My thanks to British Library Publishing for this latest little gem from the Crime Classics Collection. George Bellairs published prolifically from the 1940’s through to the 1980’s, many of his stories featuring Thomas Littlejohn. This novel first published in 1964 examines crime in a small community investigated by Littlejohn and his colleagues.
An explosion and three deaths, possibly accidental until dynamite enters the equation, throws up our titular ‘surfeit of suspects’ ( isn’t that a deliciously alliterative title?) as the politics and economics of the small town of Evingden weave their tentacles in and out of each other leaving Littlejohn to summon the full extent of his policing and sleuthing expertise.
As the story progresses and the insidious motivations start to be exposed it all becomes a tad shady and uneasy. To balance that out there is a subtle wit that Bellairs employs as he develops his characters. It’s a story that demands the reader stay alert!! There’s a lot going on and with the clue in the title the reader cannot admit to being surprised by the abundance of red herrings trying to lead us all, including the police, down the wrong paths. So many people with so much to hide seems to be one of the features of the ‘small town community’ novel. It’s so intriguing.
The lack of modern policing methods is often a feature that strikes me when I read these Crime Classics. If someone were ever to undertake the task of rewriting Golden Age of Crime Classics where the investigators employed modern policing methods, well, there would be a surfeit of short stories!! But it always makes for a for more cerebral read and an admiration for the plotting undertaken by the writer.
To try and summarise the plot would be a disservice for potential readers I feel plus it is complex with its numerous strands. Not many of the characters are especially likeable and it becomes clear that many have things to hide. Some are downright objectionable like Vintner, others smarmy like the lawyer Hartley Ash, some inadequate like poor Fred Hoop. With a concluding denouement reveal in the lawyers office our emotions are altered little even as we discover the perpetrator of the crime. But there’s always a satisfaction when the ends are tied up and the villain are brought to justice.
As always there’s a tidy and informative introduction from Martin Edwards which sets the reader up nicely for the Littlejohn of the Yard and his surfeit of suspects.