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.
We meet amateur sleuth and former World War I nurse, Kate Shackleton a few years after the conclusion of the war in her small village of Bridgestead, England in the first book of the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody. Kate is still reeling from her husband being declared missing in the war but, at the same time, continues to hold out hope that he is alive. As a nurse in the war, Kate has picked up the skills of a sleuth in helping a few fellow nurses find missing loved ones. She has gained quite the reputation as a novice detective and based on her reputation one fellow nurse, Tabitha Braithwaite, calls on Kate for a mystery of her own.
Tabitha is engaged to be married within weeks and her wish before she walks down the aisle is to find her father, Joshua Braithwaite, who mysteriously disappeared and no trace of him was ever found. Was Mr. Braithwaite, the owner and operator of a textile mill, a victim of someone with a grudge, did he stage his own disappearance or is the truth something more sinister? Kate has little time to dig to the bottom of the mystery before Tabitha’s wedding day. She meets a cast of characters in the village, including many mill workers who may have a grudge against the powerful mill owner and are potential suspects. Kate, along with Sykes, a former detective who she hires as an employee, get closer and closer to finding the truth with potential murderous results. Told in alternative chapters merging past and present, Dying in the Wool gives the reader a glimpse into British society and culture in the early 1920s within a cozy mystery.
One of the most unique aspects of this mystery is the detail that Brody adds to the novel regarding the British textile mill industry immediately following WWI. It is clear she has done her research, giving the reader a sense of the intricacies of how this industry was run. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series may want to consider starting this series (the eleventh book in the series came out in November). I’m already nearly done the second book, A Medal for Murder, and am looking forward to the third!
In The Crimson Field, viewers are introduced to the daily lives of doctors and nurses in a tented field hospital right on the front lines of France during World War I. Right at the start, you are introduced to three volunteer nurses, Kathleen, Rosalie, and Flora as they make their way to a field hospital on the coast of France close to the front lines of fighting. At this field hospital, they are the very first volunteer nurses; a fact that rankles the established medical team already in place. Kitty, Rosalie, and Flora must find ways to deal with the new world that they have been thrust into where they quickly realize that the training that they have received is nowhere near adequate for the job they must do. With their addition to camp, everyone’s lives start to shift and clashes quickly crop up between the way that things have always been done, the hierarchal structure within the camp, and a new way of thinking. While the girls quickly find out that they are underprepared for this new way of life, they also discover that they, just like the others around them, are able to use this as a new start and to break away from everything that held them back in their hometowns.
PBS and the BBC have found ways to make interesting a subject that would have been dreadful to read about in a history textbook. By illuminating such topics as World War I, the day-to-day life of people in front-line field hospitals, and the tensions between the Allied and the Central Powers, viewers realize just how tumultuous life was during World War I and how people had to be aware of even their smallest actions. This PBS television show has a unique way of pulling people into the lives of the characters while simultaneously making the events that they are going through a wide and layered character unto itself.