Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: CORPSES IN ENDERBY (1954) by George Bellairs


I was not bowled over by this, my first George Bellairs book, but I was engaged enough. I am very fond of murder mysteries that take place in English villages and are written with some wit and imaginative detail. I am also fond of mysteries in which the characters have eccentric names. Bellairs has a gift for naming his characters, no question.

From reading about Bellairs on a couple of other blogs, I got the impression that he is not considered top notch, but then there are not all that many 'top-notchers' that remain unread. And once you've read those, what do you do? You go to the next tier, and the next one below that and hope for the best. Otherwise, you'd have to stop reading vintage mysteries altogether or read the same ones over and over. The choices are not infinite.

Bellairs was the pseudonym for a British author named Harold Blundell (1902 - 1982) who also wrote as Hilary Landon. That's all I'll say about him, because really, if you're interested, you can find out all you want to know by googling. Frankly, those kinds of details don't interest me that much. I prefer to concentrate on his wares: the book (or books) as the case may be.

CORPSES IN ENDERBY hints at more than the usual amount of murders but doesn't deliver more than the usual - this time, two. With a title like that you'd have expected the plot to be littered with...well, corpses, but to no avail. Still, I enjoyed the book once I realized that two was it.

However, I was not all that impressed with Bellairs' cop duo: Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Littlejohn and his associate, Cromwell. Neither of them made any long-lasting impression on me. But we'll see as I get further into the series.

The plot:

Ned Bun is not a well-liked denizen of the English village of Enderby. He is a bully with money - the type that usually winds up prematurely dead in mysteries of this type. So when he's murdered on a dark and stormy night there's not much sadness in evidence though of course, there's the usual consternation in the village. The real question to my mind is - why wasn't he killed sooner?

Enter Scotland Yard after Bunn's body is found sprawled on a rainy street just outside his shop.

Almost immediately we have a suspect. A man named Wilfred Flounder (I told you, Bellairs has a gift for names), a would-be suitor of Bunn's daughter Bertha - they were planning on running away since Bunn was not keen on the match. In fact Flounder seems to be the last person to have seen Bunn alive and judging by the police's interest he is convinced he's going to be arrested.

"In the afternoon following the murder of Edwin [Ned] Bunn, Wilfred Flounder took a rope from the shop and prepared to hang himself. He was highly strung and impulsive, and he thought he might as well get it done before the public hangman did it for him."

Ned Bunn was an unlamented member of a large clan of country folk who see it as familial duty for all to descend on Enderby for the funeral draped in black like a bunch of beetles gathering at a dung feast.

I loved the parade of eccentrics as they show up either on the local bus or in taxis. Though the family is known to have lots of money, they certainly don't lavish it on themselves or their methods of transportation.

"Mr. Blowitt [the publican] was still standing at the window watching the procession of Bunns coming and going at the shop opposite. The coffin with the corpse had just been taken in and figures in black kept entering eagerly and coming out with either tearful or resigned expressions. A large taxi, like a hearse itself, drew up bearing a black burden of such weight that the vehicle heeled over dangerously.

"Hullo. Aunt Sarah's come."

Several of the family emerged, fawned on the contents of the taxi, and then hoisted out an enormous woman, larger than any two of the reception committee."

The author parades three viable suspects before us as the story progresses, it's not only Wilfred Flounder (he survives the botched suicide attempt) who looks suspicious. There is also a desperate man named Hetherow who has the shop next door to the dead man and unable to pay his mortgage to Bunn was about to be foreclosed upon, he and his sick wife thrown out into the street.  Then there's Jubal Medlicott who has a roving eye and a habit of wearing spats (even though this is the 1950's) and strutting about like a dandy with a flower in a buttonhole. Medlicott had long ago gone through his wife's money and they and their silly twin daughters were now reduced to living in the attic of their former home while renting the rest of the building out to noisy tenants. His doormat of a wife, Anne Bunn, is due to come into a very welcome share of Ned's money.

There are all sorts of secrets, red herrings and village shenanigans to be exposed and exploited and about three quarters of the way through, we kind of know who did the dirty deed. Unlike Christie and the other 'top-notchers' Bellairs isn't able to hold the plot together strongly enough NOT to give away the identity of the killer. But I still read through to the end and didn't resent the fact.

Since I haven't read any other Bellair books, I have to say that judging by this one, I will be reading a couple more now and then as they are readily available as e-books for Kindle. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Since this is Friday once again, don't forget to check in at author and Edgar Award nominee Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

17 comments:

  1. Great review! The cover alone is worth buying the book for, don't you think?

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    1. Thanks, Peggy Ann. Yes, this is a great cover. I wish I had it. :)

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  2. Have never read this author but now am curious enough to search for his books. Thanks Yvette.

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    1. You're welcome, Neer. I had never read him either. But his books are now available on Kindle.

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  3. i'll have to read this; possibly a welcome alternative to the "greats"... tx...

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    1. Yeah, the 'not so greats'. Actually, not a bad book at all. I enjoyed it just not as much as I've enjoyed other vintage authors. But still worth a read.

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  4. I've read four Littlejohn books and that's enough for me. This one is not among them. My favorite was one that has been reprinted by the British Library and I heartily recommend it: THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED. The ending really fooled me! I've seen used copies for sale at $6, but a new one'll cost you $10. The BL has that title bound in within another called MURDER OF A QUACK, but I don't knew anything about that one. Still, two books for the price of one: such a deal! They've also reprinted DEATH OF A BUSYBODY. Maybe more are on the way. Who knows? The other Bellairs books I've read I won't mention because like most of the books I own and have read are ridiculously scarce. They're pretty much duds; best you don't even know about them. :^D

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    1. Thanks for sparing me the duds, John. :) That's what friends are for. I will look for THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED, it may be available as an e-book. Littlejohn is not the most memorable of characters but I liked the rest of cast in this one. If you haven't read it, I recommend you give Bellairs one more try. Primarily for the assorted characters which are very richly imagined. This one is available as an e-book - cheap.

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  5. I've come a few of his actually but never picked one up - thanks Yvette, sounds 'doable' to me :)

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    1. If you're in the mood for a 'village' murder and eccentric characters, give it a try. If you come across a copy somewhere. :)

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    2. That was supposed to be 'come across' - sorry Yvette - blogger was treating me a little ill the other day :)

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  6. The cover, yes! And this: "like a bunch of beetles gathering at a dung feast." Almost sold me with that, Yvette.

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    1. Ha! I wondered if I'd gone to far with that one, Mathew. But that's how they all seemed to me. You have to have an inclination for these sorts of things, otherwise books like these are not worth the hunting down. Luckily for me, I do.

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  7. Nicely reviewed, Yvette. I'd never heard of George Bellairs. And that wonderfully illustrated cover would have been enough for me to pick up this book. Wit is what makes many of these English mystery novels so good to read.

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    1. Exactly, Prashant. Wit and a complete understanding of village life. It doesn't hurt at all if you have a penchant for eccentricity too. :)

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  8. You certainly have enticed me into giving this author and this book a try, Yvette. Or possibly one of his earlier books.

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    1. Readily available on e-books. I discovered that the actual hardcopies are more difficult and pricier. This is not great stuff, but certainly worth looking for and reading when you're in the mood.These village murder books are usually my go-to comfort read when I'm feeling out of sorts.

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