Locked Doors (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Miss Adams and Mr. Patton, the nurse and detective from The Buckled Bag, are on another case. The Reeds are behaving very strangely. They live in Beauregard Square, an exclusive neighborhood in the city. They’ve recently dismissed all their servants, ripped up the carpets, pulled the furniture away from the walls, and leave every light on around the clock. Their two boys are kept locked in the nursery on the second floor and Mr. and Mrs. Reed alternate in keeping a 24 hour watch at the head of the stairs. Mr. Reed needs someone to babysit the children, but they have to be a registered nurse.

The answer:

The Reeds were living far beyond their means. The bubonic plague is sweeping a European country. Mr. Reed is a bacteriologist and has been hired to find a cure. Several plague rats were kept in his basement lab, but they’ve escaped. Their strange behavior was a precaution against the plague rats or the fleas they carry reaching the children.

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The Buckled Bag (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Claire, recently engaged to be married, has been missing from the March household for five weeks. Her mother has taken to bed, sick with worry. A detective, noticing the reticence shown when discussing specific details about the situation, enlists the help of the nurse hired to care for Mrs. March. People tell things to nurses they’d never tell anyone else.

Eventually, Claire reappears with a cock and bull story about being abducted and kept locked in an attic. While the story doesn’t hold water, she includes details that are too oddly specific to be fictional. Following these clues, the nurse traces down Claire’s actual hideout and learns that Claire is a cokehead. Wanting to get clean for her marriage, she voluntarily locked herself into a room while her friend slowly stepped down her cocaine dose until she was off it entirely. The mystery was really Claire trying to shield her fiance from her past drug use.

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The After House (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Ralph Leslie, fresh out of medical school, catches typhoid fever. He leaves the hospital sickly and broke. He takes a job as a deck hand on a yacht sailing for South America for a dose of health-restoring sea air and manual labor. The owner of the yacht, Marshall Turner, is a man who likes his drink. Mrs. Johns, one of his guests, asks Leslie to move from the crew’s quarters in the forecastle to a room in the after house with them. Turner has been arguing with Richardson, the captain of the boat, and in his drunken rage, she fears there will be trouble.

Not long afterward, Leslie finds himself locked in. When he breaks down the door, he discovers the bodies of Captain Richardson, Mr. Vail (another of the guests), and Karen Hansen (the maid), all hacked to death with an axe. With the ocean stretching out for hundreds of miles around them, the culprit must be there on the ship: either one of the crew, one of the guests, or Turner. Everyone is on edge, particularly when they begin seeing a strange, spectral figure at night flitting around the deck.

The reveal is a bit of a let down. It’s not that it’s bad, per se, but the build-up was so terrific that I suppose any ending couldn’t live up to it.

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The Wall (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1938)

Juliette turns up at Sunset House, the summer residence of Marcia Lloyd, to demand $100,000 from her ex-husband, Marcia’s brother Arthur, but while the Lloyds may still have some of the trapping of wealth, they don’t have $100,000 and couldn’t raise it if they sold everything they owned. It works out, though, when Juliette is found bludgeoned to death in the woods. Then her maid’s body is caught off-shore by a fisherman. Then the local doctor is shot through the heart. The D.A. is up for re-election and is gunning for a conviction, first trying to pin it on Arthur, then on Fred Martin, a golf instructor who it turns out was also once married to Juliette. The sheriff, Russell Shand, is less hasty and doesn’t like all the “odds and ends” that so simple a solution leaves. Juliette, for all her faults, was a fearless woman and she was afraid when she came to Rock Island. Why?

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Sight-Unseen (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1921)

Several old neighborhood families gather once a week for the Neighbors Club. At this particular meeting, the attraction is a psychic medium. At the seance, after the usual parlor tricks, she goes into a trance and describes a murder scene. Later, it’s discovered that Arthur Wells is dead and that the medium was right down to every detail.

This reads like a sketchy idea that a few years later Rinehart would develop to much greater effect in The Red Lamp. Short as it is, Sight-Unseen is too repetitive and the ending doesn’t satisfy.

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The Breaking Point (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1920)

Ten years ago, Jud Clark disappeared after the murder of Howard Lucas. Lucas was married to Beverly Carlysle, a famous actress, and it was widely suspected she and Clark were having an affair. Clark, almost black-out drunk, stumbled into a raging blizzard and is thought to have died somewhere in the mountains of Wyoming.

Dick Livingstone, nephew of David Livingstone, is a young doctor in the small town of Haverly, Pennsylvania. He wants to marry Elizabeth Wheeler, but first he has to clear up some questions about his past. He has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything longer ago than ten years.

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The Door (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1930)

The family nurse is found stabbed to death just after one of the disinherited branch was gifted a sword-cane. Things looks bad for him — bad as in he’s going to the electric chair — but while both he and a member of the bequeathed branch know who actually did it, neither one of them will breathe a word.

This is more of a whodunit than the typical Rinehart mystery. It’s a fairly limited number of characters, several of them are possible suspects, a few more possible than others (indeed, Mary, the main character, makes a list towards the end of everyone involved, ranking them by how likely they are to be the murderer). It does have other Rinehart hallmarks: like every family that describes itself as being an open book, they would all go to their graves before even hinting at family secrets; and the wealthy not quite realizing that their servants are people and that they have families and secrets of their own.

As for the solution, what cliche is Rinehart remembered for today? The Inspector never actually says “The butler did it!” as the myth goes, but, well, the butler did it!

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