Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Trouble in Hunter Ward: Review

The Trouble in Hunter Ward (1976) by Josephine Bell wasn't as simple as just the strike by non-medical staff. Lay staff were led by a porter who resented what he saw as preferential treatment for the rich and "special patients" who were admitted to Hunter Ward at St. Edmund's Hospital. Never mind that one of the special patients was young boy facing a death sentence by leukemia who needed the extra quiet and care or that another was a union man whose union dues had afforded him the extra care he needed. The strikers didn't know that and didn't want to know--they just wanted to make as much trouble as possible and cut off all services to the high and mighty up there on the top floor.

If that had been all, then the nurses could have handled that all right (and did) by bringing in catered meals from the outside, hiring extra help for clean up, and manning the elevators themselves--among other things. But there was other trouble to deal with--former nurse Miss Enid Hallet was admitted to Hunter Ward for a last-ditch cancer operation. Miss Hallet was well-known to some of the current staff--both medical and lay staff alike. And it wasn't fond memories that they held of her either--she was known as a malicious gossip and a vindictive woman...and it seems she hasn't changed her ways. She barely gets settled in her private room before she begins spreading an old rumor about a current doctor and accusing a nurse of drug addiction.

And, under cover of the confusion sown by the strikers, someone decides to silence the strident tongue of Miss Enid Hallet. Was it someone on staff who had run-ins with Hallet in the past? Or someone new who was threatened by her gossiping ways? Or maybe it was a secret that went even deeper than that? Superintendent Farrer and Detective Holmes dig through the rumors to find the motive strong enough to cause someone to end a life already destined to be shortened by cancer.

The hospital setting and descriptions of hospital routine are well done, as are the characterizations of the various members of the staff. I suspect this is because of Bell's own background in medicine as a nurse and working with her husband Dr. Norman Ball in their own practice. The first three-quarters of the novel are quite good from the build-up to the murder through the police investigation at the hospital. Where Bell falls down on the job is in revealing the motive for the murder and the final confrontation with the killer. She tries to give the crime a psychological twist without laying a firm groundwork that makes this a logical outcome. In fact, she pretty much pulls it right out of thin air which causes the scene to lose much of its impact. ★★ and 3/4--the ending prevents this from pulling in a higher star rating.

Kate over at Cross Examining Crime has also read this one. Check out her review at the link. She was less impressed with Hunter Ward than I was and I have to admit, it's not the best introduction to Bell's work.

I chose this as my "Vacation Read" for the Monthly Motif Challenge because I had every intention of reading this while on my vacation with my parents. It was a short book and I expected I'd be able to squeeze in some reading here and there--didn't happen. Our time was jam-packed and I was ready to jump in bed each night and rest up for the next day's adventures. So...I read it as soon as I got back from vacation.

[Finished on 7/18/18]


Kate said...

Thanks for the mention. Seems we've had similar thoughts on this one. Which Bell novels would you recommend? As I feel like you've probably read more by her than me?

Bev Hankins said...

Kate: I like Bones in the Barrow, Death at Half-Term (aka Curtain Call for a Corpse), & Death in Clairvoyance. But I do have to say that I haven't yet read one that was so fantastic I had to recommend it to all my mystery-loving friends.