The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell (1938)

There are questions surrounding the death of Mary Holland. While it’s clear that she died of Lysol poisoning, there are inconsistencies that leave Detective Sergeant Chandler unsettled. No one else puts any merit into it. But then, just before he’s due to testify at the inquest, Chandler disappears. It’s now apparent that there’s more to Mary Holland’s death than first thought. 

Seeing Martin Edward’s review of The Port of London Murders, and its reissue by the British Library (today by the way), reminded me that I have had the Pandora edition on the shelf for some time—and that I needed to get it read.

The gritty lower-class neighborhoods of the South London docks provide the setting for what is actually more thriller and less mystery. What is particularly good is the bleak world that Bell writes of with her descriptions of dark, fog filled streets, squalid tenements, and families living in dismal circumstances. There is a large, disparate group of characters, their stories linked through the murder as well as other crimes, to be uncovered in the course of the story.  And, whether due to circumstance or their own choice, the majority of Bell’s characters live a bleak existence that permeates the entire story. 

There were others, too, not old, but equally hopeless, who attended the dispensary as regular visitors; those struck down in youth or middle age by tuberculosis, rheumatism, heart trouble, and a number of more rare diseases. They had come to the end of their resources, their insurances, and their capacity for earning. The hospitals could do nothing more for them, but they still lived, in the worse possible surroundings, and the Public Assistance saw to it that they did not die too soon.”

Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much mystery to be found here. While the murders are rather sinister in nature, the villain(s) are made obvious from the outset. The only real suspense is how long it will take the investigation by the Thames River Police to cross paths with that of Scotland Yard.

This is the first book by Bell that I’ve read, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. It was, for me, merely a rather ordinary thriller. It wasn’t great, more like another “it’s okay” read. But considering what I’ve read regarding Bell skill as a writer, and the fact that I already own Double Doom (1957), I will definitely be trying her again.

Prior Rulings – Martin @ Do You Write Under Your Own Name, Nick Fuller @ The Grandest Game  in the World

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book by an author you’ve never read before

5 thoughts on “The Port of London Murders by Josephine Bell (1938)

  1. I’ve a couple of Bell’s books and I can’t say I have read a really good yet. But I guess I might have been reading the wrong ones. It could be like judging Christie solely on Passenger to Frankurt and Postern to Fate.

  2. Pingback: The Port of London Murders (1938) by Josephine Bell – Dead Yesterday

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