Friday, May 29, 2015

Bones in the Barrow: Review

Josephine Bell's Bones in the Barrow (1953) relies on what a witness sees from his train window to set the wheels of justice in motion. Terry Byrnes is making his slow way to work aboard a train to London. Progress is slow because a crippling fog has made visibility near zero. For just a moment the fog clears as the train sits and waits and Byrnes stares out the window while he contemplates how angry his boss will be over his extreme lateness. He has an unimpeded view of a row of houses along the track. The scene that unfolds before him is like a murderous silent film.

....framed in his hole in the fog, all the dirty windows of the four or five houses were empty. At the next, he saw in one of them the distorted face and frantic figure of a woman. She was in a state of extreme terror; that was clear from her fixed staring eyes and desperate snatching fingers. She was trying to throw up the window....This in absolute silence, as far as Terry was concerned, the window being shut, and the fog all round, still and deep....For a few seconds the woman fought the window. Then Terry saw a dark shape behind her in the unlighted room. She turned her head, her mouth opening in a scream as she did so. A hand struck, and she toppled forward....

By the time he understands what he's seeing, the fog closes in and the train starts moving. There's no time to make any of his fellow passengers see what he's seen. Already very late and reluctant to look foolish before the authorities, Byrnes doesn't report the incident until much later that evening. Chief Inspector Johnson is the only one who takes him seriously, but even he has difficulty finding evidence of any foul play. A number of other suspicious incidents will have to be reported before the event can be properly investigated and solved--but Johnson always comes back to that first report of violence witnessed from a train window. 

Inspector Johnson can only do so much, however, And, after waiting what seems like a very long time to hear what has come of his report, Byrnes winds up confiding his experience to Dr. David Wintringham--Bell's leading gentleman sleuth--a medical man with a penchant for solving crimes. Wintringham adds his efforts to those of the Yard to discover whether the bones belong to the missing Felicity Hilton--whose absence has bee reported by her rather fretful friend--and if her husband was the dark shape in the unlighted room. 

This is, I believe, one of my favorite Bell books yet. Suspenseful puzzle plot that keeps the reader guessing till the end. It comes up just a bit shy in the fair play arena--there are clues if perhaps a bit tenuous, but I did have that "Oh, I should have noticed that!" moment for what was there. Enjoyable ★★★★ outing.

This counts for the "Medical Mystery" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. And it also serves as a third clue in the Super Book Password Challenge. The clue there is "Bone."

1 comment:

fredamans said...

This one feels so familiar to me. I think it's one in my mom's collection, maybe. Great review!