The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase

by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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.

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.

"No," I said sharply, "I'm not going to use bluing at my time of life, or starch, either."

  • Language: English
  • Category: Mystery
  • Rating: 3.63
  • Pages: 208
  • Publish Date: March 1st 2004 by Wildside Press
  • Isbn10: 0809593475
  • Isbn13: 9780809593477

Read the Book "The Circular Staircase" Online

& the character of amateur sleuth Rachel Innes kept me entertained until the end.

My Review: Miss Rachel Innes, spinster of circa-1908 Pittsburgh, inheritrix of two children now relatively safely launched into adulthood, and possessor of a large automobile, determines that her town residence needs significant tarting up and, to avoid the attendant chaos and disarray, moves herself, her ladies' maid, and her now-adult charges to Sunnyside, the large and vulgar country home of a local banker. As he, his wife, and his step-daughter (note old-fashioned spelling, it is relevant) are traveling to the almost foreign climes of California, Miss Innes and entourage are left in possession of Sunnyside (a more dramatic misnomer is hard to envision) for the entire summer that renovating Miss Innes's home will require. Miss Innes's maid begins the descent into spookyworld. When the homeowner's step-daughter shows up, in a state of complete collapse and her ward's evident amour for the girl makes it impossible to turf her out, Miss Innes begins a logical and determined effort to explain the bizarre happenings at Sunnyside. In the end, all is well, and the redoubtable Miss Rachel Innes possesses all the facts.

The story revolves around Rachel Innes, who rents a house in the country, for her and her two adult wards Halsey and Gertrude. The detective in charge of the case, Mr Jamieson, rightly believes that Miss Innes is keeping things back indeed she refrains from telling him anything which might incriminate either Halsey or Gertrude; who seem to be involved with virtually every stage of this mystery and to turn up in the most unlikely places, or be linked to, every suspect.

Rachel Innes, wealthy spinster, narrates the story. She has rented a house in the town of Sunnyside for the summer unaware the family of the absent owner has been undergoing tumultuous events. The family members of the owner soon unexpectedly invade Rachels life, but at first, she is more concerned with her own household. Rachel has a very funny relationship with a longtime companion/servant, Liddie. The daughter, Louise, was being courted for a time by Halsey, but as far as Rachel knows, the relationship did not go anywhere.

My edition has a cover that reminds me of the old Nancy Drew mysteries that I loved as a kid (The Circular Staircase), and I thought it read like a cross between a Nancy Drew written for adults and a ghost story.

In the Circular Staircase, the best-selling novel that brought Mrs Rinehart fame and at least a little bit of fortune, the reader will definitely encounter each of those things, in a tale told with humor and forthrightness by the narrator, Aunt Rachel Innes. I don't know about you, dear reader of this review, but I generally have some sort of stock picture in my mind of the characters in the books I read. Having recently seen the Hildegarde Withers movies, adapted from the novels by Stuart Palmer and starring Edna May Oliver, I got caught up in the idea of Ms Oliver as the perfect representation of Aunt Rachel. Although Aunt Rachel is described as elderly, Ms Oliver always looked 20 years older than she was. Yi. Anyway, the plot of this novel deals with Aunt Rachel, Gertrude, and Gertrude's brother Halsey (how's that for a WASP-y name?) taking up residence for the summer in a house that has been let by the wife of a local banker, who has gone out west with his family for the time being. I suppose that any book from this period is not going to be all that enlightened, and the few black characters are not gross exaggerations, either.

Miss Rachel Innes has an eventful "summer vacation" in the country... Three stars for plot and most characters, four stars for Miss Rachel and "atmosphere", which is still quite effective; recommended, three-and-one-half stars. When blue-blooded Philadelphian, late-40ish spinster (in 1908 that was the equivalent of 60ish now) Rachel Innes and her niece Gertrude and nephew Halsey rent a perfectly enormous isolated country house for the summer they expected/hoped to be pleasantly bored. When the son of the owner of the house is found shot dead, lying at the foot of the titular staircase at 3AM one very dark morning and her beloved niece and nephew seem to be far too involved in the tragedy, Miss Rachel (being a forthright sort of woman) needs must sleuth for herself. BOTTOM LINE: Don't be turned off by the "sweet cosy thriller" reputation Rinehart's stories have, ignore the creaky plot and extremely old-fashioned goings-on, and just enjoy the fast pace, the setting, the sharply edged humor, and Miss Rachel Innes. "Miss Cornelia van Gorder" is NOT a character in this novel although I think she was the heroine in the play made from this novel, called The Bat - and a prose version was written/adapted of that play, with a good deal similar to the book, but a large amount of basic plot not at all connected to this story including the lead character.

My thanks to the folks at the The Mystery, Crime, and Thriller Group for giving me the opportunity to read and discuss this and many other fine books.

Her well-meaning quarrels with her foolish maid Liddy provide great comic relief, and you won't find Miss Innes making the sort of stupid exercises in derring-do that get modern-day heroines nearly killed in today's mystery novels. And Miss Innes' attitude toward Thomas the butler, an African-American, while better than average for the day, will strike modern readers as appalling.

While many of her books were best-sellers, critics were most appreciative of her murder mysteries.