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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

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.


CITY OF WINDOWS by Robert Pobi: Book Review

Although I know nothing more about Robert Pobi than what I read in the brief, somewhat off-the-wall bio on his web page, I am pretty sure we have at least one thing in common:  neither one of us owns a microwave.  I say this because since this same bio states that Mr. Pobi does not do Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat, nor does he own a cellphone, the lack of a microwave seems a pretty safe bet.

Another thing we have in common is our love of mystery novels.  He writes them and I read them, and I hope he enjoyed writing City of Windows as much as I enjoyed reading it.

The book’s protagonist, Dr. Lucas Page, has a unique background.  He is a university professor, astrophysicist, textbook author, former FBI agent, television and radio commentator, NASA consultant–did I leave anything out?  And he also is a man with only one eye, one arm, and one leg.

Severely injured in the line of duty several years earlier, Lucas now leads a more prosaic life.  That he does so is a combination of factors, including the seemingly obvious limitations due to his injuries and a promise he made to his wife not to get involved in any FBI investigations, even as a consultant.

But when Special Agent Brett Kehoe comes to his door with the news that Lucas’ former partner and an innocent bystander were shot and killed not far from Lucas’ home in Manhattan, Lucas feels he has no choice but to use his unique skills to find the killer.

The book’s title comes from a statement that Kehoe makes to another agent as they try to locate the spot from which the shot was fired.  The agents are looking at over 1,600 yards of rooftop and nearly 3,000 windows in the immediate area of the murders and can’t work out where the shooter had stood.  That’s when Kehoe goes to Lucas.

Before the attack that nearly claimed his life, Page had the amazing ability to translate blocks and buildings into numerical components and units of measure.  Now, standing in a blizzard on 42nd Street and Park Avenue, he wonders if he still has that skill, but he doesn’t wonder for long.  Within minutes, mental algorithms start putting things together for him, and he turns to an agent standing near him.  “…tell Kehoe I know where the shot came from….The roof of number 3 Park Avenue.”

Not surprisingly, Page is not universally popular with agents in the Bureau.  Agent Grover Graves, in particular, uses every opportunity to downplay Lucas’ ability and his refusal to accept the official FBI profile of the killer.  The agency received a report from French authorities that the man they want is a wealthy young Frenchman who has been radicalized, and even though Kehoe doesn’t agree with that, he has been ordered by FBI higher-ups, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security to find Philippe Froissant.

So Kehoe turns to Lucas to support his view.  But it takes three more deaths for the powers-that-be to agree with this.  And in the meantime Lucas is drawn ever deeper into his old role, bringing danger not only to himself but to his family.

Robert Pobi has written a hold-your-breath thriller, one you won’t put down until you’ve turned the last page.  You can read more about him at this website.

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.