When I received an email from George Bellairs estates about their latest release, I couldn’t wait to read it. Death Stops the Frolic is standalone novel featuring Superintendent Nankivell. If you are familiar with Bellairs works, you would know the majority of his books features the famous Inspector Thomas Littlejohn.
Kate and I had planned to do a buddy read when the next Bellairs title is released. We weren’t aware that the next release would be a non-Littlejohn series. Our buddy read discussion is here. Let’s have a look at my opinions about Death Stops the Frolic.
I have thought twice before writing almost every sentence in this review. Bellairs is no doubt one of my favorite authors. Be the suspense, mystery or characterizations, nobody does it as well as our George. But Death Stops the Frolic is the first book I am disappointed with. I cannot believe I am saying this, I even thought of DNFing it once or twice.
I mean, really, is this story written by the same Bellairs?? Our George Bellairs, the guy who wrote the awesome detective series featuring the famous Littlejohn. If this was the first book I chose from this author, I don’t think I have would read any of Littlejohn series. I would have given up on it.
This is how the story starts: We have a brief description of a small town called Swarebridge. And how the blanket mills of Swarebridge/Pogsley (Swarebridge is Pogsley, Pogsley is Swarebridge) brought thousands of people to the small sleepy town. The people are celebrating the anniversary – in remembrance of the dear Mr Pogsley who built a Zion church in the town. There’s food, fun and games. Mr Harbuttle starts his game of human crocodile. People stand in a line, hold the one ahead of them and off they go. Round the church, this and that. They on and on and Mr Harbuttle does his disappearing act. The guy’s vanished. Poof! Gone! The trap door is open and the poor chap has fallen into the basement. The blackout is in progress (war time) and the poor thing couldn’t see the trap door open.
When people go the basement, they find Mr Harbuttle dead – a bread knife sticks out of his heart. Who would have wanted to kill the jovial (we later learn he isn’t jovial) man?
The story started well, fell flat halfway through and picks up pace towards the end. I did not enjoy the detailed descriptions of the suspects and witnesses. They weren’t quirky either – Bellairs is known for his quirky stories and equally quirky characters.
Nankivell is not my favourite detective (sorry Nanki). When he sees the long line of witnesses, he thinks ‘this is a case for Scotland Yard’. Giving up before the investigation could start, are we? Tut tut! He calls the Yard and they refuse to send help. I was secretly hoping they would send Littlejohn. Now, how cool would that be!
The story takes a turn for good when a second murder takes place. The pacing picks up soon after. The second murder shows the murderer as a cold-blooded animal – murders are sinister enough but this is something different. *Spoiler* A young boy is killed because he tells his mum he saw … *End of spoiler*
Superintendent Nankivell sets off to investigate. Harbuttle used to spend his afternoons looking out of his window. With an army camp close by, is it possible that he saw some exchange of secrets between a soldier and an enemy?
Lot of things happen in the second half of the story. Nankivell finds the missing pieces of the puzzle and the identity of the killer is revealed. If you are familiar with the way Bellairs ends his stories, you would know what happens once the murderer’s identity is revealed. 😉
Overall, this was an okay read. I was disappointed but Bellairs is a favourite and will always remain so. Kate said, ‘No writer is perfect’ and that made me realize that maybe this book wasn’t all that bad as I thought it was. Honestly, this was much better than few of the mystery classics our there (like In the Days of Drake by J.S.Fletcher). Anyways, I do not recommend this as your first Bellairs read. But if you loved his previous works, do give this book a try. After all, it is our dear old George Bellairs. 🙂 I have given this book a rating of 3 on NetGalley and Goodreads. The same rating holds good here too.
Title: Death Stops the Frolic
Author: George Bellairs
Republished on 19th March 2020
Genre: Mystery Classics
Many thanks to PF&D agents for the pre-approved NetGalley link.