The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson – Review
By Richard Barnett
Many politicans have turned to writing, either to supplement their (perceived) meagre income – diaries, biographies (of themselves or others), memoirs or fiction. From Disraeli to William Hague, they’ve all had a go, Churchill being the most prolific.
Written in 1932 The Division Bell Mystery centres on the death of a financier during a dinner at the House of Commons. Wilkinson describes the labyrinth-like buildings which could have allowed the murder a quick, unseen escape. But is this more of a ‘locked-room’ mystery? The Home Secretary, who had organised the dinner, wasn’t in the room at the time.
A parliamentary private secretary, Robert West, gets to grip with the case, helping the pedestrian-like police to get to the bottom of the mystery. Along the way Wilkinson paints a first-class picture of characters (and while West is a Conservative, there’s no opposition-driven animosity in Wilkinson’s story-telling) but also the layout of House and its procedures.
For anyone who is interested in the House of Commons, but also likes a truly good yarn, this story, written in 1932, fits the bill brilliantly. There aren’t too many twists and turns to throw readers off the scent, but here is a well-constructed, imaginative take on the classic-era murder.
‘The Division Bell Mystery’ by Ellen Wilkinson is published by The British Library, £8.99 paperback