A murder trial scandalizes the upper echelons of Long Island society, and the reader is on the jury…
The trial of Stephen Bellamy and Susan Ives, accused of murdering Bellamy’s wife Madeleine, lasts eight days. That’s eight days of witnesses (some reliable, some not), eight days of examination and cross-examination, and eight days of sensational courtroom theatrics lively enough to rouse the judge into frenzied calls for order. Ex-fiancés, houseworkers, and assorted family members are brought to the stand—a cross-section of this wealthy Long Island town—and each one only adds to the mystery of the case in all its sordid detail. A trial that seems straightforward at its outset grows increasingly confounding as it proceeds, and surprises abound; by the time the closing arguments are made, however, the reader, like the jury, is provided with all the evidence needed to pass judgement on the two defendants. Still, only the most astute among them will not be shocked by the verdict announced at the end.
Inspired by the most sensational murder trial of its day, The Bellamy Trial is a pioneering courtroom mystery, and one of the first of such books to popularize the form. It is included in the famed Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list of the most definitive novels of the mystery genre.
Devotees of classic courtroom thrillers like Witness for the Prosecution will be enthralled by this reissue in the American Mystery Classics series of a seminal legal drama first published in 1927. Hart (1890 1943) effectively employs a chorus to supplement the proceedings: a veteran male reporter and a rookie female journalist, both unnamed, whose commentary keeps the detailed questioning of witnesses and legal arguments during a sensational murder trial in Bellechester, N.Y., from becoming dry. Stephen Bellamy and Susan Ives are charged with the fatal stabbing of Stephen's wife, Mimi, a cause c l bre that the male reporter cynically describes as the latest "crime of the century." According to the prosecution, their motive was fear that Mimi would run off with Susan's husband, with whom Mimi was once in love. Hart does a good job playing with expectations by first presenting the prosecution's case against Stephen and Susan before testimony and cross-examination suggest an alternative explanation for Mimi's murder. Perry Mason fans will rejoice.