Title: Death in the Fearful Night (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #34)
Author: George Bellairs
First published in 1960; republished by Agora books on 12 August 2016
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
Death in the Fearful Night is the 34th book in Chief Inspector Littlejohn series. Of all the Littlejohn books I have read so far, Surfeit of Suspects and Death in the Fearful Night are the only books where Littlejohn arrives at the scene of crime after the local bobbies find multiple (dead) bodies.
The reporters had been in and around the town of Carleton Unthank for the past two weeks, for the death of Samuel Bracknell was the third in that short time. First, a girl of twenty-three, returning home after choir practice, then, a few days later, a postman’s daughter, aged seventeen. Both had been killed with a knife.
A serial killer is on the loose and the little town of Carleton Unthank is receiving a lot of attention. The villagers are ‘unthank’ful to the serial killer. (Excuse the pun!) Samuel Bracknell was, what one calls in modern times, a playboy. He was dilly-dallying with three ladies – two young un’s (in their early twenties) and the third, middle aged. Superintendent Littlejohn and his assistant, Sergeant Cromwell find the mistresses at Samuel’s place, hurrying to collect their things before the villagers gossip about the affairs.
This book was first published in 1960s and it was the time when relationships need not be a hush-hush one, especially if the carrying-ons were between two unmarried people. I really liked the fact that Bellairs has included this fact into the story – one might say he was not old-fashioned.
Then we have a group of recurring characters. Coroner Dommett and his assistants Tweedledee and Tweedledum. I tried hard to remember where I heard these names before and I am guessing it was in A Knife for Harry Dodd. Like me, Dommett has a hard time remembering names. He calls Littlejohn ‘Littlefield’.
Moving on, the mystery behind the murders has baffled the villagers. (Can we call them Unthankers? They live in a town called Carleton Unthank you see…) Rumor is, Samuel killed the two young girls and killed himself later on. As Littlejohn starts to investigate, he learns there’s more to the case than just a jealous lover. We also see two more murders once the investigation is in full swing.
The second half of the story is a little inverted-mystery-ish. Twists are plenty and don’t try to play detective. Especially when the story involves Superintendent Littlejohn. He’s the best! Speaking of Supers, the Superintendent of Carleton Unthank, Herle, dislikes the Scotland Yard men. He is hostile to Littlejohn and Cromwell. But not for long. As Littlejohn hands over the perp to Herle in handcuffs, Herle has a newfound respect for the Scotland Yard man.
Letty, Littlejohn’s wife is mentioned just once in the story. It’s quite romantic because Littlejohn is consoling a woman saying sometimes love comes later in a marriage and at the same time, he smiles thinking of how his happy marriage shaped his life. Aww!! Hearts to our dear Thomas Littlejohn.
The mystery behind the serial killings is well-maintained throughout the story. It is hard to even think of a valid reason for the murders – Littlejohn has a tough time narrowing down the suspects list. When he does, he doesn’t have sufficient proof to nab the killer. And, when he finally nabs the killer, it isn’t easy to provide proper evidence. Phew! But Littlejohn solves it all. Almost at the end of the story, he finds the real reason – and it is more sinister than you think.
Death in the Fearful Night is an entertaining and interesting read. I absolutely enjoyed reading this book. Also, I would say, Death in the Fearful Night is a little different from the other books of this series. (The perp doesn’t die in the end…)
I am glad Bellairs has returned to form, as I remember your last read by him was not so good.
Fingers crossed that was my first and last bad read. 🤞