First published: UK, Collins, 1939
Anthony Gilbert is a rather muddled writer. As a writer, she has a vividness of phrase that recalls Allingham. Unlike Allingham, she cannot make the detective side of her story either interesting or appealing: she starts off splendidly with the murder of a tramp in a London church, suspicion falling on the mysterious verger. Having thus got off to a flying start, she then runs out of steam, and a vast and exceedingly dull man-hunt for a pair of kidnappers occupies the last half of the book. Had Hitchcock filmed this tale of the inner London underworld in his English career, he may have made something worthwhile out of it; as it is, it is forgettable.
The bell of St. Ethelburga’s had stopped ringing. It had pealed out its customary call to the faithful, its gentle reproach to the sluggards; but somehow that morning it did not seem to ring as long as usual. For Death had been busy in the belfry, where a startled vicar made an appalling discovery. The murder in the church is the prelude to a highly diverting tale of detection, in which the inimitable Crook and Parsons shine with their usual ingenuity and impudence.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 9th September 1939):
MURDER IN THE VESTRY
In The Bell of Death Mr. Anthony Gilbert reintroduces his clever if unscrupulous solicitor Mr. Arthur Crook, who again leaves the police far behind him in his researches into a series of murders. The story has an admirable opening. In the verger’s vestry at St. Ethelburga’s Church a man is found tangled up in the bellrope with a knife through his heart; but it is not the verger, who has completely disappeared. Mr. Crook calls upon the verger’s wife and offers to clear her husband of the murder if he is found alive. In due course the verger does make a reappearance but meanwhile his young son is kidnapped. Mr. Crook gets on the trail by exploring the verger’s past life and pursuing the kidnapper of his son. As usual with Mr. Gilbert’s stories this is exciting and well written, but it is so complicated that the reader can do little more than hold his breath.
The Scotsman (14th September 1939): Murder in the Belfry
The Bell of Death is a very entertaining story, for the work of detection is done by Crook, a lawyer of unprofessional habits, and Parsons, his assistant, a reformed jewel-thief. What Crook and Parsons do not know about the ways of criminals is not worth knowing, and their detective methods are as unorthodox and. impudent as they are brilliant.
One morning the bell of a London church stops ringing before its usual time. Later a man is found murdered in the belfry and the verger disappears. Crook undertakes the defence of the missing and suspected verger, and goes about his self-appointed task with inimitable cheerfulness and self-confidence. It is not long before he guesses the identity of the dangerous criminal responsible for this and other murders, but the difficulty is firstly to trace the murderer and secondly to secure enough proof for conviction. However, with the aid of Parsons, whose knowledge of the underworld is useful, Crook rescues an abducted child, tracks down the murderer and, his accomplices, and proves their guilt beyond doubt.
Liverpool Daily Post (9th October 1939): That very entertaining and impudent lawyer-investigator, Crook, reappears in Mr. Anthony Gilbert’s The Bell of Death, and participates in a highly diverting and satisfying piece of detection arising out of the discovery of a body in the belfry of an Earls Court church. The problem is interesting and Mr. Gilbert works out the solution with admirable ingenuity.
Manchester Evening News (19th October 1939): Death had been busy in the belfry of the church of St. Ethelburga’s. The bell didn’t toll, A vicar, who investigated, made a discovery – murder in a church. This is a clever story of detection that moves the reader rapidly from scene to scene.