The Dead Shall be Raised & The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs

A twofer…

For some reason, the British Library has given us a double helping in this volume, with two full-size novels both starring Inspector Littlejohn.

The Dead Shall Be Raised

😀 😀 😀 😀

This is set during WW2 and tells the story of a murder that happened twenty years earlier, during WW1. Inspector Littlejohn has travelled to Yorkshire to spend Christmas with his wife, who is living there to get away from the bombing of London. But no sooner has he arrived than a corpse is dug up, and is soon identified as Enoch Sykes, a young man who disappeared twenty years ago at the same time as his one-time friend Jerry Trickett was found shot dead. The assumption was that Enoch had killed Jerry in a fight over a girl and then fled. But now it appears the case is more complicated and Inspector Littlejohn is happy to work alongside the local police to investigate. Soon it becomes clear that more than one of the locals had reason to resent Enoch and Littlejohn will have to use all his skills to find the murderer.

The book starts off with Littlejohn travelling to Yorkshire by train, immediately giving a great feeling for the restrictions and difficulties of getting around during the war. Once in the village of Hatterworth, the descriptive writing is equally good and we are taken into village life straight away as the Littlejohns attend the parish carol service. When the investigation gets underway we are introduced to the other characters, and Bellairs makes each of them believable, from the old innkeeper who saw the two victims on the night of the crime, to the retired policeman who carried out the original investigation, to old Mrs Sykes, Enoch’s mother, and at the other end of the social scale, Mrs Myles, once their employer. It is deep midwinter, and Bellairs makes us feel the snow and bitter cold as the detectives trudge around talking to witnesses and suspects.

I did enjoy this, but somehow it didn’t completely catch fire for me. It’s very well written and although the pool of suspects is small, the solution is more complex than it first appears that it might be. I think it was maybe that Littlejohn, though likeable enough and certainly good at his job, is a bit bland. I didn’t get much of a feel for what he was thinking or feeling, or of what kind of man he was. That felt a bit strange since all the secondary characters were so well drawn, so it may be that Bellairs was assuming his readers would already know all about Littlejohn from previous books – this, I believe, was the 4th in the series. A 4-star read, then, but it certainly left me keen enough to want to read the other book…

* * * * *

The Murder of a Quack

😀 😀 😀 😀

George Bellairs

Since I’m never keen about reading books in the same series immediately after each other, I left a gap of a few months before reading this second one, and found I fell back into the author’s world very happily and was pleased to meet up with Inspector Littlejohn again, so clearly he’d left a better long-term impression than I initially thought he would.

Nathaniel Wall, an elderly, well-regarded bonesetter, is found murdered in his surgery. He has been strangled, then hanged in an attempt to make it look like suicide. The local police promptly call in Inspector Littlejohn of the Yard. This gets off to a great start again, as Bellairs describes the local policeman enjoying a rare moment of peace and then being called out to investigate when Wall’s housekeeper returns from an overnight visit to her sister to find the surgery door locked. Bellairs is really good at creating an atmosphere from the beginning, which immediately leaves the reader wanting to know what happened.

The idea of the bonesetter intrigued me too – something I haven’t come across before. This is again set during WW2 (though the war has no relevance to the plot), before the creation of the National Health Service and before medicine became so strictly regulated. Today we’d think of Wall as an osteopath primarily, though he also dips into other fields of medicine including the more “alternative” one of homeopathy. His family have been bonesetters for generations, though his nephew has succumbed to modernity by qualifying as a doctor. While this nephew is a dedicated professional, the local qualified doctor is a drunken incompetent, who strongly resents that so many locals prefer to visit the “quack” Walls rather than him. It’s an interesting comparison of the skilled but unqualified practitioner and the feckless professional, with all the sympathy going to the former.

The plotting and characterisation are both done well again, as in the first book, but it’s definitely the setting and atmosphere of both that appeals to me, and in this one, I felt I got to know Inspector Littlejohn a little more fully. Well written, above-average police procedurals, and I’ll happily look out for more from Bellairs.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

26 thoughts on “The Dead Shall be Raised & The Murder of a Quack by George Bellairs

  1. That is unusual that they’d have two full-length novels in the same book, FictionFan. But they both sound like enjoyable stories. As I was reading your post, I was thinking about the setting and the atmosphere. It certainly sounds like they’re done well, and I can imagine what it must have been like to try to manage – even outside the actual area of bombing – during the war. That in itself is an interesting reason to try the books. And it is refreshing that Littlejohn sounds like a balanced, sane detective who can actually maintain a relationship.

    • Yes, I don’t know why they did that but it felt like an extra treat! I’ve found a lot of these books are set during the war and yet are not actually about the war, and that actually gives a better picture of what life must have been like on the home front than books specifically addressing the subject in some ways. We have a tendency to forget the war went on for seven years so must have become “normal” for a lot of the people living through it.

    • The covers are gorgeous! I must say I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of the books too – we tend to think all Golden Age mysteries were written to a format, but the ones the BL has reissued certainly weren’t… 😀

  2. The last thing I need is another series, so I’m pretending I didn’t see how interesting these look. 😉

    I always read series in order and there can be a fine line between reading the installments so closely together that you begin to tire of them and so far apart that you have to refresh yourself too much on who is who. (the latter often being the case when reading them in real time, especially when authors write slowly!)

    • Haha – I have so much difficulty just keeping up with the books the BL is releasing that I never get around to following up on the authors. Thank goodness – my TBR would be twice as long otherwise!!

      Yes, I find that very much with modern crime where there’s quite often a running story arc or where the detective’s personal life is as important as the plot. But the joy of the Golden Age was that the detectives just stay the same all the time, and the books are true standalones even when they’re part of a series, so I find it easy to dip in and out…

  3. Woo-Hoo, both of these sound good! Not that I need more books to add to my TBR, but I’ve not read any of Bellairs to date, and perhaps I need to remedy that. And if winter doesn’t hurry up and go away, it looks like I’ll have time on my hands for more reading!

    • I hadn’t come across Bellairs before either – another one who seems to have been unfairly forgotten! Ha – the sun is attempting to shine here this weekend, but it’s still sooo cold!! Time to curl up with a cat and a book, I think… 😀

  4. These both sound good – I’m glad you enjoyed them! I have a different George Bellairs book on the TBR (Corpses in Enderby) so I should be meeting Inspector Littlejohn myself soon. 🙂

    • Oh, I hope you enjoy it! I loved the way he built up the atmosphere and setting in each of these in the first couple of chapters, and though Littlejohn is a bit bland in comparison to, say, Poirot, he’s a likeable ‘tec. I’d happily read more in the series…

  5. Hmmm when the detective is a bit bland, a mystery seems to lost a bit of its interest doesn’t it? I think that’s because we don’t care enough about the detective, maybe we don’t care enough about the crime? Have you read any psychological analyses of the mystery yet FF? Or does someone still need to write that book? Why do we can about the detective so much?

    • Haha – they just keep coming! I think they’re picking really good ones at the moment – the early variability seems to have settled down and I’m liking most of them a lot now… tragically!

  6. I can’t read consecutive books in a mystery series right after one another either. I need at least a one book break in between. At my library I see people check out five books by the same author and then plow right through them in a week. I always wonder how they do that. It’s like binging on Netflix shows I guess!

    • Yes, if I read them too close together I either find they get repetitive or I start noticing continuity errors – like poor old Dr Watson, whose war wound kept moving around his body! So I like to give it at least a couple of months so I’ve forgotten all the details.

  7. Great review! I’m glad to hear good things about this set – I bought this not too long ago after reading Death of a Busybody by Bellairs, which I believe is the third book in the series featuring Littlejohn. I loved the setting and the secondary characters in that one, and it sounds like this set is just as fun!

    • Thank you! 🙂 I’m so glad they’re bringing back some of these “forgotten” authors and Bellairs is one I’m definitely hoping to read more of. I think he’s particularly good at the settings, and he does seem to vary them – the places in these two were very different from each other. And he seems to find interesting subjects too – I’d never come across the idea of “quack” doctors in quite this way before. Hope you enjoy them when you get to them!

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