Title: Outrage on Gallows Hill (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #13)
Author: George Bellairs
First published in 1949; republished by Mysterious Press on 23rd December 2014
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
Outrage on Gallows Hill is the 13th book in Chief Inspector Littlejohn Series.
The story starts with Ronald Free and Laura Cruft (not Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider) getting engaged. Free is reciting a poetry on his way back home. Meanwhile, PC Costain is on his beat when he finds a couple of partridges in the bushes. He wrings their neck and decides to take it home as a nice surprise for the missus. As he continues on his beat, he finds Ronald Free in the gutter, strangled with a thin piece of wire. Costain throws the partridges into the bushes and calls for help. (Not to ‘rescue’ the dead partridges, mind.)
Scotland Yard’s help is requested and Detective-Inspector Littlejohn is sent to Melchester to solve the case. As Littlejohn reaches the place, he learns nobody except Free’s parents are mourning the death. Laura seemed to have a lot of (jealous) suitors. Did one of Laura’s ex-lovers kill Ronald in a fit of rage and jealousy?
First things first, I really did not like the people of Melchester. They are downright rude to our dear Thomas Littlejohn. How dare they! Littlejohn is here to solve the murder case and they treat him like a nobody. Shouting at him and asking him to get out, I mean, really! He’s an Inspector from the Scotland Yard, for heaven’s sake!
Okay, I feel better venting out my displeasure. Let’s continue with the review. *breath in, breath out. Stay Calm*
Littlejohn arrives at Melchester to see none of the villagers are bothered about Free’s murder. Laura, Free’s fiancé, was very popular among the bachelors. From a professor in the Melchester University (this guy is sixty years old) to Ronald Free and Tim Blaize, Laura had a lot of boyfriends. (The terms ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ are used aplenty in this book; I haven’t come across these terms in the mystery classics I have read so far. Also, ‘sex appeal’ – a word rarely used in Bellairs’ novels.)
Apart from jealousy being the motive of murder, we also have the angle of money. Laura’s late father had left her a lot of money – she would inherit it when she turned 26 or got married, whichever happened first. Laura’s mother married a local farmer two years after her husband’s death. Though the step-father and Laura are on good terms, Littlejohn thinks if this inheritance had a role to play in Ronald Free’s murder.
Affair with a married woman and all that, Ronald was a playboy too. With both parties (Ronald and Laura) having rejected a handful of suitors, the list of suspects is long. Did one of Ronald’s exes kill him? Or was it one of Laura’s?
Having read a lot of Bellairs’ works, I must say Outrage on Gallows Hill is way different from the rest of Littlejohn series. The spotlight is on matters of the heart. Littlejohn has to put on his ‘gossipy aunty and uncle’ hat to solve this case. We do see Littlejohn’s sidekick Sergeant Cromwell appear in the story (in the second half) but there is no mention of Letty (Mrs Littlejohn).
The gossip and ‘he said, she said’ scenarios made this story a little boring. I was hoping to see more action, not gossip! Having said that, gossip is what gives Littlejohn the final clue in solving the case. The identity of the killer was a surprise. More than their reason for killing Ronald Free, it was their (dark) past that surprised me the most.
PC Butt and his family add a touch of quirk to the story. We also have to look at the angle of ‘murdered’ partridges. After all, they were found next to the body. Ahem! 😉 Three birds and a human with one arrow. Or so PC Butt hopes!
Overall, this was a good read. Certainly not a favorite in the series but it wasn’t that bad either.