William F. Deeck

RUSSELL THORNDYKE – The Devil in the Belfry. Dial Press, UK, hardcover, 1932. First published in the UK: Butterworth, hardcover, 1931, as Herod’s Peal.

   It’s bad enough that Brigadier-General Sir Lionel Hansaw has received a threatening letter from someone he claims is a Hindu. In the mistaken belief that he is a good judge of men, he hires former Captain John Carfax as his bodyguard. While Carfax is neglecting his duty and viewing and listening to a bell-ringing session with the general’s niece, the general is shot dead in his study by a tall Hindu.

   The peal being rung as the general died was Herod’s Peal, banned by the Roman Catholic Church many years before. Ringing the peal were the Bede Bell-ringers, nine erstwhile convicts led by the Reverend Lord Upnor, a fanatic on campanology. As Lord Upnor’s group travels about, they continue to employ Herod’s Peal, and each time it is rung, someone is murdered.

   Carfax, wishing to find the general’s murderer since he did nothing to prevent the crime, aids Scotland Yard detective Macready in the investigation, if it can be called that, of the various deaths.

   In my review of Thorndike’s The Slype, which you can find here, I criticized the plot. I can’t in this novel, for it is a good one. But the characterization and description that made The Slype so enjoyable is totally missing here, though the setting is the same. That marvelous policeman, Sergeant Wurren, appears only briefly, a total waste of a wonderful character. Thorndike tries to do something with Winning, the bell-ringers’ advance man, but it’s not enough.

   For campanology addicts like Lord Upnor.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.