The Green Bicycle Mystery

Written by Anthony Brown

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

The Green Bicycle Mystery
Mirror Books
RRP: £7.99
Released: June 15 2017

The Green Bicycle Mystery is a funny hybrid of a vehicle – part historical re-enactment, part intellectual exercise and part new tricks - from way, way back.

All in all, the ride is pretty smooth, though there are some bumps along the road. The reader of this one (and others in the Cold Case series) needs to leave this century and its biases aside, in order to fully enjoy this intriguing book.

The Green Bicycle Mystery presents the reader with the known facts of the century-old murder of one Bella Wright. The young woman cycled to visit a cousin in Leicestershire one summer evening in 1919 and never returned. Her crumpled body was discovered by passers-by on a June evening. Shot in the head, Bella would never marry her boyfriend Archie, have children, or even see her 22nd birthday. The sole clue available to the Police is a dismantled green bike, its parts guiltily pointing at the bike’s owner as a suspect.

The police track down the buyer - a certain Ronald Light and quickly set their sights on him as prime suspect. Light is horrible and the best written element of the book. He positively bounces off the pages of this book – seedy, defensive, with deeply unpleasant attitudes towards women.

A teacher in a boy’s school, Light is the worst kind of deviant – an intelligent one skilled in the art of deflecting blame from himself. The book includes only one photograph of Light but the descriptions of him suggest a whiny, weasel of a coward who was dismissed from active duty in World War I. His dismissal occurred shortly before the start of the Battle of the Somme. Light’s avoidance of that horror handily presages his deft avoidance of the hangman’s noose a few years later.

Within weeks, Light is charged with “wilful murder.” The high profile of the case allows Light to secure the services of the Perry Mason of the day – one Edward Marshall Hall.

Hall later bragged his defence of Light was one of his greatest professional coups.

Though there is no photograph in the book, Hall also leaps off the pages he features in. His theatrics are mentioned early on and it is easy to imagine Hall, a large man, huffing and puffing and gesticulating and attracting awe and fascination from the galleries.

The trial in June 1920 was a media circus, with the press and public jostling for front-row seats.  

Brown’s book does not end with the verdict, which must have confounded many observers.  Rather he presents us in the final quarter of the book with elements similar to what the 1920 jury members would have seen. Our advantage over those 12 people is that Brown also posits new theories and information gleaned in the intervening 97 years. Facsimiles of the actual evidence are also included in appendix to the narrative.

The author’s strength is that he does not press on us one particular theory until the end when he lays out what he thinks happened. He plays defence, prosecution and devil’s advocate - suggesting three alternative scenarios.

Brown is not the first author to tackle this crime. The bibliography at the end cites a good half-dozen books and multiple articles just about this case, as well as other books that allude to it.  At end he logically indicates to the reader what he would’ve pushed for, had he been in that jury-box.

There is a treasure trove of evidence at the conclusion, as well diagrams, photographs and verbatim transcripts. This section contains the one image of Bella in the paperback and this to me, embodies the problem with The Green Bicycle Mystery. While much is learned about the police, the defence, prosecution and the unpleasant Ronald Vivian Light, Bella remains a mystery. She was admittedly young. But I was frustrated that beyond the brief biographical facts, I got no sense of the girl, what made her laugh or cry, her hobbies and opinions. Nor was there mention of any habits behind her fatal throwing caution to the wind on that fateful night. There is but one drawing of her in the book and little about what made her tick. 

So aside from that quibble, The Green Bicycle Mystery offers much to admire. Brown is deft at relating 100-year-old events to now and he cleverly reminds us how little human nature changes over time. People who’d never met Bella flocked to her burial, gawkers formed long queues outside Leicester Castle courthouse and that some men have always brutalized bullied and hurt women. 

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