Saturday, July 13, 2019

Episode of the Wandering Knife by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1949)

This is a collection of two novellas and a short story:
Episode of the Wandering Knife (novella - 1943)
The Man Who Hid His Breakfast (short story - 1949)
The Secret (novella -1950)

My edition is Rinehart & Co., 1949, hardcover. I could not find an image of the dustjacket so have shown the paperback cover above.

Episode of the Wandering Knife (1943)

Major characters:
  • Judith Shepard, our narrator
  • Mother Shepard, her mother
  • Larry Shepard, her brother
  • Isabel [née Leland] Shepard, Larry's wife
  • Andrew and Emily Leland, Isabel's parents
  • Alma Spencer, friend of Mother
  • Jim Barnes, a policeman
  • Captain Tony King, investigator
  • Don Scott, old flame of Isabel Shepard
Locale: unspecified

Synopsis: Judith Shepard's high society mother, only named as Mother, is hosting a party for the local Mayor at her mansion. Judith's brother Larry Shephard and sister-in-law Isabel [née Leland] Shepard live in another house on the grounds. After it is over, Isabel is found stabbed in her house. Mother sees the knife on the floor, knows it belongs to her son Larry, and sits down on it so the police won't see it. She gets away with it, and she and Judith begin moving it to a series of hiding places; and it disappears and reappears a couple of times. Policeman Jim Barnes who was on duty during the party, acts suspicious himself and won't reveal his knowledge of the crime. Three other murders follow Captain Tony King tries to unravel the motive behind it all.

Review: An enjoyable novella with our narrator walking the tightrope between assisting in the investigation, yet being an accessory by hiding the weapon. The wandering knife earns its name, and is a key element in introducing the players. I was surprised that four murders could occur with such a small cast and short book. Captain Tony King's role is unclear, he is not with the police yet he is quite cozy with them. The final solution reminds of a Perry Mason novel, with hidden family secrets revealed as the motive.

The Man Who Hid His Breakfast (1949)

Major characters:
  • Mrs. Ingalls
  • Joy Ingalls, her daughter
  • Ken Townsend, her fiancée
  • Harry Ingalls, her cousin
  • Maud Ingalls, Harry's wife
  • Inspector Tom Brent
  • Hotel detective Carver

Locale: unspecified

Synopsis: Mrs. Ingalls has been found strangled (with one of daughter Joy Ingall's nylon stockings) in her bed. She had strongly opposed Joy's upcoming marriage (giving Joy and fiancée Ken Townsend motives). She had also had left a substantial amount in her will to destitute nephew Harry Ingalls (giving him and his wife Maud Ingalls motives). All four have solid alibis. A chance remark by Inspector Tom Brent's friend, hotel detective Carver gives Brent a clue as to how it was done.

Review: A nice tight short story which introduces a puzzle and solves it in 30 pages. 

The Secret (1950)

Major characters:
  • Mrs. Nina Rowland, in bed with a slight arm ailment
  • Mr. Charles Rowland, her husband, serving in the Pacific
  • Antoinette "Tony" Rowland, a strange acting young lady with a secret
  • Miss Alice Rowland, Charles' sister, recovering from a fall down the stairs
  • Johnny Hayes, was to be married to Tony
  • Mrs. Arthur Hayes, Johnny's mother
  • Delia Johnson, Tony's former maid in Hawaii
  • Herbert Johnson, Delia's brother, hanging around ominously
  • Nurse Hilda Adams, nurse for Miss Alice
  • Aggie and Stella, two servants

Locale: maybe New York City

Synopsis: Something strange is going on in the Rowland household. Tony Rowland's upcoming marriage to Johnny Hayes is cancelled at the last minute. Then someone, apparently Tony, takes two shots at her mother, Nina Rowland - and missed both times. Then her aunt, Alice Rowland, falls down the stairs - or was she pushed? Nurse Hilda Adams is planted in the household to care for Alice, and try to prevent more unpleasantness.

Review: A good short story, revolving around a mysterious secret which is finally revealed at the end (but I didn't guess it). Lots of little aspects to this story which I thought would turn out to be red herrings, but everything fit into place neatly at the end. Hilda Adams is her usually crusty self with a bit of a pining for Inspector Fuller.

Also see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

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