Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Bells of Old Bailey (spoiler at the end)

The Bells of Old Bailey (1947) by Dorothy Bowers

For such a small village, Long Greeting seems to run to a lot of suicides. Five deaths in a very short period--none of them questioned by the authorities for what they seemed to be, the unfortunate taking of one's own life. But after the fifth death and the receipt of some very unpleasant anonymous letters, Miss Bertha Tidy decides to go to the police and voice a concern about the validity of the inquests' findings.

Unknown to her, Scotland Yard has already taken an interest in the form of Detective-Inspector Raikes. He and local Superintendent Lecky listen seriously to her concerns and start investigation in earnest, but they soon have a very definite murder on their hands--that of Miss Tidy. Further investigation reveals a web of blackmail, greed, hatred, and buried secrets, all providing numerous motives for Miss Tidy's death. Yes, there are plenty of suspects, but very little evidence to point out the guilty party. The detectives will have to dig up some of those old secrets before they will have enough to make their case.

One item I noticed that reflects only indirectly on the crime is that Dorothy Bowers had a great deal to say about women and how they operate in the world. She appears to represent the standard lines of "women aren't logical;" "women are such gossips;" "women will spread things they only think are true or might be..." This is indicated by a number of the quotes I gleaned and have listed below. 

Possible Spoiler Ahead!

As soon as Jane Kingsley decided to keep information to herself and then check on whether what she noticed meant what she thought it did, I knew that she was going to die. Either the killer was going to think she was trying to blackmail them or they would just decide she was too big a danger to let run around. I was right. But then...once I knew what it was she noticed (not that it was produced in quite that way--Bowers didn't announce it as "here's the thing that Jane noticed"), I didn't realize what it meant.

This was an enjoyable vintage mystery. I enjoyed the village setting and the characters that Bowers created for us. I will say that even if I had recognized the clue mentioned above for what it was, I don't see how I could have known the motive behind the murder. There is a very slender hint given, but I don't feel about it as I do with many good plots--where once the mystery is wrapped up, I say "Oh yes--so that's what that meant." If the motive had been more clearly indicated, I would give this a full four it is ★★ and 3/4. 

[Finished on 12/22/19]
JK: We're all really a bit close with what we do know.
SW: Oh no, Jane. You're quite wrong. women always tell more than they know.
(Jane Kingsley, Samela Wild; p. 15)

Samela, as a rule, quoted the husband she adored only in support of her own arguments. (p. 14)

However, women don't know how to be logical---and that goes for both of us. (Kate Beaton; p. 33)

Women aren't content with suicides. Nothing short of murder for them. And we call 'em the gentle sex! (Dr. Hare; p. 40)

After all, she argued in defensive silence as, Raikes holding the door for her, she went out--after all, each of them had had the same opportunity as herself of observation and inference. If they hadn't taken it, it wasn't her fault. If they failed to question her about it specifically, she wasn't obliged,was she, to proffer the information? (Jane to herself; p. 43)

Everybody who speculates about an unexplained event is setting up to be a detective. You mean, you don't want the responsibility of detection. Unscientific poking about and baseless rumor and furtive hints in unsigned letters is more in Ravenchuch's line, isn't it? (Inspector Raikes; p. 48)

"You never know," Mrs. Weaver defended her astonishing theory. "Women do queer things, especially at middle age, or when they've passed it. It isn't impossible some of Miss Tidy's clients were too senstitive to have facial buildups and so on, by day. I don't know much about these things, but I do know a little about women, Inspector." (p. 61)

"Let him run on," Sammy said with a sort of tired indulgence. "Now and then he has to get off his chest what he feels about feminine inferiority." (Samela Wild; p. 105)

That was why, when Raikes arrived, he remarked some tension between the two. He remarked it without suspicion. There was always tension betweeen women, even when they were plastering one another with reciprocal smiles. (p. 107)

Whatever those two children might have done, feminine criticism would have inferred the worst. Women were made that way. Nor was their particular form of gratification necessarily achieved by tooth-and-claw methods. A note of pseudo compassion here, a hint of tolerance for youthful peccadilloes, and the job was done. (p. 137)

Deaths = 8 (2 strangled/hung; 1 shot; 3 drowned; 1 hit on head; 1 poisoned)
Just the Facts = Who: Bookshop owner
Mystery Bingo:
Weapon - Rope


shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

Ouch. I’m not sure I’d be able to get through the story I’d be too outraged at all the sexist remarks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

J.G. said...

All that feminine blather would have gotten on my nerves in very short order. But it sounds like there was enough charm to counteract those old-fashioned attitudes.