Death in A White Tie by Ngaio Marsh

Author does not allow the romance to dominate the story

Death in a White Tie is the seventh Alleyn novel
Death in a White Tie is
the seventh Alleyn novel
Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn and artist Agatha Troy meet up again in Death in a White Tie, the seventh novel in the series of Inspector Alleyn mysteries by Ngaio Marsh, which was published in 1938.

Although Alleyn and Troy’s romance makes progress during the novel, the focus of the story is on Alleyn’s investigation into the murder of a popular member of the nobility, who has been helping Scotland Yard to uncover the identity of a blackmailer who has been preying on wealthy women.

Alleyn feels responsible for Lord (Bunchy) Gospell’s death and vows to catch and punish the killer himself because Bunchy, who is murdered in a taxi on his way home from a ball, has been gathering information for the police.

Bunchy was also a close friend of Troy’s, and therefore the detective and the painter find themselves once again thrown together during a murder investigation.

Ngaio, who was a native New Zealander, and spent some of her time living in England, provides a vivid picture for the reader of the London season as it was during the 1930s. She shows the debutantes and chaperones doing the rounds of the cocktail parties, dinners, and balls, based on her own observations of society while she was staying in London.

But the hunt for Bunchy’s killer is kept centre stage during the novel and the police investigation is interesting to follow. Alleyn has friends and relatives at many of the social occasions featured in the story and so events can unfold naturally. In the earlier novels, when Alleyn was an outsider called in to investigate in an unknown environment, he had to conduct a series of interviews to establish the facts.

Patrick Malahide and Belinda Lang played  Alleyn and Troy in the TV adaptation
Patrick Malahide and Belinda Lang played 
Alleyn and Troy in the TV adaptation
Ngaio does not allow Alleyn to reveal who killed his friend until near the end of the novel, when there is a dramatic showdown scene in the Assistant Commissioner’s office at Scotland Yard.

Death in a White Tie was adapted for television in 1993 when it was an episode in the BBC’s Inspector Alleyn Mysteries series. The role of Alleyn was played by the actor Patrick Malahyde.

I enjoyed Death in a White Tie and thought it was even better than the previous six novels in the series.

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Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

A murky tale of murder with an eccentric cast of suspects 

Death of a Busybody is the third Inspector Littlejohn mystery
Death of a Busybody is the third
Inspector Littlejohn mystery
The writer of Death of a Busybody, George Bellairs, was bank manager Harold Blundell  by day.

Blundell must have been a keen student of human nature while working at his bank in Manchester because many of the characters he depicts in this story display unusual quirks and idiosyncrasies.

The busybody referred to in the title of the book is Miss Ethel Tither, who has made herself deeply unpopular in the quaint English village of Hilary Magna, by going out of her way to snoop on people and interfere with their lives.

When Miss Tither is found floating in the vicar’s cesspool, having been bludgeoned by an attacker before being left to drown in the drainage water, the local police quickly feel they are out of their depth and call in Scotland Yard.

Inspector Thomas Littlejohn, the author’s series detective, arrives by train and finds there is no shortage of suspects in the case. He must piece together the clues quickly in order to find out who was responsible for the murder of the busybody and restore order and calm in the village.

This is the third Littlejohn novel by George Bellairs, who was born Harold Blundell in 1902 near Rochdale in Lancashire. He wrote more than 50 novels, most of them featuring Littlejohn, starting with Littlejohn on Leave, published in 1941 and finishing with An Old Man Dies, published just before his own death in 1982.

Death of a Busybody was published in 1942. While he was writing it, Bellairs was working in a bank during the day and acting as an air raid warden at night, having been exempted from military service because he was blind in one eye. He had discovered that writing a detective novel helped to pass the time during the blackout.

Bellairs was bank manager Harold Blundell in his day job
Bellairs was bank manager
Harold Blundell in his day job
Bellairs wrote amusing stories that gave his readers welcome light relief during the war years and in the difficult decades that followed. For example, in Death of a Busybody, one of the detectives assisting Littlejohn goes to interview a retired accountant whose hobby is bird watching and who writes about his ornithological studies. The two becomes friends and the detective also becomes a bird enthusiast. At the end of the novel, it is revealed that they have subsequently published a joint treatise about birds and have presented a copy to Inspector Littlejohn. This is an example of the author’s mischievous sense of humour revealing itself in what is essentially a classic mystery novel.

Another delightful aspect of the novel is the way Bellairs depicts rural life at the beginning of the 1940s. He reveals some of the eccentricities of the local population with great humour, in a similar way to Gladys Mitchell in her Mrs Bradley mystery, The Devil at Saxon Wall, which was published in 1935.

Although his books were also published in the US and translated into other languages, Bellairs regarded crime writing as a hobby and he continued to write for pleasure rather than profit. After his death, his books became largely forgotten by the wider public, which was a great pity

First editions in dust jackets of early books by Bellairs are now quite rare and therefore collectable and fetch high prices. But now some of his books are available to new readers thanks to the British Library Crime Classics series, enabling 21st century detective story fans to enjoy his mysteries and find pleasure once again in his gentle humour.

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