Title: The Case of the Headless Jesuit (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #16)
Author: George Bellairs
First Published in 1950; reprint by Mysterious Press on 23rd Dec 2014
Genre: Mystery Classics
It’s New Year’s Eve and the people of Cobbold are at the church. As the bells are about to toll, Granville Salter stumbles into the church, drunk. He collapses and PC Pennyquick comes to the rescue. Salter is as heavy as a dead-weight – well, that’s because the poor chap is dead. Stabbed just below the heart with a German prisoner’s knife.
Thus the New Year came to Cobbold-in-the-Marsh and gave Inspector Littlejohn of New Scotland Yard, his first case this year.
Littlejohn and Cromwell are called in to solve the case – two murders so far and the Cobbolders think the case must be handed over to the Scotland Yard men.
Well, well, What does the Headless Jesuit have to do with these murders? Littlejohn learns of lore haunting the Salter family:
“There’s an old part of the Hall dating to Stuart times. They say the Salters fought for the King and when the Parliamentary troops were reported nearing Cobbold, Sir Thomas Salter, the then lord of the manor, put all his wealth, said to be very great, in a chest and hid it in a secret place. He was killed shortly after, at Naseby. His wife, who shared his secret, went mad at the news. The only other who knew where the gold was, was a Jesuit, the family chaplain. Somebody told Cromwell’s troopers about the treasure and they came and tortured the priest to tell them where it was. He wouldn’t, so they beheaded him in rage and flung his body in the river. The place has been haunted ever since by a headless Jesuit…”
Two things I want to clear up from the above paragraph. Cromwell mentioned here is in no way related to our dear old Sergeant Cromwell. Someone in the GAD group joked about the Famished Parson reappearing in this story as the headless Jesuit. LOL!
The story isn’t disappointing but I found it to be a little similar to one or two of Bellairs other books. Eg: The chapel scene can be compared with that in Death Stops the Frolic. The plot is pretty interesting. We have two murders (initially); a poltergeist and a treasure angle connecting the two murders. Then we have this someone who’s gone missing/presumed dead and Littlejohn believes this man has some role to play in the murders.
We have the love angle – between a young woman and the dead man Salter. (The affair was before Salter dropped dead in the church. Just saying…) The rumour is that the young lady might have been Salter’s half-sister. The Salters seem to have a lot of skeletons in the closet and as the case proceeds, some of them are revealed.
We also get to learn a few more things about our two favourite detectives – Littlejohn and Cromwell. It seems Cromwell does not like cats! Bad Cromwell! How dare you not like cats!! Granville Salter had a dog named Meg. The poor canine was found roaming around the village after its master’s death. Littlejohn had recently lost a pet so he decides to take Meg back to London. Letty (Mrs Littlejohn) has already spoken to the landlord and arrangements are made. 🙂 🙂
There was some amount of beating around the bush and this made the story a little boring. Here, there and everywhere, Littlejohn goes in search of clues. Reaches a dead end a few times, thanks to the two buggers who gave him false information! Hmph! We have not one or two but four murders as the story ends. And, these were not committed by the same person! Littlejohn has a close brush with this case going cold. As if!
The characters were quirky. There was so much potential in this story. So many possibilities to choose from, but it all bogs down to a particular event from the past. *rolls eyes*
Overall, this was an okay read. Not as good as some of the books in this series. As far as recommendations go, I do not think this book should be your first Bellairs read. Read this book only if you are looking forward to completing the Littlejohn series.