Okay, it's true that I am giving this a very high rating, considering that I had big chunks of the solution to the central Mystery solved well before all was revealed. I mean, for me to top out at a whopping 4 stars in the face of beating the main detective to the punch, is a pretty big deal. But I can't bump this exhilarating read down to that demon-dullest of all ratings, the painfully-vanilla 3.5.
First of all, I did say "big chunks". I figured out "big chunks". But he got me with a few surprises, as regards some of the glue that holds the big bits together; in fact, I would say one thing I didn't figure out wasn't glue--it was more like the chunk that got away. Let's just say that overall the Mystery content is a bit transparent and not likely to make your favorite Agatha Christie title seem amateurish and uninspired...but George Bellairs obliterates demerit points at will with: (a) lots of funny stuff; this is a laugh-out-loud Crime novel, (b) a hoard of entertaining characters all deciding that most interaction with each other should qualify as hypocritical or just ridiculous, (c) a truly amazing Chapter XI--amazing, because of the change in mood, but it's like seeing the dark, tragic and bloody side of what was making me laugh up until then; Bellairs saying, in a few scenes "this is what happens when people who behave like this are suddenly very unfunny", and yes...
...(d) the whodunit chunks and whodunit glue that was just enough to keep me from saying " I figured out the whole shebang. Well, I didn't. I didn't figure out ALL of his fairly transparent Mystery...so there.
Anyway, this was indeed the "death of a busybody", as advertised. And yah, she was a pain, and the whole village felt persecuted by her nosiness, her arrogant meddling and judgements, and her quiet attempts at spiritual extortion. There was inevitably a bludgeoning and a cesspool waiting for her, in a village full of teeth-gritters and look-the-other-wayers. But...a bit of text from early on in the novel stuck with me the whole way through: Husbands, raising their hands or voices against their wives, paused at the thought of her. Scolding wives pitched their nagging at a lower key, lest Miss Tither should be in the offing. The lecherous, adulterous, drunken and blasphemous elements of the population held her in greater fear than the parson and looked carefully over their shoulders lest she be in their tracks.
The above passage in italics is from page 8 of my edition of Bellairs' wonderful and bizarrely challenging novel. In fact, I've stopped short with the quote; more examples of the doomed Miss Tither's snooping, looming, eavesdropping, and busybodying are given, and like what I did quote above, it's a matter of people holding off on unseemly behavior because the Tither tiger has prowled into range. Well, if you read that text, this murdered busybody stopped at least one husband from abusing his wife. Plus, others at least thought twice for a little while about their crap behavior. I'm left wondering who Bellairs wants me to scrutinize more closely, with a bit of disgust: the snoop or the two-faced snoopees who change spots when someone is watching?
I want a better whodunit from this author next time, and there will be a next time. Even if he doesn't manage that--well, it won't be me in a forgiving mood by the end of the ride--if this book is any indication--it will once again be me thoroughly charmed, challenged, and entertained anyway.