(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Since the 1920’s, respectable, middle-class Englishwomen have been committing murder on paper to the delight of millions of readers. They constitute a recognized group, if not a formal school, of skilled practitioners of the genre. Although Josephine Bell did not begin publishing detective stories until late in the Golden Age of crime fiction between the two world wars, she was definitely of the same historical and literary generation as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham. She was “among the most reliable of those intelligent, unsensational women writers who have created a peculiarly English corner in this kind of fiction,” and she deserves to be remembered along with those other great writers of the period for the excellence of her craftsmanship. Her novels are notable for the imaginative patterning of their puzzles, realistic portrayal of people from various walks of life, skillful rendering of place, deft evocation of atmosphere, interesting subject matter, and gentle, ironic humor.

Bell’s career as a crime writer reflected the historical and literary development of the genre over a period of nearly fifty years. She demonstrated considerable talent in a variety of crime fiction. During the heyday of the classic detective novel, she mastered its conventions and wrote whodunits. After World War II, as the genre evolved to include more types of crime novels, Bell exhibited both flexibility and versatility by extending her canon to include the gothic novel, the police procedural, and the thriller.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Brean, Herbert. Preface to Crimes Across the Sea: The Nineteenth Annual Anthology of the Mystery Writers of America, edited by John Creasey. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. Preface to an anthology that includes Bell’s work, discusses her in relation to such other contributors as Ellery Queen and Julian Symons.

Dubose, Martha Hailey, with Margaret Caldwell Thomas. Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2000. The focus of this study is on Bell’s contemporaries rather than on her, but it mentions her in passing and provides an important study of the milieu in which she wrote.

Hanson, Gillian Mary. City and Shore: The Function of Setting in the British Mystery. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Analyzes Bell’s use of setting in The Port of London Murders. Bibliographic references and index.

White, Terry, ed. Justice Denoted: The Legal Thriller in American, British, and Continental Courtroom Literature. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. This bibliography covers legal thrillers from early to later writers. Contains a brief biography of Bell.