I first came across Josephine Bell's books when a feminist imprint, Pandora, reissued a number of excellent books by women writers in the late 1980s. These included The Port of London Murders, which became one of the first books I reviewed for The Criminologist. I was very struck by the fact that, although it was written in the late 30s, the story seemed ahead of its time in mood, setting, and treatment. No country house mystery this, but a novel that anticipated the approach of the Fifties.
Twenty years later, when I was working on The Golden Age of Murder, I was lucky enough to be sent some family documents which gave me fresh insight into Bell's writing, and I referred to these in the book. But she didn't become a member of the Detection Club until the Fifties, so she isn't a major figure in that particular study. I have, however, retained my interest in her work.
When the British Library agreed to reissue a book by Bell in the Crime Classic series, I was keen for The Port of London Murders to be the chosen title, and fortunately this was agreed. In writing the intro, I was again assisted by Bell's family, and (although a good deal still remains to be said) the result was a slightly longer introduction than usual, which I hope readers will find of interest.
But the story is the thing, and it's a good one. Bell made use of her medical know-how (she was a doctor, and so was her late husband) but it strengthens the storyline rather than overwhelming it. She also did a good deal of research into the workings of the port. There is an authenticity about the book that seems quite modern. Publication day is 10 October and it will be interesting to see how readers respond.