As the title suggests the plot of this story concerns a trial, for murder of course. Susan Ives and Stephen Bellamy have been accused of murdering Madeleine Bellamy, the latter’s wife, due to a believed affair going on between Madeleine and Susan’s husband. In between the back and forth between the prosecution and the defence, like a Greek chorus, we have two nameless reporters, one a naïve first timer and the other more experienced, who discuss the trial as it unfolds.
Yes I know that is a pretty concise synopsis! For me anyways. Sure the Puzzle Doctor could get it down to 5 words or less. If you like your stories fast and action packed then this is probably not going to be the book for you, as it is slow, being a murder trial under a microscope. Initially this slowness didn’t really work for me, as a murder trial written about with minimal literary embellishments is not usually my favourite reading fodder. Yet by the time I was half way in I really did get engrossed, getting into the way the prosecution and defence bat questions back and forth to the various witnesses. Like the two reporters you’re not quite sure how things are going to turn out. The order in which the witnesses/defendants appear is also important in this as the way you see the characters changes over the course of the trial depending on what testimony you have heard.
Though in some ways my attention was more drawn to the anonymous reporters. It is with these two characters that the story begins as we find out that it is the woman’s first newspaper reporting assignment, whilst usually being a writer. With her novice status and the male reporter’s more cynical stance we see them discussing the enduring appeal of murder in real life and fiction, as well as their viewpoints on trials themselves as a spectacle. I guess in some ways I was expecting more to happen with them, yet unfortunately they get lost in the shifting events and perspectives at the end of the story, which is a shame. The female reporter is a bit doe eyed and over emotional, suffering sleep deprivation over the course of the trial, as apparently it’s all too tense and exciting to possibly get any sleep or any lunch for that matter. No wonder she nearly faints/goes into hysterics near the end of the story. To be honest in some ways she sounds like that awful over demonstrative person you never want to get stuck next to at the cinema. Though in fairness to her she does have her more sparky moments.
As I said by the middle of the book I was getting into things but unfortunately the final third was a bit of a slog, being somewhat long winded and the ending itself, although surprising, a bit deflating. Personally I think the book could have lost 80 pages to great effect. So I am not sure it is one I can strongly recommend, though as a character study and as a record of murder trials in the 1920s it has value.
Random Fact (as to whether it is fun or not I’ll let you decide): My edition of the book comes from the Dell Great Mystery Library series and according to the back cover these titles were chosen by Anthony Boucher, Boris Karloff (yes you read that right) and Louis Untermeyer (whoever he is). To be honest given my final rating I would be interested in reading their reasons for selecting this title.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Involves a trial scene