11 July 2014

Review: THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE, Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 627 KB
  • Print Length: 226 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1489526706
  • Publisher: first published 1907, this edition Start Classics (April 25, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00K0UAR3U
  • source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

The following are the opening paragraphs of the novel.

This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous.

 For twenty years I had been perfectly comfortable; for twenty years I had had the window-boxes filled in the spring, the carpets lifted, the awnings put up and the furniture covered with brown linen; for as many summers I had said good-bye to my friends, and, after watching their perspiring hegira, had settled down to a delicious quiet in town, where the mail comes three times a day, and the water supply does not depend on a tank on the roof.

And then -- the madness seized me. When I look back over the months I spent at Sunnyside, I wonder that I survived at all. As it is, I show the wear and tear of my harrowing experiences. I have turned very gray -- Liddy reminded me of it, only yesterday, by saying that a little bluing in the rinse-water would make my hair silvery, instead of a yellowish white. I hate to be reminded of unpleasant things and I snapped her off. "No," I said sharply, "I'm not going to use bluing at my time of life, or starch, either."

My Take

I think I may have bought this quite cheaply, seeing an opportunity to do a bit of "vintage" reading. It has been on my kindle for a few months only.

At the beginning of this e-book version of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE there is a biographical introduction to the life and works of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Here is an extract:
    This book is credited with having been the first mystery to use the "Had I But Known" formula. This style of mystery centers around the protagonist withholding important details until it is too late. Often this variety of tale is narrated as a flashback from the protagonist's point of view. They will withhold the special damning piece of information from the reader as well, only revealing it after the climactic moment involving the secret clue. When done well, the technique can create real suspense for the reader.
I found myself remembering the phrase "Had I But Known " because once you know this was a feature of Rinehart's style, then it is certainly there.

There is an almost Gothic quality to the plot lines and setting of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE. The story is narrated by Rachel Innes, who doesn't always understand the implications of what she has observed. There are two deaths, ghostly rappings emanating from the walls and ceilings, and as the novel progresses the plot strands get increasingly complex, as if the characters have got away from the author. In fact one part of the plot resolution gives the impression of having been plucked from the air. The central plot appears to relate to the stock market crash of 1903.

My rating: 3.9

About the author

Mary Roberts Rinehart 1876-1958 was a writer of detective stories and mysteries who was billed as the American Agatha Christie. She wrote over sixty popular mysteries and is credited with the creation of the "Had I But Known" school of mystery writing. She is also credited as the source of the phrase "The butler did it," though she never actually used it in her writing.

Her first novel, The Man in the Lower Ten (1906) and then in 1907, The Circular Staircase, are the earliest American novels that are still in print today as forms of entertainment rather than as "classic" works of literature. The Circular Staircase brought Rinehart national fame and prosperity. The book sold over a million copies and allowed the Rineharts more financial breathing room.

More details on Wikipedia


samantha.1020 said...

I found this book to be a fun read ( and even funny at times). I have been meaning to try more by is author every since. Great review!

Ryan said...

I adore Mary Roberts Rinehart, I think I've read about 16-18 of her books over the last few years. I love this one, but I almost enjoy The Bat more. The Bat is the novelized version of the play that was based off of The Circular Staircase.

skiourophile said...

I've read this one and The Bat and for me they were a bit too similar. But I loved the strong - though not always right - female protagonists, and there was a good deal of subtle humour too.

Kerrie said...

Not sure we are talking about the same book Vicki. I do not remember identifying anyone as a female protagonist in this one.


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