Death of a Busybody (British Library Crime Classics) – George Bellairs

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Fifty year old Miss Ethel Tither has made a lot of enemies in her years in the English village of Hilary Magna. She is a major financial donor to the Home Gospel Alliance for Bringing Sinners to Repentance, and so you can tell where her concerns lie.

It’s not enough that she is persistent in trying to convert non-believers like the town atheist. She makes it her business to uncover illicit love affairs and threatens to expose the activities to spouses and even employers unless the guilty party repents. She admonishes alcoholics and those who she feels are ungodly.

Though she is detested by many, the town is shocked when she’s found face down in Reverend Claplady’s cesspool, after apparently being bludgeoned to death. Of course, the possible motives and suspects are numerous. In addition to the obvious, there are some who would benefit financially from her death.

Since murders don’t tend to occur in this small town, Scotland Yard is called and Inspector Thomas Littlejohn is assigned to the task of solving the murder.

As soon as Littlejohn gets in town, he decides to go to bars and other public gathering places where he can eavesdrop on conversations. Hopefully someone knows something. Unfortunately a lot of what he finds out is wild conjecture from a town that loves to gossip.

Death of a Busybody, which was originally published in 1942, is a light crime novel, with lots of twists and turns. It is character-driven and these personalities are colorful and quirky. There are a lot of them, but not too many to keep track of or bog down the story.  At only 167 pages, it’s a quick read.

Author George Bellairs (1902-1983) was the pen name of banker Harold Blundell. He wrote fifty-seven crime novels featuring Scotland Yard detective Thomas Littlejohn, all or most taking place in small British towns. Fortunately for us, The British Library has partnered with Poisoned Pen Press to publish many of these classic British mysteries in the United States.

Those who enjoy light detective fiction with some humor sprinkled in are sure to like this one.

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