Thursday, 19 December 2019

Death in Room Five by George Bellairs

Death in Room Five (The Inspector Littlejohn Mysteries Book 23) by George Bellairs
First published in the UK in 1955. Republished by Agora Books on the 13th November 2019.

One of my Classics Club reads and my 1950s book for my 2019-20 Decade Challenge

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The British bulldog does not let go until the murderer is brought to justice. But this is not Scotland Yard, Inspector. This is France…

This trip to the French Riviera isn’t what anyone signed up for: while Littlejohn loses his vacation, another man loses his life. When Alderman Dawson, the victim of a deathly stabbing, calls Littlejohn to his deathbed, the inspector is left with no choice but to investigate. With twelve suspects in play and motives dating back to WWII, this might be one of his toughest cases yet. More bodies are turning up and the French police are unwilling to investigate… could this be the case that even Littlejohn can’t solve?

About Inspector Littlejohn 
Inspector Thomas Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is a shrewd yet courteous sleuth who splits his time between quaint English villages, the scenic Isle of Man and French Provinces. With a sharp tongue and a dry sense of humour, Littlejohn approaches his work with poise and confidence, shifting through red-herrings and solving even the most perplexing of cases.

After reading book 20 (A Knife For Harry Dodd) and book 13 (The Case Of The Demented Spiv) of George Bellairs' Inspector Littlejohn crime mystery series, I've now jumped to book 23! This is not deliberately intended to irritate people who resolutely read series in the correct order, it's just how the review copies are appearing on NetGalley! In this novel, Inspector Littlejohn has travelled to the beautiful French Riviera for a holiday, but soons finds himself abandoning his remarkably patient wife to her own devices as he throws himself into solving a complicated murder mystery.

George Bellairs travelled frequently in France himself and his love of the country and its culture is much in evidence throughout this story. He is also very much aware of the standard Little Englander mistrust of anything 'forrin' which is brilliantly well depicted in the behaviours of Alderman Dawson's holiday party. This group of a dozen people travelled from their Bolchester homes to their Cannes villa for a taste of French life, but they insist on only English food being served and only go en masse on strictly organised excursions. I'd like to say that this is a quaint portrait of 1950s attitudes, but sadly such isolationism is still all too common today. Of course, when one of the Bolchester party, Alderman Dawson, is stabbed and dies this just serves to reinforce the negativity - even when evidence suggests that the murderer might not actually be French after all.

The storyline is entertaining and, for me, sufficiently complicated that I was kept gripped for several hours. I didn't quite accept the denouement as plausible, but appreciated the hoops Bellairs had everyone jump through in order to get there. I loved the seedily glamorous Cannes locations too, especially the way they are contrasted with a brief glimpse of small town Bolchester. What absolutely made this book for me was Bellairs' characterisations. I am now getting used to Inspector Littlejohn being a bit of a nondescript plodder because it gives chances to everyone around him to ruthlessly scenesteal. In Death In Room Five Mrs Beaumont is a glorious creation - think of a fervently teetotal Hyacinth Bucket! I also liked weaselly Marriott and the permanently pissed coach driver. (There should be a drunk driving trigger warning for this novel.)

Death In Room Five is a satisfying murder mystery with a good sense of style and place. I did fear that transplanting Inspector Littlejohn to France would be Bellairs' way of compensating for a lack of story ideas after writing so many books (he actually wrote over 50 Littlejohn novels in the end!) so was pleased to find a strong narrative, lots of good local detail, and plenty of of entertaining humour.

Etsy Find!
by Au Bonheur Des Dames in
La Rochelle, France

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

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Books by George Bellairs / Crime fiction / Books from England


  1. I do love a good mystery. It's also nice when it is part of a series that does not necessarily have to be read in order.

    1. Bellairs wrote so many of these stories that even the current republisher isn't trying to get them in the original order!

  2. I do not possess the ability to jump around when reading various series so I always am impressed by people who manage to do so and not mind at all! Sounds like a good mystery. Always a bit disappointing when the outcome doesn't feel to believable but it doesn't seem like it bothered you too much!

    1. There rarely seems to be much in the way of a backstory for Inspector Littlejohn so each book is effectively a standalone mystery. I could have done with a better ending, but enjoyed the journey to get there