The Murder of a Quack – George Bellairs
This is a rather light but entertaining story featuring the amiable Inspector Littlejohn from Scotland Yard. His Modus operandi is one of steady as she goes, a methodical trawl through the clues and interviewing witnesses and suspects. What might be a pedestrian read is spiced up by Bellairs’ natural humour and sharp observation.
The quack in question is Nathaniel Wall, a bonesetter, someone who manipulates bones and joints but is not medically qualified. Wall’s family have practised as bonesetters for years in the quiet English village of Stalden. The medical profession has always looked askance at the Walls and the latest doctor in the village, a man with a drink problem and who mishandled a case, is particularly virulent about their skills. One day Wall is found hanging from one of the devices he uses to manipulate patients? What looks an open and shut case takes on a surprising life of its own.
On arriving at the village, Littlejohn soon discovers that others have motives to have Wall out of the way, besides the resident doctor. There is a young woman who had treated Wall as her uncle until he objected to her boyfriend, a man who claims to be a reader for a firm of publishers. Wall tried to prevent what he thought was an unsuitable marriage. A mysterious man with a deformity had been a live-in patient at Wall’s residence and had extensive work performed on him. Littlejohn finds newspaper clippings in Wall’s office relating to a notorious bank robbery and a forgery and he begins to wonder whether there is a wider dimension to what may otherwise have been a local dispute. The discovery of another body, hidden down the well, confirms his suspicions.
The case is neatly wrapped up and the loose ends are resolved, making for a quick, entertaining read, a book that can easily be read in an evening. There is nothing too demanding in either the plot or Bellairs’ style. It is just a pleasant way to lose yourself in the evening and forget the cares of the world. And what’s wrong with that?