Title: Murder Makes Mistakes (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #30)
Author: George Bellairs
First published on 1 Jan, 1958; republished by Agora Books on 30 May, 2016
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers | British Mystery Classics
Murder Makes Mistakes begins with Superintendent Thomas Littlejohn talking to Miss Hankey, an elderly woman who has been at the Scotland Yard four times before, claiming her step-sister is trying to poison her. His colleagues call her Littlejohn’s favorite client. As Littlejohn is taking notes, he receives an urgent call from Dorothy Cromwell.
“Uncle Richard lived at Rushton Inferior and it seems somebody shot Bob in the dark last night in the street. He must have lain there a long time.”
Superintendent Littlejohn’s partner Sergeant Robert Cromwell is at Rushton to attend his Uncle Twigg’s funeral when he gets shot in the head. He was lying on the road for a long time before someone came that way and found him. He’s currently at one of the best hospitals in Manchester, operated upon by neurosurgeons. When Littlejohn hears the news of Cromwell being shot, his whole world stands still for a minute.
“Life seemed to stand still for a moment, like a cinema breaking down. Miss Hankey, sitting opposite and trying to make out what was being said, the sunny morning, the familiar things in the room, the noises of the streets below. Everything seemed to vanish, except the great twist of fear, like a cold hand gripping him inside.”
Littlejohn tells Dorothy to be ready and he would pick her up. He calls his wife Letty and asks her to pack his bag and send it directly to the station. Letty is to arrive at Manchester the next day and be with Dorothy till Robert Cromwell recovers.
Littlejohn arrives at Rushton and takes a room at the local inn run by a widow named Mrs. Groves. Mrs. Groves is the motherly-yet-dominating kind of woman – she cares a lot for her tenants, especially Littlejohn. When Littlejohn arrives late in the night after interviewing suspects and witnesses, she admonishes him by saying he must take care of himself.
Littlejohn learns Cromwell was shot with a toy gun (a pop gun, they call it). The surgeon at Manchester asks Littlejohn if Cromwell was suffering from Coronary Thrombosis. When Littlejohn answers in negative, the surgeon tells him two tablets of dicoumarin, an anti-coagulant used to treat thrombosis, was found in Cromwell’s coat pocket.
Littlejohn goes Cromwell’s uncle’s house and is met by Cank, the housekeeper. Cank is downright rude to Littlejohn but agrees to show him Cromwell’s room. Cromwell’s notebook is nowhere to be seen – it was not found in his coat when he was shot, nor is it in the room. Did the shooter steal the notebook? If yes, why?
As Littlejohn starts to investigate, he doubts if Richard Twigg, Cromwell’s uncle died a natural death. A chat with the widow and the neighbors makes Littlejohn suspicious of the events leading to Twigg’s death and Cromwell’s attempted murder.
Littlejohn is not assigned to the case initially. But the local police station is clueless as to who must have shot Cromwell and they are expecting a higher official to handle the case. Since a Scotland Yard man – our very own Thomas Littlejohn – is in the area, the case is assigned to him. Inspector Tandy and his associates help Littlejohn in the investigation.
We get to see the ‘other side’ of the Littlejohns. Cromwell is like a brother to Littlejohn and when possible suspects become uncooperative, Littlejohn loses his temper – Thomas is usually calm and saint-like, even in the toughest of the cases. But here, we get to see how a life-threatening event to a close and dear one changes his demeanor. Letty is by Mrs. Cromwell’s side at all times – it’s not just Thomas Littlejohn who’s worried about the Cromwells, you see.
Halfway through the story, there’s a twist. The anti-coagulant tablets are just the beginning of the mystery – as Littlejohn investigates, he learns there’s more to the story – something to do with Mr. and Mrs. Twigg. Then comes another twist – just when we think the killer is caught and will now be brought to justice…
Overall, this was an enjoyable and entertaining read. I am a huge fan of Bellairs’ Littlejohn series. There is no doubt Murder Makes Mistakes is going to make its way into my list of ‘Best of Littlejohn series‘. If you are looking for an engrossing and interesting British mystery classic with a dash of quirky humor, you might want to give Murder Makes Mistakes by George Bellairs a read.
Extras: The local doctor is amazed by Littlejohn’s medical knowledge and asks if he ever thought of taking up medicine. Littlejohn replies:
“I left school during the 1914-18 war. I intended studying medicine. I couldn’t get a place in the universities. So many men returning from the war had enrolled under state grants. So, I joined the police force.”
Maybe we would have had a Dr. Thomas Littlejohn instead of Chief Inspector Littlejohn if Thomas chose to become a doctor instead of a detective. *wink wink*
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