During the anniversary tea party of the Zion Chapel in Swarebridge the Alderman Harbuttle begins behaving in an unusually good-humored manner. He leads the assembly in his annual game of crocodile, through the chapel’s winding halls until the revels are brought to an abrupt end when Harbuttle suddenly drops into the darkness of a trapdoor in the floor and is then found crumpled below, with a bread knife through his heart. Superintendent Nankivell happens to be on the scene and takes immediate charge of a case which proves to be anything but a simple one.
Bellairs is such a lovely writer, one who excels in character building and humor. But this is not one of his best. He has written a story with an entirely new detective character, but there is nothing about Nankivell that makes him stand out, or make you want to read more about him. That can be said for just about all of the characters. Bellairs is a favorite of mine because of his genius at characterization. In one line he can write a description of an individual that is quirky, funny, snarky, or charming. Yet here, the majority are no more than walk-ons who then exit stage left.
As there is little if any detection that goes on the mystery itself falls rather flat. Nankivell is actually forced by his Chief Superintendent to investigate instead of turning things over to Scotland Yard. There were many suspects with significant motives introduced, black-market dealings, spying on neighbors, romantic rivalry, and even a second murder, yet clues were definitely lacking — for the reader at least. And the final solution, when it did come, felt very perfunctory. Maybe in this case Inspector Littlejohn should have been called in?
Maybe this was an experiment with a new character, or Bellairs trying to break out of a rut. Whatever it was, it was not a great success. Yet for all of the faults in this, I will not give up on Bellairs!
My Judgment – 3.5/5
Previous Judgments – Rekha @ The Book Decoder, Buddy Read by Rekha & Kate (Cross Examining Crime)
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2016: Scavenger Hunt – Chandelier/Candle/etc.
Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – February #7. Book title has word starting with “F.”