Published by British Library
Publication date – 10 April 2019
Source – review copy
“At 8 o’clock in the evening on the 8th November, there was a terrific explosion in Green Lane, Evingden.”
The offices of Excelsior Joinery Company are no more; the 3 directors are killed and the peace of a quiet town in Surrey lies in ruins. When the supposed cause of ignited gas leak is dismissed and the presence of dynamite revealed, Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is summoned to the scene.
But beneath the sleepy veneer of Evingden lies a hotbed of deep-seated grievances. Confounding Littlejohn’s investigation is an impressive cast of suspicious persons, each concealing their own axe to grind.
Bellairs’ novel of small-town grudges with calamitous consequences revels in the abundant possible solutions to the central crime as a masterpiece of misdirection.
There has been an explosion in a joinery factory and Inspector Littlejohn and his colleague Cromwell find themselves overrun with suspects.
All of the suspects are not particularly likeable and all have possible motives for blowing up the factory, and killing three people in the process. There’s the wronged husband, the pugnacious father-in-law and the disgruntled business associate. The trouble is not finding out who had a motive, but narrowing down those that did.
This was the first Inspector Littlejohn novel I have read, though I am a fan of British Library Crime Classics. There is something wonderfully transporting about the series and this book was no different. I’ve read very few books written in the 1960s but I could easily envisage the location and characters depicted here.
The British Library Crime Classics refer back to a time before DNA analysis, blood spatter experts and CSI teams. They rely on detection to find the culprit, a trail of clues left for the reader, and ultimately the protagonist, to follow and deduce.
This is very much a character led book. We see motive after motive, delving into the background of the victims and those who may have wanted them dead. The thought process of the police, their deduction techniques, almost comes in second place. Some clues are kept close to the author’s chest, being revealed almost at the same time as the denouement, done perhaps, to try and make the revelation of the culprit a surprise.
There is something cosy and comforting about this book, and indeed all of the books from the series I have read. For me this is a very good thing and one which attracts me to the books. From the beautiful artwork that adorns the covers to that sense of control and the righting of wrongs in the story that follows, there is something infinitely fascinating when reading a genre as seen in the past.
It is always a pleasure to be transported back in time by the British Library and their crime classics series. This sojourn to the 60s with Inspector Littlejohn was an enjoyable one.
Perfect for a rainy day or two, I enjoyed cosying up to work out whodunnit.I have more George Bellairs on my bookshelves and look forward to reading them soon.
About the author
George Bellairs was the pseudonym of Harold Blundell (1902–1985), a prominent banker and philanthropist from Manchester who became the author of a popular series of detective stories featuring Thomas Littlejohn, which were published for nearly forty years.
This was book 2 in my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.