‘I’m a spiv… But whatever I’ve done, I never killed anybody.’
It’s a rainy, uneventful evening in the Oddfellows’ Arms until a greasy-looking spiv bursts into the pub, clearly unstable, and ranting about a body in Fennings’ Mill.
The police investigate the mad-man’s tale, and stumble upon a body, the face smeared with theatrical make-up and a false moustache pasted neatly over the lip. Once the national news descends, Inspector Faddiman calls in Inspector Littlejohn to help him uncover the dark, hidden secrets in this quiet, provincial town. Soon it becomes clear that a lot of people can’t, and won’t tell the truth.
I’ve enjoyed my first book of summer.
It takes a slow pace but given it was written originally 1949 (published in 1950) it comes from the classic detective age when a police officer would solve a crime through following leads, thinking things out, checking information and making conclusions.
Inspector Littlejohn is a man of those times he may seem a bit of a plodder at times but he relates well to people, has a clarity of thought able to consider what clues and leads he has and make some solid conclusions in order to find out what really happened and who did commit this murder.
Littlejohn is brought in by the local Inspector for a more independent investigation. The local community are bound to the factory owners in various ways so it is, in that respect, a little more difficult to investigate. Littlejohn, however, knows how to work in such circumstances, he is very capable when it comes to understanding people, what makes them tick and is able to coax – manipulate – the locals into helping him when following leads even if they don’t always realise it.
The book has interesting characters, it isn’t a matter of following clues rather it’s about sizing up the characters and making deductions on how the murder was done. So, not overly easy to spot whodunnit.
Bellairs builds up and manages what we know about the characters, in particular the Flemmings who are the factory owners, the case itself gathers to a good pace and there are some satisfying moments in its conclusion.
It’s entertaining and enjoyable. I’m sure I’ll read more Bellairs in the future.
20 Books of Summer ‘20
This is my first read for this years 20 books challenge – 1 down 19 to go!
The Case of the Demented Spiv was originally published in 1950.
Agora Books, previously known as Ipso Books, is the digital publishing arm of Peters Fraser + Dunlop.
Publisher: Agora Books
Published Date: April 2016
Buy: AmazonSmileUK | Your local bookshop
George Bellairs was the pseudonym of Harold Blundell (1902-1982). He was, by day, a Manchester bank manager with close connections to the University of Manchester. He is often referred to as the English Simenon, as his detective stories combine wicked crimes and classic police procedurals, set in small British communities.
He was born in Heywood, nr Rochdale, Lancashire and married Gladys Mabel Roberts in 1930. He was a Francophile which explains why many of his titles took place in France. Bellairs travelled there many times, and often wrote articles for English newspapers and magazines, with news and views from France.
He was a noted philanthropist and was prominent in Manchester’s public life as a member of the United Manchester Hospitals Board and Chairman of the Private Patients Home. He was granted an honorary masters degree by the University of Manchester in 1959 in recognition of his charitable as well as his literary work. After retiring from business, he moved with Gladys to Colby on the Isle of Man, where they had many friends and family. Some of his detective novels are set on the Isle of Man and his surviving notebooks attest to a keen interest in the history, geography and folklore of the island. In 1941 he wrote his first mystery story during spare moments at his air raid warden’s post, and ten years later he wrote a comedy for the radio entitled The Legacy, which was broadcast on 12 December 1951. Throughout the 1950s he contributed a regular column to the Manchester Guardian under the pseudonym George Bellairs, and worked as a freelance writer for other newspapers both local and national.
Blundell’s first mystery, Littlejohn on Leave (1941) introduced his series detective, Detective Inspector Thomas Littlejohn. His books are strong in characters and small communities – set in the 1940s to ‘70s. The books have strong plots, and are full of scandal and intrigue. His series character started as Inspector and later became Superintendent Thomas Littlejohn. Littlejohn, reminiscent of Inspector Maigret, is injected with humour, intelligence and compassion.
Bellairs, unlike the reputation of a bank manager would perhaps imply, was amusing and gave many a talk on ‘how to commit a murder in books’ alluding that the audience may have expected a boring old banking lecture.
Despite early success in Britain and the United States, Bellairs’ novels became less popular and, though he was a prolific writer over several decades, he has faded from the public eye. However, many of his early books are extremely rare and highly sought by collectors.
Almost a Golden Age writer, Bellairs’ stories offer straightforward police investigations of dastardly crimes and appeal to fans of classic British detective novels.
He died on the Isle of Man in April 1982 just before his eightieth birthday after a protracted illness.
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