Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘1920s murder trial’

THE BELLAMY TRIAL by Frances Noyes Hart: Book Review

Did you know that August 18th is Serendipitous Day?  Neither did I until I was Googling the best way to use serendipitous in a sentence to describe how I came across The Bellamy Trial on the mystery shelf of my local (Needham, MA) library.

Who knows why that date was chosen by Horace Walpole, an 18th-century English author and politician?  Perhaps something unexpected and pleasant (the definition of serendipitous) had happened to him on that day?  It really doesn’t matter, but Walpole gave the world an absolutely perfect word to describe my experience after I read Frances Noyes Hart’s novel.

The book is based on the true-life Hall-Mills 1926 murder trial, called the “trial of the century,” in which an Episcopal priest and one of his parishioners were murdered.   The defendants were the Reverend Hall’s wife and her three brothers, but I won’t disclose the outcome of that trial as it might spoil the ending of this novel.

In Mrs. Hart’s book, the site of the murder (there is one victim in the book, as opposed to two in the Hall-Mills case) was moved from New Jersey to New York; the people involved were members of a small upper-class community.  The fictional murder victim was Mimi Bellamy; the defendants were her husband, Stephen Bellamy, and Sue Ives, the wife of Mrs. Bellamy’s alleged lover.  The novel is considered one of the first fictional courtroom mysteries, a sub-genre that would grow to include all of the books in the Perry Mason series, Anatomy of a Murder, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many others.

The Bellamy Trial takes place in Redfield, New York in 1926.  As in the real-life trial, the fictional case became a media circus, with reporters from newspapers and radio stations across the country filling the courtroom to capacity; the actual trial took thirty days, the fictional one took eight.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, the recipient of multiple Agatha Awards for her mysteries, has written an outstanding introduction to the book.  She notes the anachronisms in the novel – an all-male jury, the same attorney for both defendants, hearsay evidence that is sometimes forbidden and sometimes allowed – but she happily disregards these issues, as will discerning readers, to better enjoy this excellent story.

Frances Noyes Hart was primarily a short story author and wrote only a handful of mysteries.  If the others are as well-written and riveting as The Bellamy Trial, she certainly deserves a special place in the pantheon of American mystery authors.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.