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

“James Teasdale had been knocked from pillar to post by his wife and her family; dogged by ill-luck in business. A no-good bum, his father-in-law called him. Then, he found a bit of peace with Martha Gomm and some respite from his creditors and his extravagant family in a job with the Scott-Harris clan couldn’t believe existed. He’d fled from the torture of life in Basilden and found happiness in a roving existence. And now he ended up on a slab in the morgue…”

Jim Teasdale was leading a double life. Then he is found in Tylecote, his body thrown in the Dumb River, and he has been stabbed in the back. It is soon apparent to Superintendent Littlejohn that the answers to this case lie elsewhere, with the family in Yorkshire who think so little of him.

“Not a word of sympathy for the murdered man. He might have engineered it all specially to spite them.”

When I finished reading this I was left wondering what to say in my review. The whole thing was just lacking. There is not a lot of mystery here. The plot is quite simple, and while the list of suspects may appear long, it is easy to pick out whodunit. 

The main protagonists, Superintendent Littlejohn and Sergeant Cromwell were almost non-entities. There was hardly a hint of the relationship between them, or the quirky interactions they have with the characters. These are in the forefront in books like A Knife for Harry Dodd and Corpses in Enderby, and provided a great deal of enjoyment when reading them. 

It is Bellairs’ gift for imagery, characterizations, and his mocking wit that usually keeps me reading. While there were snatches of that to be found here, they were few and far between. I’ve now read several books in the Littlejohn series, and have found that the depth and the quality of the plots and story telling vary. I have yet to read any of the early books in series, so I cannot really say if it is an issue that occurs over time, or just periodically.

Not a satisfying read. But I’m not giving up on Bellairs yet, because when it’s good, it’s really good. 

My thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advanced reader copy made available for my review.

My Judgement – 3/5Prior Rulings – Rekha @ The Book Decoder, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

6 thoughts on “The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs (1961)

  1. Having read three reviews on this title in a relatively short space of time it is intriguing to see how opinions on it diverge. Wondering which side of the fence I will be on when I try it too!

  2. Waiting to see what you think of it, Kate.
    Actually, Laurie and the puzzle doctor aren’t wrong when they say there wasn’t much of a story.

  3. My take on Bellairs overall pretty much matches your opinion here — not read this one, but I can see sufficient parallels here with why I’ve seen in the ones I have read, and that’s enough to dissuade me from jumping in here. So thanks for saving my time, I’ll try to put it to use reading something I enjoy!

    1. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but knowing his personal story (as detailed by Martin in the intro), he may have felt an obligation to put out a book a year. Unfortunately inspiration does not arise from obligation. Just a thought.

      1. Yeah, good point. Quite a few GAD authors may have felt the pressure to put out a book a year when they looked at Christie, Carr, Rhode, Marsh, etc, producing at least that. And, in most cases, it’s hard not to feel that less pressure to put stuff out might have elevated more than a few careers.

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