The Body in the Dumb River (1961) by George Bellairs

Apologies for a quiet week on the blog, but lap top woes have struck again. I didn’t think I would be able to get any posts out this month, whilst my laptop is being repaired, but fortunately my Mum came to the rescue and I have a notebook to borrow. Getting used to the smaller keypad and screen is certainly interesting, but let’s get on with today’s review…

Also known as Murder Masquerade, this is the 35th Littlejohn novel from Bellairs, with his principal character now a superintendent. The book takes place in Fenshire and given the opening sequence of the novel, in which a significant flood sweeps through the village of Tylecote, one wonders whether this is a nod from the author to Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. It is during this flood that the body of Jim Lane, fairground showman, is found; stabbed in the back. However, it is quickly discovered that the woman he lives with is not his wife, and that in fact he is a married man, whose real name is James Teasdale and who has a family back in Yorkshire. It doesn’t take Superintendent Littlejohn long to decide that the source of the culprit lies in Yorkshire, with the victim’s snobbish, self-interested and peculiar family, where no high opinion of James was held. But which one of them did the deed?

Overall Thoughts

In reading this tale, I was frequently reminded of an earlier novel by Bellairs, A Knife for Harry Dodd. Like its predecessor, today’s read has a victim who is an unfaithful husband, yet whose infidelity is depicted more favourably due to the unpleasant family members and their social expectations. In some ways the characters who have the most surface respectability are the ones who receive the most censure. Ambiguity around whose “good” and whose “bad”, also crops up in the ending of the novel, providing an intriguing finish.

Into this narrative Bellairs also injects a gentle strand of humour, particularly through Littlejohn’s internal reactions towards the difficult family members, which are partially a mixture of horror and repulsion. The police investigation unfolds effectively, with new information nicely drip fed, giving the piece a nice sense of progression. The mystery might not be the most complex, but Bellairs tells it well.

Rating: 4.25/5

Source: Review Copy (British Library)

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Professional is the main sleuth

Calendar of Crime: August (8) Month Related Item on Cover


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