Death of a Busybody was originally published in 1942, the third book George Bellairs wrote and the third to feature Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard. This time, Inspector Littlejohn is called to the villages of Hilary Magna and Parva to solve the murder of the local nosy parker. Miss Tither is one of those annoying people who makes it her mission to question, snoop, and poke her nose into everyone’s business. Now, in a typical murder of a busybody, the motive would be some extortion scheme, but Miss Tither was never motivated by greed, but by a salacious self-righteous fascination with sin. She was constantly telling tales to expose those she considered sinners.
When she is found dead in cesspool, drowned in the water after being knocked on the head, the problem is not too few suspects, but too many. There’s twin villages full of options because Miss Tither has been a very busy busybody.
Death of a Busybody is a scrupulously fair mystery. We learn the important facts as soon as, and even sometimes before, Inspector Littlejohn. We are party to all of the investigation which is conducted with professionalism and respect for the law and the public. There is a lovely, gentle humor in the book, making it clear that Bellairs may smile and find amusement in human foibles and vanities, but he clearly loves humanity in all its varieties.
It’s useful to remember that some of the devices that may seem old today, were probably much fresher in 1942 when this was released. I have read so many hundreds of mysteries, that I recognized who the killer was long before I knew the motive or even the connection to Miss Tither, but in 1942, that “wrongness” I recognized was 75 years newer. I think many alert readers will twig to that pretty quickly, but it does not spoil the mystery. The story is not just a whodunnit after all, but also a whydunnit, and that is the real mystery. That is complex and the investigation is painstaking in presenting the facts, just as it should be.
I enjoyed Death of a Busybody quite a bit. It’s an excellent police procedural that highlights the systematic procedural method of investigation, the very best of investigation that keeps the investigators mind open to different ideas, that follows the evidence, not impulses and hunches.
Death of a Busybody will be released September 5th. I was provided an e-galley by the publisher through NetGalley.