The China Roundabout (Josephine Bell)

By Josephine Bell

First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1956.  Published in the US as Murder on the Merry-go-round.

3 stars

Written when I was 18 – guess the influence!

A tale largely feminine in tone: the boarding-house and its sinister tenants inherited by the heroine and her ghastly mother, with a china merry-go-round for which burglary and murder are committed, lend themselves to suspense of the E.I.R.F. kind rather than to detection. This is a pity, for J.B. writes very well and consistently entertains. A worse flaw is the cluttering caused by extraneous red herrings and loose ends, and the convoluted activities of the professional criminals (stones and jewels), nearly all of whom die by the end.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 28th October 1956):

Mystery thriller about struggle for possession of a maharaja’s diamonds concealed in an ingenious toy.  Set mainly in a flat-converted house where almost all the tenants are unimaginably crooked.  Nicely written as usual in Miss Bell’s careful, concise style.  Has in its best moments affinities with Victorian mystery-masters, even the great Wilkie Collins.


Spectator (Christopher Pym, 15th November 1956):

Maharajah’s gift—a china roundabout—leads to various Hampstead murders solved, eventually, by those essentially nice characters, Dr. Wintringham and Inspector Mitchell.  Mrs. Bell always writes competently, and sometimes beautifully; pity that her plot should be quite so old-fashionedly improbable, and that she should make it so patent that such of her own creations as aren’t English, upper-middle-class, Gentile and chaste are ‘horrors,’ ‘curious’ or ‘abnormal’.