“But what about the victim, Oldfield? Who is Tither? What is she?”
“I was coming to that. She’s an old maid who lives in Hilary Magna and about the biggest paul-pry in the county. Nothing goes on that she doesn’t know about, or rather didn’t.”
Death of a Busybody is my first read from the British Library Crime Classics series. After a few months of waffling about, not knowing which book to start with, I chose this one based on this review posted on Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.
In the small and idyllic village of Hilary Magna, the body of local nosy parker, Miss Ethel Tither is discovered lying face-down in a cesspool on the vicarage grounds. While the nature of her death comes as a shock to the village, hardly anyone is surprised that someone would want to do away with her. Not exactly a popular resident of Hilary Magna, Miss Tither was known as bully and a ruthless Peeping Tom, prying into the affairs of others, airing out marital indiscretions between married couples, verbally accosting those who’ve sinned in her eyes and pushing religious tracts on them.
Realizing that the investigation may be a lot more than they can handle, the local police tap Scotland Yard for assistance, and Inspector Thomas Littlejohn arrives to investigate. Aided by Inspector Oldfield and local police constabulary, Harriwinckle, Littlejohn begins to discover just how far the old busybody’s prying went, and the lengths some people will go to keep their secrets buried.
Okay, first off, this book was more fun than I anticipated. I was pleasantly surprised with the subtle humor peppered throughout the story. In one particular scene, the usually affable Inspector Littlejohn is interviewing the victim’s maid and is doing his best control his irritation as the woman’s fiancé, the self-righteous Mr. Thornbush sits in on the interview and pipes in with religious quotes in between.
“Well, Sarah,” began Littlejohn, “I’m down here to investigate the death and bring to justice, if I can, the murderer of your late mistress…”
“Let the ungodly fall into their own nets…” interjected Mr. Thornbush to himself, as though commencing a running commentary on Littlejohn’s narrative. The Inspector remembered Mr. Claplady’s remarks on the shepherd’s knowledge of the Psalms and resigned himself to an accompaniment of sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
There are plenty of notable characters besides the capable Inspector Littlejohn. P. C., Sam Harriwinckle, Hilary Magna’s ‘representative of law and order’ comes off at the beginning as self-important, driven by good food and the desire to earn his ‘stripes’, but as the investigation progresses he proves to be quite assertive and resourceful, providing Littlejohn with information regarding Miss Tither’s involvement with certain villagers. The Reverend Ethelred Claplady, vicar of Hilary Magna, is an amiable, learned fellow who endured Miss Tither’s tirades more than a few times. And there’s Detective Sergeant Cromwell, who never fails to get over a quandary by asking himself, “What would Oliver Cromwell have done?”
The most fun I had was reading the chapter entitled, Eavesdropping Over Dinner, where Inspector Littlejohn overhears some villagers discussing the late Miss Tither at the bar of the inn he’s staying at. I chose to read out the dialogue to get a feel for the heavy accent but I think I ended up sounding more American Southern than anything.
I know I moaned in an earlier post about overdoing it on the cozy books, and Death of a Busybody is, in my opinion, a cozy whodunit. But it’s a fun and absorbing whodunit, and it provided me with unexpected giggles, so yeah, I’m looking forward to reading more of George Bellairs’s Inspector Littlejohn.