The Circular Staircase


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Redeeming Qualities

Although Rinehart read and was clearly influenced by Anna Katherine Green , she brought her own fresh approach and style to the mystery genre. Rachel Innes is the first of several intelligent, wry, strong-willed, blunt spoken yet warm-hearted female narrators created by Rinehart during her fifty-year long writing career.


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In addition to employing a strong narrative voice and creating engaging characters, Rinehart also managed to inject humor into her writing: Not, for the most part, a farce-like humor as seen in her wonderful Tish stories, but a more subtle, ironic and understated type of humor that one might expect to find in a late rather than an early Twentieth Century American novel.

The scenes where Liddy reacts to mysterious noises, ghosts, uppity fellow servants and the peculiarities of country life are laugh out loud funny.

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These instances do not unduly detract from the narrative and were most likely originally incorporated into the story because Rinehart wanted to signal her magazine readers that exciting and dangerous events were about to occur. Rinehart should not be held accountable for all the literary abuses inflicted on readers by later, less accomplished writers who copied this questionable but effective foreshadowing device and made it central to their own writing styles. The Circular Staircase is a mystery story. It is not a fairly-clued Golden Age detective story for the simple reason that the Golden Age had not yet begun.

Later, during the actual Golden Age years strictly but more casually recognized as ? She is much closer spiritually to Doyle, Chesterton and Post than to true Golden Age practioners such as Christie, Sayers, Queen and Carr in that she is more interested in writing compelling stories rather than strictly adhering to a list of rules. To my knowledge, Rinehart never admitted to aiming her mysteries at a female readership.

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Since she did tend to emphasize the relationships between and among her characters more than mystery writers of her own and earlier eras, it is understandable why she is often labeled as a feminine writer; all the pulp-like action, violence and scientific-medical content of her stories not withstanding. My analysis was greatly aided by the wonderful supplementary material included in the Mystery Library edition of The Circular Staircase , especially the work of Phyllis A. Whitney and Jan Cohn. Tip: To turn text into a link, highlight the text, then click on a page or file from the list above.

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The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart - E-book

Insert image from URL. But please remember that we are all trying to carry on a civilized discussion. Your views are valuable. Please treat them that way. Thank you. Among the various genres and sub-genres of traditional mysteries, I suspect that few are as easily recognizable, for better or worse, than the Had I But Known mystery - HIBK, as it's generally abbreviated.

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Too often, the term is used as a disparaging assessment of a particular author's style. But when it is done properly, that type of mystery, in which a narrator reminds us repeatedly that if he or she had only been able to foresee these terrible events, he or she surely could have avoided some calamity, it can be extremely effective. Consider, for example, the book and the author generally credited with having invented the genre - The Circular Staircase , by Mary Roberts Rinehart, first published in , years ago.

It's available these days in a wide variety of formats now being out of copyright protection ; I gave it an audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast about eight years ago. In the context of my review, below, you may want to know that the edition I re-read was the one published by Dover Publications with an excellent introduction by mystery historian Douglas G. This edition appears to be back in print. At any rate, here's my review, edited a bit as always :.

An elderly woman, along with her niece and nephew and some devoted servants, leases a summer house in the country. The house is anything but peaceful: there are nighttime intruders, murders, rumors of hidden rooms and a bank failure before the mystery is eventually solved. She muses:.

If I had only known how to read the purpose of that gaping aperture what I might have saved in anxiety and mental strain! As I look back, so many things are plain to me that I wonder I could not see at the time. It is all known now, and yet the whole thing was so remarkable that perhaps my stupidity was excusable.

Or this example, from quite early in the book, as our narrator ponders leaving this mysterious house and returning to the city:. In the hands of a lesser writer, that kind of thing quickly becomes irritating. Greene notes that "Rinehart was the mistress of the eerie event, the unknown figure peering through a door, the creaking staircase, the horrors almost but not quite foreseen. She is also a writer with a real knack for defining memorable characters. One striking example occurs as Rachel is looking at her nephew, Halsey, and she thinks:.

I knew one once, more than thirty years ago, who was like that: he died a long time ago. And sometimes I take out his picture, with its cane and its queer silk hat and look at it. But of late years it has grown too painful: he is always a boy — and I am an old woman. I would not bring him back if I could.


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  6. Chapter I. I Take a Country House. Chapter II. A Link Cuff-Button. Chapter III. John Bailey Appears. Chapter IV. Where is Halsey? Chapter V. Gertrude's Engagement.

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    Chapter VI. In the East Corridor.

    Chapter VII. A Sprained Ankle. Chapter VIII. The Other Half of the Line. Chapter IX. Just Like a Girl.

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    Is this the church with the circular staircase?

    Chapter X. The Traders Bank. Chapter XI. Halsey Makes a Capture. Chapter XII. One Mystery For Another. Chapter XIII. Chapter XIV. An Egg-Nog and a Telegram.

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