Title: Surfeit of Suspects (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #41)
Author: George Bellairs
First Published in 1964; republished on 26th April 2019 by British Library Publishing
Genre: Crime and Mystery
The office of Excelsior Joinery Company has been blown to bits and pieces. Three of the company directors have died in the explosion. The other two, old man Hoop and his son, Fred, were at home during the explosion. The street of Green lane is filled with firefighters, policemen and curious neighbours in their nightdress. When dynamite is given as the reason for the explosion, Littlejohn and Cromwell are called in to investigate.
Surfeit of Suspects is the 41st book in the Chief Inspector Littlejohn series. If you have been following this series closely, you will notice that Littlejohn is now promoted to the rank of a Superintendent and Cromwell to that of an Inspector.
George Bellairs aka Hillary Landon has already made it to my most favourite crime authors of all times. Be it his writing or the quirky characters with quirky habits, Bellairs’ Littlejohn series is absolutely brilliant! Murder isn’t funny business but when the characters are weird and so are their names, the mystery and the sleuthing turns into a fun-filled adventure!
Take Cromwell for example. He never leaves without his elephant of a suitcase. Things he carries in his suitcase include books, medicines, reports of celebrated criminal cases and wild birds – even if it a two-day trip, Cromwell’s suitcase must contain these things. He’s also known for his ‘eye for detail.’ In this case, he makes ‘detailed’ notes of the population, history and whatnot of Evingden. If you think his quirks ends there, think again. He goes to visit the housekeeper of Fallows (one of the dead directors) and she looks so motherly that he almost calls her ma.
‘Who wants me? As if I hadn’t enough troubles without more people worryin’ me…’
For all her lamentations, she was a white-haired motherly sort of woman. Cromwell felt like addressing her as ‘Ma’ but thought better of it.
Speaking of weird names, there is Mr Pook, Mr Woods – works at the timber yard of the company, Inspector Tatersall and Horace Flight of the Fraud Squad!
Jeal sighed with relief when he saw the hat of Inspector Tatersall approaching him, like a cork floating across the sea of heads. It was a rather rakish cloth hat, with a feather in the band.
The company directors who died in the explosion were John Willie Dodd, Dick Fallows and John Robert Piper. Mr Dodd was quite bossy and always got what he wanted. Many hated him for that. So, was the dynamite intended for Dodd and the rest were just there at a wrong time? But what were they doing holding a meeting at 8 in the evening and why weren’t the other two members invited? The Hoops are suspected for the murders.
The company was going through its last stage and they were about to file bankruptcy. Once the idea of bankruptcy is introduced, the story inclines towards banking officials and fraud. Given that Bellairs was a bank manager, the details of finance and banking are well explained. I felt this part was a tad dragged but the descriptions of the bank officials and their lives were totally in sync with the plot.
Littlejohn visits one of the bank officials – Mr Roper. Roper thinks that Littlejohn is a new client and welcomes him with a wide smile on his face. He’s being his best self and all and then when Littlejohn introduces himself as a Scotland Yard man, Roper’s smile turns into a frown and he’s now a grumpy old man. These unrelated details about the characters is what makes Littlejohn series interesting. Maybe unrelated to the case, but Bellairs does an excellent job in portraying the emotions of such characters.
Like I mentioned before, the story seemed a tad dragged, especially when it revolved around the banking part. Given that this was Bellairs’ Littlejohn series, there’s no doubt that this was an entertaining and enjoyable read. The identity of the perp was unexpected. Although I expected a slightly different kind of ending, I am okay with the way things ended. Cromwell also plays an important role in the story – now that he’s now an Inspector, I guess this was to be expected. But it is Littlejohn who solves the mystery in the end.
Overall, it was a good read. Maybe not as good as the earlier stories where Littlejohn was still a Chief Inspector but that’s okay. Change is good. 😀