A Century of Books

It’s a century-old cold case. During that time, at least five major books on the unsolved death of Bella Wright have been published, dozens of books have carried a chapter on it, and scores of articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers. The most famous article was written as long ago as 1922, when The Strand Magazine published Trueman Humphries’ account of how Bella was killed accidentally by a youth out shooting crows. This is one of three theories examined in my book, The Green Bicycle Mystery, published by Mirror Books later this week.

The case was widely reported at the time. Indeed, it was one of the most famous murder trials of the interwar years. Despite all the media attention and books on the case, today it appears to be less well known outside of Leicestershire. Paul Stickler, a fellow researcher of historical murders, conducted a snap poll. Before presenting the case to several hundred people at a special event on a cruise ship, he asked how many had heard of it. Only a handful raised their hands. Of course, this is not scientific polling, but it is suggestive. Perhaps most unsolved historical cases are known only to criminologists and armchair detectives, the exception being the Ripper, of course.

Whether the case finds a wider audience with the publication of my book remains to be seen. By examining new evidence, I believe it tells the complete story for the first time, but the writing of it was immeasurably aided by those books that went before mine. This includes one published as long ago 1930 by a reverend, which was the seminal work on the case for 60 years. It was only superseded by Wendy East’s book, yet even that was published nearly quarter of a century ago. All were the latest books on the case when they were first published; all are out of print now. How books reflect the inexorable sweep of time.