Calling Josephine Bell a writer from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction does her a disservice. Although her books were first published in 1936, she continued to write until 1983. She wrote over 40 mystery novels, as well as radio plays, short stories and magazine articles. (Go here for a list of her books.)

Life

Josephine was born Doris Bell Collier on December 8, 1897, in Manchester, England. She was a doctor and married Dr. Norman Dyar Ball in 1923. They had a son and three daughters. They practiced medicine in Greenwich and in London until Dr. Ball was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1935.

From 1954 to 1962, she was a member of the management committee at the St. Luke’s Hospital.

In 1953, she was a founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association, the UK writer’s group that present the Golden Daggers each year. She was its chairperson from 1959 to 1960.

She passed away in 1987.

Writings

Her medical background showed in many of her books. Like Agatha Christie, she seemed fond of using poisons and unusual methods of murder.

Kate Jackson, on the Cross Examining Crime website wrote, “Bell was very good at depicting the pressures and difficulties of being a doctor in a low-income district and the limits of what good they could do when they were having to fight against poverty, as a factor in the poor health of their patients.”

Many of Bell’s books, like most authors from over fifty years ago, haven’t weathered well. Bell seems to have recognized this by leaving Wintringham and his family and finding new subjects. Her books are not all medical mysteries, but she crossed into other genres including police procedural. She used a wide variety of characters and plots. She also showed the work and people involved in a realistic manner that differed from the often upper class portrayal of most of the English writers of the period. 

Dr. David WintringhamThe Seeing Eye by Josephine Bell

Her most popular character was Dr. David Wintringham, a junior assistant physician at Research Hospital in pre-WWII London. Bell wrote twelve books with him. He starred in her first novel, Murder in Hospital. It involves the murder of a nurse who is found in a laundry basket, strangled by the strings on her cap. Wintringham helps the police sort out the politics of the close-knit hospital staff.

The last book with Wintringham came out in 1958 with The Seeing Eye. I saw two other books listed after this under Wintringham on some lists that looked like they are some of Bell’s standalones novels. In The Seeing Eye, a celebrated art critic is found dead in London’s Westminster Art Gallery. Dr. Wintringham and his wife, Jill, turn detectives and work through a long list of suspects.

It is interesting to think of a lady in the mid-20th century, becoming not only a doctor and a hospital administrator, but also a multi-published author, all while raising three children. Also, by her work with The Crime Writers’ Association, she has helped and inspired hundred of mystery writers.