A Well-Known Face by Josephine Bell

a-well-known-faceJane Fuller is in love, although not with her husband. He was struck off the medical registry and left the country. No, despite being still married, she is having clandestine liaisons with an unknown gentleman in her house, who then leaves before the sun comes up. Which proves to be something of a problem on the day that she heads to see her lawyer to start divorce proceedings – because her lawyer has read the evening papers that state that a body was found in Jane’s house. You’ll never guess who the body belongs to…

Overlooking how exactly the story makes it into the newspapers in the time that it takes Jane to get from her house to the lawyer, Jane is clearly the prime suspect. Did she really not visit the room in which her husband’s body was found that morning? If not, how did someone else get into the house? But when a second death occurs, with Jane also under suspicion for it, it seems more and more unlikely that the real killer will be unmasked…

Not a book I was planning to read, but I was so taken with the final tale in Christmas Snow, namely The Carol Singers by Josephine Bell, that I decided to seek out one of her novels. She wrote over forty detective novels, twelve featuring her lead detective, Dr David Wintringham, but as time went on, she concentrated exclusively on standalone mysteries like this one. I picked this one basically at random, with one eye on the fact that it was first published in 1960, perfect for this month’s Crimes Of The Century over at Past Offences. That’s probably the only challenge that I take part in, due to the desire to be as flexible as possible with my reading, but as I’ve said before, it’s been a bit of a curse, invariably picking stinkers rather than classics.

This month has been an odd one – so far I’ve read the final two Miles Burton books, Legacy Of Death and Death Paints A Picture, which are supposed to be stinkers (it’s generally regarded that mid to late Rhode is much weaker than his earlier work) and hey presto, they were pretty good. So will this make it three out of three? Well, sort of.

I do like Bell’s writing style, adopting the point of view of three or four members of the cast who have interests in finding out the truth. It does mean that from the start, you know that Jane is innocent, which I thought was an option that shouldn’t have been ruled out for the reader so early on. The problem with the plot is that it comes down to which one out of two people did it, and that rarely has a satisfactory solution. If it’s one of them, then it just feels like a guessing game. And if it’s someone else, then it can feel as if a large part of the narrative was a waste of time.

Still, it’s an interesting tale, well told, but let down a little by the plot. Well Worth A Look.

It seems that the entire Bell back catalogue is now available from Bello Books, so I may well be returning to Bell in the future.

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