The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart – American Mystery Classics

The Haunted Lady  by Mary Roberts Rinehart is enjoying a new rebirth thanks to Otto Penzler and his American Mystery Classics series.  Originally published in 1942, The Haunted Lady is one of a handful of reprinted mysteries hand selected by Penzler for a new generation of mystery readers.  Even though the American Mystery Classic series includes a multitude of vintage authors, the reissued titles have a common theme in their beautifully modern covers that give the books a uniform look and feel.  The cover of The Haunted Lady is exactly what drew me to the book in the first place.  Known as “the American Agatha Christie”, Rinehart apparently lost popularity after her death in the 1950s.  Penzler provides a short history of the author’s work at the beginning of the book.  Featuring nurse Hilda Adams, The Haunted Lady is one of three books featuring Adams.  Even though this book is the second in the series, picking up the book without reading the first in the series was seamless.

When we meet Hilda Adams, she has been recruited by Inspector Fuller to insert herself into the wealthy Fairbanks household to look after the elderly matriarch Eliza Fairbanks. Mrs. Fairbanks is convinced someone in her household is trying to kill her by initially feeding her arsenic and then by driving her mad with loose bats in her bedroom.  Nurse Adams charge is to keep an eye on Mrs. Fairbanks and report back to Inspector Fuller.  She meets a cast of characters in the Fairbanks family, and almost immediately more odd occurrences happen.   After a murder is committed in a seemingly locked room under Nurse Adams watch, she and Inspector Fuller team up to uncover the baffling truth.

For fans of early 20th century mysteries and cozy mysteries, I recommend The Haunted Lady as well as other novels in the American Mystery Classics series.  At the time, Mary Roberts Rinehart was  a very popular mystery writer and although not well know today, her mysteries still hold the reader’s attention and keep them guessing as to the culprit.  This series reintroduces vintage authors to an entirely new set of readers in today’s world.

 

 

 

 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

A beautiful Victorian house situated in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood becomes the focal point for a family broken by secrets and jealousy in Ann Patchett’s newest book The Dutch House.

Danny Conroy is just six when his mother leaves and never returns. His father is withdrawn and taciturn – not a model of warmth and caring. However, his sister Maeve, who is 12 when their mother leaves, steps in and becomes his greatest ally. The bond between the siblings is very strong and loving and only strengthens when, out of the blue, their father remarries.

The new stepmother, Andrea arrives with her two little girls. The kids all get along fairly well, but Andrea has no interest in Danny and Maeve and works diligently to exclude them from the family.  Maeve is moved from her favored large bedroom to an smaller room so that one of the little girls can have it and the housekeepers, who helped raise Danny and Maeve, are shunted aside. Their father becomes more and more distant, finding as many excuses as possible to be absent.

The Dutch house (as it is known in the neighborhood) stands central to all of these trials. Built by old money, their father purchased it with all of the furniture and family portraits of the former owners included. It was a symbol to Danny and Maeve’s father of his success, but it was also, with it’s overwhelming opulence and expensive furnishings, what drove their mother away. Andrea married their father because she wanted the house and the status that it gave her.  When Danny and Maeve are forced to leave the house it haunts them for years.

Now, this all sounds pretty glum and it’s true that the book is sometimes sad, but it is also about forgiveness, redemption and letting go of the past. I loved the relationship between Danny and Maeve, a brother-sister duo that rang true – great loyalty and love but they also aren’t afraid to poke at each other. Patchett’s writing style is lovely – smooth and graceful but never fussy. Her characters are like us – smart and funny and flawed, but never beyond saving. Read this for the intriguing story, the gorgeous writing and an ending that brings hope and recovery.