RICHARD M. BAKER – Death Stops the Bells. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1938.

   This is the third and final case tackled and solved by a middle-aged scholar by the name of Franklin Russell in book form. The earlier entries in the series were Death Stops the Manuscript (Scribners, 1936) and Death Stops the Rehearsal (Scribners, 1937). Russell is by profession a schoolmaster in a small town in Massachusetts, but his true calling is as an amateur detective, and in Death Stops the Bells, he really has his work cut out for him.

   He is on hand for the first death. It takes place in a compound of two homes and two families whose members respectively hate each other. To be correct in that statement, the elder members of each family do. The younger members of both sexes find the opportunity to meet and consort on many an occasion, to the consternation of their respective parents. A third home in the block is owned by a friend of Mr. Russell, who happens to be on hand when whoever is playing the bells in a church tower on the estate stops suddenly, mid-song, then starts playing again, the entire song through.

   To Russell’s fine-tuned ear, however, it is clearly a second player ringing the bells. It is soon discovered that the first player is dead, murdered, it is assumed when the first song stopped. Was it the murderer who started ringing the bells again? And if so, why?

   The writing is old-fashioned and stilted, not at all how you would think a book written in 1938 would sound. The number of suspects is also very limited, which makes the questioning quite tedious, as it goes over the same topics again and again. Even Detective-Sergeant McCoun seems to squirm a lot in his seat as he listens to Mr. Russell interrogate all of the suspects in turn, and then as further events occur, start all over again.

   In other words, a lot of talk is all there is to propel the story forward, and not a lot of action. None, in fact. The solution, when it comes, is, unfortunately, little more than yawn-producing. A mediocre effort, in other words. If Scribners, publishers of the S. S. Van Dine mysteries, were thinking they had another Philo Vance on their hands, they were sadly mistaken.