The Division Bell Mystery
March 19, 2022 10:53 AM - Subscribe

A financier is found shot in the House of Commons. Suspecting foul play, Robert West, a parliamentary private secretary, takes on the role of amateur sleuth. Used to turning a blind eye to covert dealings, West must now uncover the shocking secret behind the man's demise, amid distractions from the press and the dead man's enigmatic daughter. (Summary from

Originally published in 1932, this is the first Crime Classic novel written by an MP. And fittingly, the crime scene is within the House of Commons itself, in which a financier has been shot dead. Entreated by the financier’s daughter, a young parliamentary private secretary turns sleuth to find the identity of the murderer – the world of politics proving itself to be domain not only of lies and intrigue but also danger. Wilkinson’s own political career positioned her perfectly for this accurate but also sharply satirical novel of double cross and rivalries within the seat of the British Government.

Ellen Wilkinson (1891–1947) was a Labour party politician who served as Minister of Education from July 1945 until her death. She was renowned for her spirited defiance of social norms and her impassioned speeches in the House, and was widely respected amongst MPs from each party. She published only two novels in her life, The Division Bell Mystery and Crash!.

(Book summary and biographical info from The British Library Shop. "Ellen Wilkinson" link goes to her Wikipedia page.)

I also enjoyed this review from Kate Jackson's Cross Examining Crime blog.
posted by the primroses were over (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed the harried civil servants and the parliamentary back and forth. For me, the mystery itself was kind of a secondary to the politicking - which I guess means Wilkinson got me into our protagonist's head, since I am sure Robert West would say the same.

I did enjoy the ruminations on changing British society, those uncouth Americans, and "modern women" from Mr. West and his colleagues. It seemed like Wilkinson was having fun with this, which is always a nice feeling to get from a book.

Shame she only wrote the one mystery!
posted by the primroses were over at 11:03 AM on March 19, 2022

I'd have to agree that the mystery itself was quite secondary, and I did find it tidied up a bit too quickly at the end. But apart from that, I did enjoy this a lot, particularly the interplay between the various parts of the establishment - civil service vs. ministers vs. PPSes vs. opposition MPs. I thought she did a really good job at describing this interplay, and the complexities of the Palace of Westminster, without either making it too complicated or over-explaining.

I liked Robert West a lot, (even considering that he was a Tory) and I wouldn't have minded a few more books with him as the "detective".
posted by scorbet at 2:00 PM on March 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Thirding that this wasn’t a very interesting mystery, but was fun for a detailed peek into a group of people and a world I know only a little about.
posted by PussKillian at 7:13 PM on March 21, 2022

Finished this recently! Interesting that you liked him - I found him intensely annoying. He’s a liar, not a very good friend, and so, so, self-centered and oblivious. It was absolutely worth reading for the Parliamentary details, though!
posted by bq at 3:09 PM on April 1, 2022

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