A bank manager by day and an author by night, George Bellairs aka Harold Blundell needs no introduction on my blog. Agora Books (30+ titles) and British Library Publishing (3 titles) have republished a lot of Bellairs’ Chief Inspector Littlejohn series – could Mystery Classics lovers ask for a better treat??
People who read their first Littlejohn novel say – ‘Why didn’t I come across this series before?’ Read one and you will want to read them all. There’s something special about Inspector Littlejohn that makes him different from the sleuths we have known so far. He reminds you of your favorite uncle; he’s caring, kind and understands people.
As a fan of Bellairs’ Chief Inspector Littlejohn series, I wanted to do something special for his birthday month. I got in touch with fellow readers and asked if they would like to talk about their favorite author. (Nobody says no when they are asked to talk about Littlejohn!) Last week, we saw two lovely ladies, Ivonne and JJ talk about their favorite Littlejohn novel.
For this week’s guest post, I have two Golden Age Detective Fiction lovers, Kate Jackson and Aidan Brack.
An avid lover of Golden Age Detective Fiction and a dear friend of mine, let’s see what Kate has to say about Bellairs.
I first encountered the work of George Bellairs in 2016, when I read Death of a Busybody, which had been reprinted by the British Library. This was an enjoyable introduction to his work, as it provides an interesting take on the village mystery and I felt both the characterization and humor were good. Since then I have gone on to read a further eight tales by him; reading which has been aided by the frequent reprints issued by Agora Books.
My relationship with Bellairs has been a little rocky at times, as in some of his books, you can quickly spot which motive is the correct one and which are the red herrings., due to a repeated trend upon his part. Nevertheless, there have also been a number of high points with Surfeit of Suspects, Dead March for Penelope Blow and A Knife for Harry Dodd being my favorite trio.
The first two in my list are especially good for their intricate mystery plots, though all of them share a deft hand when it comes to depicting characters effectively. For example, I felt we got quite a nuanced portrayal of a man who has cheated on his wife in A Knife for Harry Dodd, which neither two dimensionally vilifies nor exonerates him. This skill in characterization is also commented upon by the likes of Anthony Boucher, when he was reviewing crime fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1940s, as he thought, for instance, that Death of a Busybody was an ‘unusually adroit and delightful specimen of the English whodunit.’
Whilst not every title is perfect, I think the work of Bellairs has a lot to offer classic crime fans with some interesting and unusual mystery puzzles, a range of engaging characters, and very often a well-used and well-drawn WW2 setting or backstory.
You can follow Kate’s blog here.
Next, I have Aidan from Mysteries Ahoy! blog. Aidan reviewed his first Bellairs read – Death of a Busybody – having come across this review is how I read my first Bellairs title.
The reason I keep returning to Bellairs’ work time and again is his ability to conjure up a sense of a landscape. In his earliest novels that would be stretches of the English countryside with their thatched cottages, country inns and small factories. His later works often ventured further afield, taking us to the Isle of Man or rural France – both places he knew well! This enabled him to draw on his own experiences of the spaces, the food and the people who lived there which is part of the reason those places seem to come alive on the page.
He returned to these locations often enough that he had a small cast of characters associated with each of them. Trips to the Isle of Man would lead Inspector Littlejohn to cross paths with Archdeacon Kinrade. France would mean a visit to Dorange of the Sûreté.
These return appearances, while occasionally improbable, are comforting and familiar. As when you see Hastings or Inspector Japp return in a Christie, there is an instant warmth in seeing them that stands in welcome contrast to the cold and cruel murders found in his stories. I can’t help but think though that Kinraid should probably have stopped inviting him to stay after a while…
My two favorite Bellairs novels to date are both set in England but each demonstrate that same skill at creating a strong sense of place. Happily though the mysteries are every bit as fascinating as their locales. They are A Knife for Harry Dodd and The Dead Shall Be Raised. Happily both were reissued in the past few years making them both easy to find.
I have an exciting ‘Bellairs Special’ post scheduled for next week. If you are a Bellairs fan, you wouldn’t want to miss it! To those who are new to George Bellairs’ novels or have never heard of him until now, I hope you pick your first Littlejohn novel soon.