Today’s read is Bellairs’ 25th Littlejohn mystery and sees the inspector, now a Chief Inspector, heading to Falbright to investigate the baffling murder of John Grebe. He was one of the captains that piloted the Falbright Jenny, which transported passengers between Falbright and Elmer’s Creek. During the last journey of the day the passengers realise the boat is not taking its usual course and it soon runs into a sandbank. Somehow during the journey Grebe has disappeared. Later he is found in the river, stabbed in the back. From the get-go Grebe is a man with a mysterious past and when threatening postcards are discovered, it seems he was also a man with something to hide.
Littlejohn and his colleague Sergeant Cromwell are an effective duo as usual in this mystery, though it was surprising to learn that the latter enjoyed doing yoga. Having read quite a few titles by Bellairs in the last year or two, I have learnt how to identify what motives and information are extraneous to the solution and which leads need to be followed. As such I found I bought less into the earlier parts of the investigation. Although there is a slippery clue introduced at this point, which was a nice touch.
In keeping with other Littlejohn mysteries the answer to the crime lies in the past and the backstory of the victim invariably leads a trial to the guilty party. However, an issue with this approach to creating a mystery story is that the reader cannot anticipate much of the solution or work much of it out ahead of time. Instead the narrative has to tell the reader about what happened in the past and in the case of this book the telling is quite protracted. On this occasion Bellairs provides some variation within this formula as more than one past event contributed to the recent murder, which I found interesting. Nevertheless, I think it would have been more effectively used if we could have spent more time with the relevant suspects. Spending most of our page time with Inspector Littlejohn distances us from the case somewhat and on this occasion dampens the impact of the intricate human emotions found in the solution. A more suspect focused narrative would have made these emotions more palpable.
Source: Review Copy (Agora Books via Netgalley)