In Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat, Cornelia Van Gorder, a spinster who has longed for adventure, takes herself, her Irish maid Lizzie, and her neice Dale off to the country to escape the city's summer heat. Cornelia begins receiving anonymous notes meant to frighten her away from the house. Cornelia's neice begins acting strangely, her maid Lizzie is nervous as a cat, and her butler Billy is inscrutable (as all Chinese men of the time are represented). Dale brings home a new gardener who isn't what he seems and Cornelia decides to request that a detective be sent to help her get to the bottom of the nasty notes.
*Note: I listened to the audio version of this book so this Cleanliness Report is not as thoroughly detailed as other reports are. These reports give a complete break-down of everything in the book, so you'll know just how clean it is or isn't.
A friend who knows that I am interested in mysteries and in books published between the world wars, loaned me an anthology of three Mary Roberts Rinehart novels, so you will be seeing the other two in a week or two. Published in 1926, the "mystery" was the part of the book that I enjoyed the least. Gender, class, and race issues were all present in this book in a major way. Cornelia has to solve the mystery as well as deal with Lizzie's constant overblown emotions throughout the book clearly indicating which class each occupies and the values of each of those social classes.
PLACE= 3: I love a good mystery in a Country House, and Rinehart does create a fine atmosphere of money and menace in the 1920s. I enjoyed this, but oh, there are two missed opportunities: 1) the aforementioned twist which is actually easy to miss here, as Rinehart just lets it pass and 2) the author couldn't get a handle on who is where and when during the last half of the book, most of which takes place in a Country House during a storm. Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair: no one does a Country House Murder Mystery like Agatha Christie, but Rinehart does a fine, 3 star job.
One author that I never heard of until Yvette, of in so many words..., reviewed a book of hers. Now this book is actually a novelization of the stage play "The Bat" that Rinehart wrote along with Avery Hopwood. The funny thing is, the play was actually the stage adaptation of her novel The Circular Staircase. I think that fact that this book came from a stage play is what made it a blast to read. Chance encounters and even chance misses are part of what makes this book feel like a romping travel through a very scary house. Obviously since I love the movie so much it was a little hard for me to separate the movie from the book. After his death, Richard Fleming, his nephew, decided to rent the place out for the Summer. Before we know it there are characters (three of which I haven't even talked about) all over the house, some of whom end up dead before the mystery is solved.
The story in this book was less developed than the one in The Circular Staircase.
I read a couple of her books in the past few years and enjoyed them for what they are old-fashioned, demure, cozy mysteries with a likeable heroine narrating the story. Mary Roberts Rinehart was a well-known mystery and romance writer. Rinehart's stories appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and she was also a published playwright. The Circular Staircase (1908), her first book and first mystery, was an immediate success, and the following year The Man in Lower Ten, which had been serialized earlier, strengthened her popular success. Thereafter she wrote steadily, averaging about a book a year. A long series of comic tales about the redoubtable Tish (Letitia Carberry) appeared as serials in the Saturday Evening Post over a number of years and as a series of novels beginning with The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911). Most of the plays were written in collaboration with Avery Hopwood; her greatest successes were Seven Days, produced in New York in 1909, and The Bat, derived from The Circular Staircase and produced in 1920. Rinehart gave up mystery and humorous fiction, and turned to straight novels for most of the next 15 years. Motherhood is always depicted in glowing terms in Rinehart's fiction, although often shown to be very hard work, while marriage is an unmitigated horror story. Rinehart also wrote a number of powerful tales about wife beating long before it became a feminist issue in the 1980's. Rinehart did write some mystery and humorous fiction during these years. As early as "The Amazing Adventure of Letitia Carberry" (1911), Rinehart was talking about spiritualism in her mysteries, but in that story it is just a red herring - no actual supernatural events occur. Spiritualism is not found just in Rinehart, but in many other American authors of mystery fiction of the period, such as S.S. Van Dine, Ellery Queen, and John Dickson Carr. The Bat I had the feeling as I read this book that it would be easily adapted to the stage. As this story was originally a play, Rinehart might have used a little more creativity in rewriting it as a novel. Some believe that The Bat shows Rinehart at the height of her powers and is her greatest work. Gillette assumed the role onstage more than 1,300 times over thirty years, starred in a silent motion picture based on his Holmes play, and voiced the character twice on radio.
While many of her books were best-sellers, critics were most appreciative of her murder mysteries.