Title: Corpse at the Carnival (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #29)
Author: George Bellairs
First published on 1st January, 1958; republished by Agora Books on 12th March, 2018
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
Traa dy Liooar.
It is holiday time in Douglas and the town is alive with the local carnival. A famous actress is also in town, grabbing all the attention of the carnival goers until… Uncle Fred dropped dead. One moment he was silently gazing out to sea and the next, he dropped dead, with a knife thrust in his back.
“And then, in the wake of the comedy, tragedy started a little side-show. The old man on the empty promenade died, without a complaint, a convulsion, or a single sound. He just gently sagged to his knees, extended his body, slowly rolled on his back, and it was all ended.”
At the same time as Uncle Fred’s death, Superintendent Littlejohn was flying exactly overhead the scene of crime. No, no, our dear ol’ Littlejohn hasn’t sprouted wings overnight! He was on a plane… making a short detour from Dublin to the Isle of Man to visit his dear ol’ friend Archdeacon of Man, Reverend Kinrade.
As is the ‘custom’ for officers of the law who arrive at Isle of Man, Superintendent Thomas Littlejohn (with his newly appointed title) gives Detective Inspector Knell of the Manx C.I.D a telephone call from the airport. When Littlejohn and Kinrade arrive at the reverend’s cottage, he is welcomed by the house-help Maggie Keggin. Just as Littlejohn and Kinrade were to settle down with a cup of tea, someone arrives and they hear Maggie greeting someone angrily.
It is Knell and he has come to inform Kinrade and Littlejohn of Uncle Fred’s murder. Of course, Littlejohn will assist Knell in solving the case! Unofficially. But Maggie is angry at Knell for ‘ruining’ Littlejohn’s vacation. She says:
“I don’t like that Knell fellah. Him and his murders. I do believe every time the Inspector comes here, that Knell fixes up a murder to bother him and to get the Inspector to himself.”
Well, come to think of it, she’s not wrong. This is not the first or second time Littlejohn has assisted Knell in a case. Hmm…
Soon, the two police officers (Knell and Littlejohn) start to investigate the case. Their first step is to identify the victim. Nobody knows where Uncle Fred stays or what is his real name. A day or two later, a local boarding house owner claims one of his permanent boarders has gone missing and he later identifies Uncle Fred as the missing boarder. Now, Uncle Fred’s real name was Fred Snook. Um, it was Fred Snook until a Mrs. Boycott appears on the scene and claims Uncle Fred to be her estranged husband. So, Fred Snook is now Fred Boycott. As the story proceeds further, we learn Uncle Fred was also known to a couple as Fred Snowball.
“It looked as if Uncle Fred had assumed the names to suit his sense of humour.”
Uncle Fred was a charming ol’ gentleman to the young ladies. A sugar daddy of sorts. But who would have killed him and why? He was certainly harmless, if you keep aside his aliases and all that…
Wherever Littlejohn goes, he’s recognized by the locals. He hears a lot of “I have seen your photo in the paper today,” or “I have read about you in the papers.” But, there is one person who hasn’t heard of Littlejohn nor does she bother to know more – a Mrs. Quilliam.
The Manx hospitality is everywhere. Littlejohn, Knell and Rev, Kinrade are offered tea and soda cases when they visit homes in search of clues. It is offensive to say no to snacks when you visit a Manx home. The Isle of Man was special to Bellairs as he spent the rest of his retirement at this beautiful island. The detailed descriptions of the scenery throughout the story are enough proof to suggest this.
The investigation of Uncle Fred’s murder leads the police officers to uncover a few dirty secrets of the residents at the boarding house – extra marital affairs to Uncle Fred’s latest ‘muse’ to estranged families.
The denouement is nothing short of a drama-like-scene. The identity of the perp – well, I certainly couldn’t guess the murder could be their doing. After all, they seemed so sweet and nice! The story ends with Littlejohn finally getting to spend a week with his best friend Kinrade (the case is solved, thank goodness!). Mrs Littlejohn and Meg (their dog) make a surprise visit to Isle of Man.