JOSEPHINE BELL – Death of a Poison-Tongue. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1972. Stein & Day, US, hardcover, 1977; paperback, 1981.


   Althea Swinford, the daughter of an archeologist, is en route to the village of Middlecombe, where she is to stay with the local Vicar and his wife — distant relations — while attending school nearby. On the train down, she meets Mrs. Golden, also from Middlecombe, the leader of a local Pentecostal sect who claims to speak “in tongues.” She is the first to tell Althea about the local “poison-tongue,” someone spreading outrageous stories about just about everyone else in the district. Everyone knows who the “poison-tongue” is, and about halfway through the book she is found strangled.

   There is just one word for this book. Well, there may be others, but the most printable is AWFUL. You could create livelier characters with paste and scissors. Bell gets involved at tedious length in subplots about drugs and smuggled antiquities, and her attempt at writing a Seduction (don’t worry, she keeps her virginity) Scene borders on the Ludicrous. Some of her earlier novels were fairly decent efforts, but this thing is a mishmash of ineptitude.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #42, November 1989.