The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs ~ British Library #CrimeClassics #Murder #Mystery

Author: George Bellairs

Published: August 2019 by British Library Publishing

Category: Classic Crime, Murder, Mystery, Book Review


Jim Teasdale has been drowned in the Dumb River, near Ely, miles from his Yorkshire home. His body, clearly dumped in the usually silent (‘dumb’) waterway, has been discovered before the killer intended — disturbed by a torrential flood.

With critical urgency it’s up to Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard to trace the mystery of the unassuming victim’s murder to its source, leaving waves of scandal and sensation in his wake as the hidden, salacious dealings of Jim Teasdale begin to surface. 

First published in 1961, The Body in The Dumb River has been reissued by the British Library Crime Classics. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of these classic crime novels, this is the first by George Bellairs. I didn’t realise the Littlejohn books were such a long running series but this book quite easily reads as a stand alone.

Superintendent Tom Littlejohn of Scotland Yard had been at the Fenshire Police Headquarters, assisting in the closure of a case, when he is woken in the early hours by the Chief Constable with the news of a murder. With the recent torrential rain, the river had burst its banks and the body of James Lane had been discovered. He’d been stabbed in the back.

James Lane ran a stall at the travelling fair and was a regular visitor to the area. But it seems Lane had been leading a double life. As James Teasdale he had a family in Yorkshire who knew nothing of his job on the fairground, much less about the woman he lived with during the week when he was supposed to be away with his job as a travelling salesman. So the investigation lead Littlejohn to Sheffield where he spoke to Teasdale’s family.

“I’m sorry Mrs Teasdale, but there’s been no mistake. I have seen his body and I recognise him from the group on the wall there. Also, he carried a car licence bearing his name and this address. I wish it had been a mistake.”

In a steadily paced police procedural, Littlejohn and Sergeant Cromwell unravel the intricacies of Teasdale’s double life and after having met his unlikeable family members, find they have some sympathy for the murdered man. The whole family seem to have had little regard for him, quite unlike the people who inhabit his other life.

Because the story is written mostly from Littlejohn’s perspective, there’s a good insight into his character, which is added to by the interaction between himself and Cromwell. He is by nature compassionate but doesn’t tolerate those who try to deceive. Other characterisations are nicely done too, giving an almost immediate sense of what Teasdale’s family consider important. Unfortunately it wasn’t him.

It’s a nice change to read an ‘old fashioned’ police procedural, with no modern technology, where the cases are solved with dogged hard work. The atmosphere, especially of the gloomy north in the mid 1900s, is evoked exceptionally well. I enjoyed the writing style, the twist at the end and the details that add depth to the story.

Book links ~ Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository | Hive Books

About the Author

George Bellairs is the nom de plume of Harold Blundell, a crime writer and bank manager born in Heywood, near Rochdale, Lancashire, who settled in the Isle of Man on retirement. He wrote more than 50 books, most featuring the series’ detective Inspector Littlejohn. He also wrote four novels under the alternative pseudonym Hilary Landon.

2 thoughts on “The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs ~ British Library #CrimeClassics #Murder #Mystery

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one – Bellairs has been slowly growing on me. He’s another one that I think does his settings very well and this one had the added bonus of two different settings. And I felt Littlejohn was more rounded than in some of the other books, where he’s felt a little bland, maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

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