Scotland Yard’s Inspector Thomas Littlejohn shines, or at least glows softly, in this pair of reprints from 1942 and 1943.
The longer first tale begins with the interruption of a Hatterworth performance of The Messiah by news of the discovery of ironworker/poacher Enoch Sykes’ dead body. Since Sykes has been missing since 1917, you’d think that this sensational find would close this case. But it reopens it instead, because everyone in Hatterworth assumed that Sykes had murdered Jeremy Trickett, another ironworker whose friendship with him had been fatally undermined by their rivalry for the attentions of Mary Tatham. Now that it seems more likely that the same person killed both men, local Superintendent Frank Haworth wants Littlejohn, who thought he was on holiday, to help track a murderer who’s escaped detection for over 20 years, and the two of them work together to uncover a surprisingly unsurprising malefactor. The shorter but more sharply characterized second novel asks which member of the little community of Stalden killed unlicensed bonesetter and homeopathic healer Nathaniel Wall and hung his corpse in his surgery. The natural suspect is local physician Dr. Alexander Keating, who’d long resented his rival’s greater popularity. But Littlejohn, called down from London, digs deeper into the case and comes up with a more unexpected motive and murderer.
Less of the unobtrusive wit that marked Death of a Busybody (2017)—readers will wait a long time for gems like one suspect’s “air of stupid sophistication”—but still considerable nostalgia value for readers who’d rather revisit England at war than ponder 21st-century America at peace.