Book Review - Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm: Volume 2: A Crime Shrouded in Mystery - Alex Merrill (2019)

Cover - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery by Alex Merrill (from Amazon)
Cover - Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery
by Alex Merrill
(from Amazon)
The Book
Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm: Volume 2 - A Crime Shrouded in Mystery. Alex Merrill. APS Publications. 2019.

The mystery of who put Bella in the Wych Elm has an enduring fascination. Over the decades, theories of whose skeletal remains were found in a hollow tree in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, have proliferated. The theories cover everything from witch covens to German spies... and the casual reader can be easily sucked into all sorts of quagmires, many of which turn out to be based on false rumours.

The police report, recently released to the Worcester Archives doesn't really help the situation as it too has an over-abundance of false leads and dead ends.

In his first book, Alex Merrill provided a breath of fresh air to the case, examining the evidence in a clear and succinct form. He even moved the investigation ahead in several areas, notably the actual location of the wych elm (which moves around quite a bit in different theories!).

In his second book, Alex tackles the many different leads contained in the police files as well as published (and unpublished sources). It is a daunting undertaking to be sure and Alex has done an admirable job in presenting each lead/theory and then presenting additional evidence to disprove some.

In the author's comments, Alex notes that, "What this book promises is a ‘big picture view’ of the mystery with new revelations; a fresh perspective of all the different theories, thoroughly researched and referenced, and complemented by historical facsimiles, photographs, and bespoke maps and charts.

The book is indeed thoroughly well researched and, for the most part, well-reference. There are several places where items of information were not referenced (e.g. death registration of Clara Bauerle). The book references cited at the back of the book do not contain standard information: title, author, year, publisher, city. The maps and charts are helpful but could have benefited from image captions. Similarly, the photographs are helpful but many lack photo captions and/or source citations. Several photographs are sourced from the National Archives and yet that source is not acknowledged in the front matter.

I also found that many chapters could have benefited from a concluding "pulling together", just a paragraph or two to give the reader a "big picture view" of the information presented in each chapter in such detail. There is a benefit to presenting the evidence and allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions but there is, I believe, an equal, if not greater, benefit to the author presenting their own view of the data. The reader can then choose to agree or disagree based on the evidence presented. As it is, the reader moves from one chapter to another in a very abrupt transition which gives the entire book a bit of a disconnected feel.

Overall, I would say Alex has done a great job with the content of this second volume but the bigger problem lies with the overall structure of the book. I purchased an ebook version and noted the following editorial/structural issues:
  • ebook not downloadable to my Kindle device - not compatible - could only read it on Kindle for PC or web Kindle
  • While the book has a table of contents, it does not appear in the Kindle TOC section, nor is it clickable within the text itself. This makes the book extremely challenging to navigate since this ebook also lacks page numbers. I checked other non-fiction ebooks in my library and they have clickable TOC hyperlinks in the text and a TOC that appears to the left in Kindle for PC. I had a look through Alex's first book (also purchased as a Kindle) and while it lacked clickable TOC hyperlinks and a Kindle TOC, it did have page numbers and these were listed in the TOC.
    Screen shot of Kindle for PC - Bella in the Wych Elm - Volume 2 - Alex Merrill - Table of Contents
    Screen shot of Kindle for PC - Bella in the Wych Elm - Volume 2 - Alex Merrill - Table of Contents
  • Throughout the text, Alex references numbered sub-chapter headings - e.g. 14.3 - but these are not in the text. The chapters are numbered but sub-chapters are not numbered. This might not be so bad if the references to a numbered sub-chapter were hyperlinked, but they are not. Again, this makes navigation challenging. Having read draft versions of some of the chapters, I know that the numbered sub-chapters were present in draft stage and am perplexed by their absence in the final product.
  • There are numerous instances where headings were widowed at the bottom of a page and easily missed as one flipped the page. This makes for a disconnected reading experience.
Overall, Alex has done a great job of presenting a host of leads/theories about the Bella case. His research is meticulous and has moved the investigation ahead in numerous areas. The text could have benefited from some summing-up/transitional paragraphs at the end of each chapter. There are several structural/editorial issues that make for a poor reader experience.

For anyone interested in the Bella case, this book is an invaluable resource and I very much look forward to Volume 3!

Review Score
4 out of 5 - well researched but lacking in presentation and structure


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