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).
- Herbert Wayne, deceased - but still warm - as story begins
- Paula Brent, his girlfriend
- Miss Juliet Mitchell, his elderly, deaf aunt
- Arthur Glenn, attorney
- Florence Lenz, Glenn's secretary
- Hugo, the butler
- Mary, the cook (Hugo's wife)
- Nurse Hilda Adams, a.k.a. "Miss Pinkerton"
- Inspector Patton
- Dr. -- Stewart
- Charlie Elliott, neighbor, Paula Brent's former boyfriend
Synopsis: Herbert Wayne lives on the 3rd floor of his aunt's (Miss Julia Mitchell) run-down mansion. It has seen better days - the only servants remaining are Hugo (butler) and Mary (cook, and Hugo's wife). Herbert had been speculating on stocks and now he is found shot. No one can determine if it was murder, suicide, or accident (he had been cleaning his gun).
Miss Julia is feeling poorly so Inspector Patton plants Nurse Adams in the home as her nurse. Wayne's girlfriend, Paula Brent, is distraught. Then it comes to light that her former boyfriend, Charlie Elliott, has been hanging around and threatening to do away with Wayne in order to get Paula back. This puts him at the top of the suspect list.
Nurse Adams is a great sneak to be our investigator. When talking on the phone to Inspector Patton, she addresses him as "doctor" so the family won't suspect. A lot of the book is devoted to figuring out if waster Wayne is a murder, suicide, or accident - and there is a lot of hanky-panky going on with the crime scene evidence too. The use of a newspaper in a murder is a new one.
I do like the amusing episodes - the funniest is when Nurse Adams is keeping watch over her patient, Miss Julia, at night; and each is waiting for the other to fall asleep (reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre) - with alternating peeps over the bed's footboard. Another amusing happening is repeated incidents of people getting trapped on the mansion's roof!
I learned a few essential things from this book:
- Risus Sardonicus - an involuntary grin caused by muscular action, "may be caused by tetanus, strychnine poisoning or Wilson's disease, and has been reported after judicial hanging." Do a Google Image search for some creepy pictures.
- How to tell if a person in a faint is faking - you will have to read the book to find this little technique out!
- Rolled Stockings - a rather rebellious action in the 1920's-1930's by ladies by unclasping their stockings from their garters and rolling the tops so they stay up all by themselves. Shocking! See this article.
- How to shoot somebody at close range without leaving the telltale powder burns.