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 Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

middlesteinsMore often than not, I feel like I read books about people that I either love or hate — heroes (or anti-heroes) or villains. But in life it is rarely that easy.  People surprise you, disappoint you, make you frustrated, make you laugh, bore you, excite you — sometimes all in the same day.  No person is always valiant and even Saddam Hussein probably told a good joke once in a while.  So it is often those books that show people being human that really appeal to me.  In The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg did just that.

The Middlesteins centers around Edie, the family matriarch who has always loved food.  Her lifelong memories are tied to liverwurst and rye bread, and she has been able to consume large quantities of food in one sitting since childhood.  As she goes from plump to fat to morbidly obese, she marries Richard, raises her children – Benny and Robin, and builds a mediocre career.  Her family and career did not meet the high expectations she had as a whip-smart child, and now around 60-years-old, food has become the consistent comfort in her disappointing life.  Edie, Benny, Robin, Richard, Benny’s wife Rachelle, and a few additional characters each contribute to this family’s narrative.  We see how Edie’s dissatisfaction and deteriorating health effect the family, and how they all deal with trauma and turmoil in their own way.

Just like the characters, the book is imperfect.  There are some editing and consistency issues and some of the plot devices feel a little forced, but I would recommend this book for anyone interested in character-driven novels about families.