Title: Death Spins the Wheel (Inspector Littlejohn #42)
Author: George Bellairs
First published in 1965; republished by Agora Books on 2 August 2018
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
When Madame Garnier arrives at the casino on the Isle of Man, everybody is interested. Lady Luck seems to favor Madame Garnier as she is on a winning streak. Two weeks later, she’s found dead on the beach – with a bullet through her head. The Littlejohns are having a quiet vacation at Grenaby, Rev Caesar Kinrade’s place. The Archdeacon has age-related ailments and is advised not to strain himself.
Inspector Knell is assigned the case of Madame Garnier’s murder and he arrives at Grenaby, asking for help. From clairvoyance to family secrets and wartime betrayal, Littlejohn has his hands full on his case.
Death Spins the Wheel by George Bellairs is a fantastic addition to the Inspector Littlejohn series and boy, oh boy, what an enjoyable read! We have many recurring characters in this story, it certainly felt like a reunion! Speaking of reunions, Cromwell is the only one missing from the party.
When Knell comes over to Grenaby asking for Littlejohn’s “unofficial help” in the case, Archdeacon’s housekeeper Maggie Keggin (who also happens to be a relative of Knell) has her blood boiling. She is under the impression that Knell ‘arranges’ for a murder every time Littlejohn is in town.
“I knew it! That Knell will be here like a bad penny any time now. There’s an old woman been murdered on Douglas sands. It’s always the same when the Inspector shows his face on the Island.’
Inspector Littlejohn might now be known as Superintendent Littlejohn but to Maggie Keggin, he will always be ‘the inspector.’
The mystery behind the old woman’s murder takes Knell, Littlejohn and Archdeacon to Douglas. They learn the dead woman was the wife of a French resistance member/professor; the professor was one of the pioneers of computers. She lived at a place called Evian, on Lake Geneva in France and was an international gambler. Her winnings at the casino had something to do with parapsychology – intuition + psychology.
Archdeacon Kinrade questions the croupiers Leo and Frank at the casino. This is what they have to say about Kinrade:
“He must be a sort of amateur crank… Like Father Brown,” Leo remarked to Frank when it was all over.
Well, this Father Brown of Isle of Man accompanies Littlejohn to France. Yes, you heard that right. Knell, Littlejohn and Archdeacon Kinrade believe the missing piece of the puzzle (Madame Garnier’s past) lies in Evian. But days before they could leave, Knell is attacked by the perp and is advised bed rest. If you are a regular reader of the series, you would know Littlejohn has a friend in France – Inspector Dorange of the Nice Sûreté.
The duo (Littlejohn and Kinrade) are joined by Dorange and Floret in France. The four men unearth a lot of family secrets – Professor Garnier’s untimely death (he was shot dead while trying to cross the lake) to Madame Garnier’s addiction to gambling and much more. The three men – Littlejohn, Dorange and Archdeacon – return to Isle of Man to close the case.
Bellairs was a Francophile and a few of Inspector Littlejohn series are set in France. In this book, Knell is amazed at Littlejohn’s talents – he’s a French scholar and Archdeacon too speaks passable French. Isle of Man is where Bellairs spent the last few years of his life – another favorite crime destination in this series.
Death Spins the Wheel takes us to Isle of Man and France – isn’t this a treat! Two favorite destinations of the author in one story!
The spotlight is on wartime betrayal and family secrets – writing down the details here spoils the read for those who are yet to read this book. As the story proceeds, the detectives unearth more secrets – and instead of leading them to the killer, they feel lost. The identity of the killer is a huge surprise – I did not see this coming! Never thought they would try to lead the police on the wrong path.
Death Spins the Wheel is yet another masterpiece by a master storyteller. Enjoyable, entertaining and gripping!