Title: Death Treads Softly (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #26)
Author: George Bellairs
First published in 1956; reprint by Agora Books on 9th Jan, 2018
Genre: Crime and Mystery
Finlo Crennell, the ex-harbourmaster of Castletown, has been missing for a week before he is found roaming the streets of London with a bout of memory loss. Chief Inspector Littlejohn accompanies Crennel home, to the Isle of Manx. But it so happens that Finlo is found dead the same night. He’s been shot to death. Who would have wanted to kill the man and why? Chief Inspector Littlejohn investigates.
Death Treads Softly is the fifth Bellairs’ book that I read. Unlike the other books by various authors in the classic crime genre, Bellairs introduces the reader to a set of quirky and weird characters. Take Littlejohn for instance, the guy is pretty good at what he does. Good might be an understatement here because Littlejohn’s deductive skills are very impressive.
Finlo Crennell seems to have lost his memory. All he does is smile. Ask him anything, he smiles. And, he’s always hungry. No matter how much he eats, he’s still hungry. He’s been conked on the head so you can’t really blame him for this absurd behaviour. But how did he manage to get himself killed inspite of a memory loss? As the story proceeds, the readers are introduced to various characters – Reverend Caesar Kinrade, Archdeacon of Man; Inspector Knell of the local police department; Nancy Cribbin and her three little kids; Mrs Cottier, Finlo’s housekeeper and relative; Mrs Christian, a hefty lady and sister to Mrs Cottier; Mr and Mrs Norton.
I really like the way Bellairs explains the scenes in detail. For instance, take the scene where Littlejohn visits Mrs Cottier. With two deaths and a gloomy atmosphere engulfing the whole island, Mrs Cottier is enjoying her cold dinner when Littlejohn comes over. He has his eyes set on the pork that’s on the table. When she asks him if he would like some tea, he almost says yes to the pork too – remember, she hasn’t asked him about the pork. He drools about the juicy pork. As Mrs Cottier eats silently, Littlejohn smokes his pipe. He listens to the chime of the clock. Well, we all know what the clock does isn’t it? Tick-tock, tick-tock. But, in this case, Littlejohn hears it as Pink-Ponk, pink-ponk. As a series of thoughts come and go in Littlejohn’s mind, the pink-ponk, pink-ponk of clock keeps him company.
There’s another such instance which caught my attention. Littlejohn and Rev. Kinrade visit Mr Norton in the middle of the night. A little cat comes out of nowhere and rubs its body against Mr Norton’s leg. He kicks the cat away. Rev Kinrade picks it up and pets it. As the discussion between Littlejohn and Mr Norton reaches a tense situation, the reverend is still petting the cat and the cat purrs happily. The ability to explain any tense or serious situation with a hint of humour is something that one can find in Bellairs’ works.
There’s also a couple of mentions of Traa di Lioor – Manx for “time enough”, either an incitement to take things easier, or an insult to a lazy person (meaning taken from Wikipedia). In this case, it is the former. Also, when Littlejohn visits Mrs Cribbin, her kids are sent away to feed the hens. The kids say, “Chuck, chuck, chuck. Don’t let Blackie have it all. Drive her away…” As the conversation proceeds, Littlejohn can still hear chuck, chuck, chuck, in the background.
Mrs Morrison, another character in the story describes Littlejohn well. ” I read a lot of detective stories when I’m resting in bed. You are not like many of the detectives I meet in my books. Not ferocious enough. Too philosophic, if I may say so. A man who understands the tears of things.” Littlejohn is someone whom you would like from the very moment he’s introduced in the story. He’s also a loving and caring husband. No matter how hard the day has been, he never misses to make a phone call to his wife Letty and let her know that all’s well. The only thing missing was Inspector Cromwell. Since this is book #26 and I haven’t read the previous books, I might have missed something. Maybe Cromwell’s retired, I don’t know. Cromwell’s another likable character in the Littlejohn series and I wish he played a part in this story. However, Cromwell’s role was well compensated by Inspector Knell.
The mystery of two murders and the reason behind them was pretty good. Though a tad slow in certain places, the story is good. There’s also the case of an illegitimate child and how it affected few lives in the Isle – something that takes the centre stage in the story. The ending was something that I did not expect. Just when the reader thinks that the murderer is already caught, something happens. There are a couple of red herrings too so if you are used to playing the detective then let me tell you that Littlejohn is the best so you might want to give your ‘inner detective’ a rest! Overall, it is an entertaining story. If you are looking forward to reading crime classics, then go ahead and give Bellairs’ Littlejohn series a try.
I received the book from GeorgeBellairsEstates in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.