A high British ministry official visits Inspector Thomas Littlejohn at Scotland Yard, asking him to look into the recent death of his brother and sister-in-law. They were killed in an automobile accident in Provence in southern France. The French police and investigating authorities concluded it was an accident and closed the case, but the official isn’t satisfied. Something seems wrong.
If Littlejohn investigates, he has to do so unofficially; he has no jurisdiction in Provence. And so he and his wife take a vacation. Their surface story is that it’s a holiday and she’s looking for places to sketch and paint. And no sooner do they arrive in the small village nearest to where the accident occurred when they discover they’re being spied upon, people who say the official investigation was wrong either disappear or nearly get killed, and the local marquis – who seems to know everything going on – tells Littlejohn that he knows the Scotland Yard connection.
What Littlejohn gradually comes to understand is that what looks like accidental deaths is anything but, and the answers lie in a shooting incident from before World War II.
Originally published in 1957, Death in High Provence by George Bellairs combines local geography, secrets buried in the past, a marquis who may – or may not – be evil, suspicious villagers, and even good food to create an engaging mystery.
George Bellairs is a pseudonym of British author Harold Blundell (1902-1982), who was first a banker and philanthropist before turning his hand to writing mystery stories. He wrote more than 50 Inspector Littlejohn mysteries, and also wrote four other books under the pseudonym of Hilary Langdon. He also wrote comedy for radio and was a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. His Littlejohn mysteries, many set outside London, provide a perceptive look at small towns and minor cities.
Littlejohn is nothing if not relentless in tracking down what happened and who’s responsible, and it may be more than one “who.” It’s a case where nothing is what it looks to be, and the Scotland Yard detective has to kept sifting and resifting clues and information. Death in High Provenceis an engaging, intriguing mystery.
Top photograph by Sam Bark via Unsplash. Used with permission.