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Authors: Josephine Bell

The House Above the River

BOOK: The House Above the River
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Contents
Josephine Bell
The House Above the River
Josephine Bell

Josephine Bell was born Doris Bell Collier in Manchester, England. Between 1910 and 1916 she studied at Godolphin School, then trained at Newnham College, Cambridge until 1919. At the University College Hospital in London she was granted M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. in 1922, and a M.B.B. S. in 1924.

Bell was a prolific author, writing forty-three novels and numerous uncollected short stories during a forty-five year period.

Many of her short stories appeared in the
London Evening Standard
. Using her pen name she wrote numerous detective novels beginning in 1936, and she was well-known for her medical mysteries. Her early books featured the fictional character Dr. David Wintringham who worked at Research Hospital in London as a junior assistant physician. She helped found the Crime Writers' Association in 1953 and served as chair during 1959–60.

Foreword

I was once locked into a prison cell with Josephine Bell. The incident took place in York Police Headquarters in 1979 and was not, I hasten to add, because we were both apprehended felons. We had been attending a Crime Writers' Association conference in York and were kindly being shown around by the then Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, Mr Kenneth Henshaw.

Whilst we languished companionably behind bars, Miss Bell revealed her feelings about British crime-writing, expressing the opinion that she did not want to see it slip into a pattern of mere violence and sex as American crime novels were tending to do. ‘In my early days,' she told me, ‘there was no sex in crime novels. In sensitive places we put a series of dots—now we have to know how to spell the naughty words. As far as I am concerned a crime novel should pose the questions “who dunnit” and “why did they do it” not “who did they do it with”.'

It was a rule of thumb from which, luckily for her readers, she never deviated.

When
The House Above the River
was first published in 1959, Josephine Bell had been writing for 23 years. She was a Grande Dame of the genre, her name ranking alongside Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and other greats of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. A founder member of the Crime Writers' Association, in 1959 she was the Association's much respected chairman.

The House Above the River
is not of the Great Detective school of crime fiction. It is not dominated by a super-sleuth in the mould of Poirot or Maigret. It is crime fiction of the classic puzzle variety, heavily laced with romantic suspense and spiced with a chilling touch of the Gothic.

In the late 1950s Romantic Suspense was riding high. Mary Stewart's first novel
Madam, Will You Talk
had been published in 1955 and had struck a deep chord with a large readership. Josephine Bell possessed every trait that made the Stewart novels so popular. She evokes a sense of place, in this case the colourful fishing ports of Brittany, with consummate skill and, without detracting in the slightest from the main thrust of the storyline, she portrays the kind of hero we would all like to have on our side in a time of crisis, and she sustains the mystery until the last page.

In
The House Above the River
, Josephine Bell indulges her love of all things nautical and puts her knowledge of all things medical (she was a doctor like many of her family), to good use. The hero is Giles Armitage. Holidaying with two friends, Tony and Phillipa Marshall, he is sailing his yacht, the
Shuna
, along the Brittany coastline. As heavy fog descends he navigates with difficulty into the mouth of the Tréguier river, anchoring below the house of the title, an unkempt and neglected, though inhabited, château.

Unpleasant shocks are in store for Giles. He and his companions are invited to the château by Susan Brockley, a pretty young English girl. Susan is a cousin of the owner, Henry Davenport, and when she introduces Giles to the sickly Henry and to Henry's dramatically beautiful wife Miriam, Giles is stunned to find himself confronting the woman to whom he was once engaged; the woman who nearly destroyed him when she walked out on him.

His one desire is now to walk out on her, but Miriam Davenport is a woman obsessed by fear, a woman who sees him as her only Saviour. Slowly and inescapably Giles and his companions are sucked into a vortex of evil, enmeshed in a web of malice and greed and revenge and hatred. Murder is the inevitable conclusion. But murder of whom? By whom? And for why?

Without depicting excessive violence or the distasteful and distracting sex scenes of which she was so disdainful, Josephine Bell keeps the reader hooked and teased until the last page. There can be no better recipe for a good book.

MARGARET PEMBERTON

Chapter One

The fog rolled in from the sea behind them, blotting out the leading marks and blurring the rocks close at hand. The wind, that had lessened for the last three hours, died as the mist came, leaving the yacht's sails limp, drooping in a clammy silence.

Giles Armitage swore, Tony Marshall went below to start up the auxiliary engine. Phillipa, Tony's wife, exclaimed in exasperation, “It
would
catch us up just here, of all places.”

Giles only said, “What do we have next? You take over the book of words, Pip.”

The Stuart Turner engine broke the silence with a satisfactorily steady mutter, and Tony clambered back into the cockpit.

“Go up for 'ard and look out for snags,” Giles told him. “We have to turn off almost at right angles about here. Tell him the marks, Pip.”

Busily reading from Hasler's invaluable guide to the Brittany coast, Phillipa gave the names and positions of the various buoys and beacons that marked the complicated entrance through the rocks to the Tréguier river. Giles, who knew his compass course from the chart, tried desperately to remember how far the set of the tide would carry him off it, now that the sea fog had hidden the distant transit. Without visible leading marks it would be a tricky business groping their way round La Come lighthouse to the line of buoys that marked the entrance of the river itself. If only the wind had held an hour longer, or had died a couple of hours before they made the rocks and lighthouse of Les Heaux. They could have hung about then, safely out at sea, until the fog cleared. But it had been a wonderful passage in record time from the Needles which they had left at dawn the morning before, with a steady northerly wind behind them. The splendid lighthouses of the north Brittany coast had shone out of a clear night. Only when they began to close the coast with the newly-risen sun glittering across the water, the wind had begun to slacken. Perhaps he should have used the motor then to keep up his speed. But there seemed to be no point in it, with another lovely summer day before them, and the whole of a fortnight's holiday ahead. No point at all, until that low soft yellow line wiped out the horizon, and caught them up at the landward end of the first part of the Grand Channel leading to Tréguier.

The yacht
Shuna
crept forward. Tony, leaning out from the pulpit in the bows, saw a dim black shape ahead. He shouted his warning, but Giles had seen the buoy almost as soon as his crew, and had altered course to pass it.

“Fine,” he shouted, cheerfully. He was pleased to pass the mark so close, even if the tide was pushing him on to it. This was where he had to alter course, and he could check his position quite accurately on the chart. Also he could see exactly how the set ran on the buoy and make a reasonable guess of how to correct for it in the next reach of the channel.

“How often have you been in here?” asked Phillipa.

Her voice had a sharp note of anxiety in it that Giles was quick to note.

“Hundreds of times,” he said, heartily.

This was not true. He had, in fact, used this channel only twice before. But he remembered it fairly well, and he saw that he must keep up the morale of his crew. The Marshalls had not done much cruising. They had been too excited all the long day before to take proper rests. Tony had stood up to his night watch without turning a hair, and had slept well when relieved. But Phillipa, though fortified with dramamine, had not slept at all when she went below, and had soon appeared again on deck, queasy, but uncomplaining, to sit up for the rest of the night. She was looking pinched and tired now, Giles thought, and must on no account be frightened into the bargain.

“It's lifting!” Tony shouted suddenly from the bows. “I can see a couple of socking great beacons. Look!”

The fog swirled and broke and they shot out into a clear patch a few hundred yards long. They could not see the shore line to the left, but on the right a formidable pile of rocks, not far away, rose from the water. The beacons stood on the edge of this barrier.

Giles altered course again. He had not allowed enough for the set, but he did so now, and was rewarded, twenty minutes later, by spotting his next mark where it ought to be. The fog was a little denser again here, but they still had a couple of hundred yards visibility. At any rate, Giles thought, we are not likely to run into any other shipping larger than ourselves. The little summer passenger steamer would not leave the river until the fog lifted. Once past La Corne …

The in-shore lighthouse, on its spit of rock, came out of the mist, a pale tall ghost, dead ahead, and very uncomfortably close, since they knew they must give it a fairly wide berth, and the current was now setting them down on it very fast. Giles opened the throttle, and
Shuna
roared away to starboard, slipping past the rocky base of La Corne almost broadside on to the channel.

“I can see two buoys ahead here,” called Tony.

BOOK: The House Above the River
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