Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books:
Josephine Bell's Murder in Hospital (1937).

It was not his fault if a nurse was so ill-bred as to get herself murdered... — Josephine Bell, Murder in Hospital 30
A nurse found strangled in a hospital laundry launches the first mystery novel of Josephine Bell and the debut of series sleuth Dr. David Wintringham. In Murder in Hospital Wintringham, medical registrar at St. Edmund's Hospital, sees disquieting occurrences in cases featuring star physician Sir Frank Jamieson; soon the instances of patients who have inexplicably died assume far greater significance. Enlisting fellow physicians Richard Williams, Rachel Ludwick, and Tony Hutchings to chase down details among patients, staff, doctors, and students, Wintringham begins to uncover a more sinister pattern and comes face to face with a serial killer.

In this book Bell has interesting things to say about medical ethics, race relations, and the position of women in medicine and has a fine sense of irony. The New York Times deemed the method of murder too difficult for readers to grasp, but I did not find it so. Readers may appreciate the following comment by the highly starched hospital matron: "... I should have thought you could have got all you want out of modern novels. I find most of them so full of sex as to be quite unreadable" (179). Sadly, Murder in Hospital is out of print.

Detection Club member and British Crime Writers Association cofounder Josephine Bell (aka Doris Bell Collier Ball, 1897–1987) was a physician before she became a full-time writer in 1954. She published more than 60 books over the course of her long career. Well-regarded novels include The Port of London Murders (1938), Death in Clairvoyance (1949), and New People at the Hollies (1961). She contributed an essay to Michael Gilbert's Crime in Good Company (1959).


BV Lawson said...

I read and enjoyed her "Port of London Murders" book. In it, one of her characters makes a statement about health care that is as hauntingly true today as it was in 1938: "For the great majority of these cases, too poor to have a doctor of their own, there was little he could do...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."

Anonymous said...

This one had escaped my notice until now, thanks for the review. I'll search out a copy.

George said...

I've enjoyed all the Josephine Bell books I've read. Like Rick, I'll have to search for a copy of MURDER IN HOSPITAL.

Unknown said...

Wow, 1937, that's pretty forgotten isn't it? And a female writer for that time too. Most women novelists had to use a man's pen name back then. So it's really good to see that Bell had such a lengthly and successful career as not only a doctor but a writer too. Great choice!

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Actually the scenario of whole-scale male pen names for female writers was not true as of 1937; it certainly was the case much earlier. There were some women who chose male pseudonyms (such as Lucy Malleson as Anthony Gilbert and Zenith Brown as David Frome), but there were plenty of women at the time either writing under their own names or choosing female pseudonyms.

Yvette said...

A writer I've never heard of. These FORGOTTEN FRIDAYS are just adding to my reading angst. This one sounds like someone whose work I'd like. Josephine Bell. I'll add her to my list. Thanks for the great review.