thomas Littlejohn of Scotland Yard. As Littlejohn and the other police investigate, the case only gets murkier, and the possibilities for who the killer might be only grow.

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs (1902-1982)is another entry in the British Library’s British Crime Classics series, and it help bring to the fore one of the best-known British writers in the mystery genre.

George Bellairs is actually the pseudonym for Harold Blundell, a banker and philanthropist who became extraordinarily well known for his Inspector Littlejohn mysteries. He began writing the Littlejohn mysteries in 1941 (Death of a Busybody was the third and published in 1942) and kept writing them until shortly before his death – more than 50 in all. He also wrote four mysteries under the name of Hilary Langdon.

George Bellairs
Bellairs/Blundell was actively involved in several charities in the Manchester, England, area. He began writing his mysteries during spare moments while he served as an area air warden during World War II (Death of a Busybody is set during the war and contains several references to village life in wartime). He also wrote comedy for the radio, was a columnist for the Manchester Guardian, and was an active freelance writer.

In Death of a Busybody, Littlejohn will eventually get his murderer, and it doesn’t give anything away to say that fanatical religion plays a large part in the story – but not so much in it solution. The story is full of twists and turns, and what often appears obvious becomes less so as the plot unfolds. The book is definitely deserving of being included in the British Library series.

Related: My reviews of other British Library Crime Classics

Top photograph by Olivier Collet via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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