Miss Tither, the village busybody, is not the best-loved resident of Hilary Magna. She has made many enemies: bombarding the villagers with religious tracts, berating drunkards, and informing the spouses of cheating partners. Her murder, however, is still a huge shock to the Reverend Ethelred Claplady and his parish.
Inspector Littlejohn's understanding of country ways makes him Scotland Yard's first choice for the job. Basing himself at the village inn, Littlejohn works with the local police to investigate what lay behind the murder.
A second death does little to settle the collective nerves of the village, and as events escalate, a strange tale of hidden identities, repressed resentment, religious fervour and financial scams is uncovered. Life in the picturesque village of Hilary Magna proves to be very far from idyllic.
First published in 1942, this atmospheric whodunit from Bellairs (1902 1982) in the British Library Crime Classics series kicked off a decades-long series featuring affable Scotland Yarder Thomas Littlejohn. Littlejohn travels from London to the quintessential quiet English village of Hilary Magna after the local gossip and scold, Ethel Tither, is found dead in the cesspool on the property of the Rev. Ethelred Claplady. Tither, who had no shortage of enemies, apparently drowned in a few inches of water, but she also suffered several head injuries. The inspector sets about listening to the locals' theories of the case while exploring the possible guilt of some of those who wished the victim ill because of her penchant for interfering with others' lives, as well as those with a financial stake in her demise. Readers should be prepared for a solid if unspectacular characterization of the lead. This mystery will appeal to those in search of a comfort read rather than a dazzling display of deductive brilliance.