He’d Rather Be Dead by George Bellairs (1945)
Over the course of many years, The Mayor of Westcombe, Sir Gideon Ware, has systematically turned what was a quaint little harbor town into a popular resort. His means, which included bribes and intimidation, haven’t always met with enthusiastic approval, and have many people harboring ill-feeling towards him.
So it’s of no surprise when, in the middle of his speech at the Mayor’s annual lunch, he drops dead. When it’s found that he was poisoned with strychnine, the local Chief Constable calls for Scotland Yard, and Inspector Littlejohn turns up to investigate.
For those interested in stories that build on characters and background, Bellairs is usually a safe bet. He’d Rather Be Dead is filled with Bellairs’s excellent descriptions of time and place. The atmosphere of a gaudy seaside resort with it’s crowds, hucksters, and cheap amusements is extraordinarily well done. Disappointingly, what it lacked were the characterizations and the snarky, witty prose which I’ve come to expect from Bellairs. Also, the addition of the long diary addendums seems unnecessary and rather bizarre.
I’ve quite a Bellairs fan, but I have found him to be a bit hit and miss. While this one just didn’t do it for me, I’ll definitely be reading more.
My Judgment – 3.5/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories – #34 Somebody Else’s Crime: Also read by Rekha @ The Book Decoder
Death at Swaythling Court by J. J. Connington (1926)
William Hubbard is not well-liked in the village of Fernhurst Parva. He’s a newcomer who just purchased Swaythling Court, collects butterflies, and sidelines in blackmail. When he’s discovered dead, apparently stabbed by a paper knife, it’s at first thought to be murder. But when it’s found that he actually died from cyanide poisoning, and the knife wound was post-mortem, the coroner’s inquest decides it had to be suicide.
The local squire, Colonel Sanderstead, who along with his nephew Cyril Norton, discovered the body, looks upon his family, and the inhabitants of the village with great fondness, and more than the usual solicitude. So when he learns that Hubbard’s blackmailing touched on individuals he cares for, he continues to look for answers, if only to protect from someone from falling under suspicion.
This is Connington’s first book in the detective genre, and it’s an entertaining one. There’s a solid murder plot filled with a lot of clues and red herrings—lethal rays, ghosts, tire tracks, motorcycles, buckles, butterflies, guns, broken windows, and partially eaten chicken are only a few—all pointing in different directions. But by holding back some crucial information, as well as the ethical conundrum of the ending, Connington plays a little fast and loose with the aspect of fair play. To give him his due, the Colonel’s views are made quite evident throughout, so the really ending should surprise no one.
Surprisingly, the tone is much lighter than in Connington’s subsequent books with Sir Driffield as the protagonist. Colonel Sanderstead is definitely more of the bluff and blustery type of investigator. Even the confession from the culprit is more of a discussion between cronies, filled with witty banter.
Entertaining and well worth a look.
My Judgment – 3.75/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2011 Vintage Mystery Challenge – Take ‘Em to Trial: Book 6 of 16