Friday, February 8, 2019

The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1910)

About the author: Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876 – 1958) was an American writer, often called the American Agatha Christie, although her first mystery novel was published 14 years before Christie's first novel in 1920. Rinehart is considered the source of the phrase "The butler did it" from her novel The Door (1930), although the novel does not use the exact phrase. Rinehart is also considered to have invented the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing, with the publication of The Circular Staircase (1908). (from a Wikipedia article).

Major characters:

At the Knox's:
  • Jack Knox, a lawyer, our narrator
  • Fred Knox, his brother
  • Edith Knox, Fred's wife
  • Ellen Butler, widow of Henry Butler
  • Hawes, a butler
At the Fleming's:
  • Allan Fleming, the missing man, the state treasurer
  • Margery Fleming, his daughter
  • Carter, the butler
  • Anna, a maid
  • Delia, a maid
At Bellwood:
  • Miss Letitia Maitland, Margery Fleming's maiden aunt
  • Miss Susan Jane Maitland (called Jane), Margery Fleming's maiden aunt
  • Harry Waldrop, engaged to Margery Fleming, secretary to Allan Fleming
  • Bella MacKenzie, maid
Al Hunter, a detective
Burton, a newspaper man
Henry Butler, a suicide at the White Cat a long time ago
Henry Schwartz, a party boss
Lightfoot, Allan Fleming's cashier
Robert Clarkson, a suicide
Mrs. Allen Fleming - surprise, a second wife

Locale: fictitious locale near Plattsburg (Missouri?)

Synopsis: Margery Fleming comes to attorney Jack Knox seeking help - her father, Allan Fleming, has disappeared. Knox reluctantly agrees, and calls in detective Al Hunter to investigate. Knox is not too concerned about Fleming, as he has been seen around town.

Margery's aunt, Miss Susan Jane Maitland, asks Knox to help her revise her will. Knox goes to her home at Bellwood, and discovers that Jane has disappeared without a trace. At the same time, ten of her 98 precious pearls have disappeared also, apparently a theft.

The two missing persons have left behind notes stating "1122".

Hunter locates Fleming, staying at a local political-drinking-smoking-gambling hideaway called The White Cat. He brings Knox over, they find Fleming has been shot dead just prior to their arrival. Again, an "1122" note is found.

Review:  Mary Roberts Rinehart can write a dark mystery with humor, a rare combination. As the disappearance and mysterious notes mount up, the character list gets longer and longer as new people, mostly relatives, slide into the story. It is obvious there is skullduggery originating with some banking scams, and centered around the sketchy White Cat, which ostensibly is a "political club" but seems more like a frat house. Jane disappears early on, but seems to be forgotten throughout most of the book.

It is satisfying to read a book over 100 years old which still remains a puzzler and a page-turner.

No comments:

Post a Comment