Monday, July 24, 2017

Death of a Busybody - George Bellairs

It turned out that two of the books I took on holiday with me were first published in 1942, and as both were basically always intended as light reading it was particularly interesting to realise how different their respective approaches to current events were.

The first book I read was a British Library crime classic (with a particularly lovely cover) - George Bellairs 'Death of a Busybody', the second was Angela Thirkell's 'Marling Hall' which will get its own post.

'Death of a Busybody' was perfect holiday reading, not in the least bit demanding, thoroughly entertaining, mildly funny, and enough underlying tension to give it some oomph. Miss Tither is a middle aged spinster with a prurient interest in her neighbours lives. She's given to spying on them, haranguing them for their sins, or informing their spouses/parents when they stray. It's an unattractive mix that's bound to lead to trouble so it's possible that nobody is very surprised when she turns up dead in the vicars cess pit.

The local police are busy with a number of other more or less serious local crimes do Beverly sensibly decide to call in and work amicably with Scotland Yard. Cue the entry of Inspector Littlejohn who's job it is to turn over stones and see what crawls out.

The answer to that is much as you'd expect in the way of young people misbehaving with each other, unhappy marriages, and a few who might drink more than they should. There's a missionary nephew who might have something to hide but none of it quite adds up to enough to justify murder - not until the will is read at any rate.

As Martin Edwards points out in his introduction, there's nothing particularly original about the plotting or even the device that provides the crucial alibi, but it's done do well that it doesn't matter. What does matter are all the little embellishments that bring the book to life (the body in the cess pit being but knew such detail) and give it a great deal of charm.

It's also a noticeably nostalgic book, the war is alluded to (the village taxi has been replaced with a horse and cab due to petrol rationing) but mostly ignored in favour of the things that should be - sunny harvest weather, good food and beer (with plenty to go round), and everybody getting what they deserve in the end (good and bad). It seems likely that that was just as comforting in 1942 as it is in these uncertain times, and probably just as unlikely. Either way it provided me with a very happy afternoons entertainment so I'm thoroughly recommending it.


  1. I love the covers on these and wish I had more of them! I've been collecting them a bit at a time though I have yet to read a single one so far. This one looks like a keeper.

  2. I have a really soft spot for them. They're light and entertaining, and perfect to escape into. Not always great literature, but I've never failed to find something to enjoy, and it's fascinating social history.