Tuesday, July 1, 2014
(read earlier in June): The After House, by Mary Roberts Rinehart -- a novel with a real-life purpose
Kensington Publishing, 2001
originally published in 1914
When I'm not reading about crime and criminals in other countries, I love to go through the vintage mysteries and crime fiction novels I've been stockpiling for years, much of it booty from yard sales, library sales, used book stores, etc. Recently I picked up The After House, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, an author who has a long list of titles under her name. I've read a lot of books by this author, and sadly, The After House just isn't all that good. A word of warning at the outset: this book was published in 1914 and there are a few racial/religious epithets in the story that most people wouldn't use today, so please keep in mind that their usage reflects their common acceptance of the time.
Ralph Leslie has simultaneously just finished medical school and developed a case of typhoid that lands him in the hospital. He's broke and a friend of his feels sorry for him, wangling him a space aboard the Ella, a luxury yacht that is about to set sail on a cruise. Still weak from his illness, he comes on as an "extra man," working with the crew, and in case the butler becomes ill (since he's a 'poor sailor,') Ralph is told that he should be ready to take his place. On sailing day, nineteen people leave port. By the time they return, four of the nineteen are dead at the hands of a murderer with a penchant for axe wielding, a suspect is being held on board, and everyone is frightened out of their wits. Ralph decides to do a little sleuthing when he's not helping to sail the ship back to port, but more than a few people are hiding things that make his job a little difficult. His biggest job, however, is trying to prevent anyone else from being killed.
Once you get past the initial (and somewhat tedious) introduction of the players on the Ella, as well as the ongoing romance element (ick), there's a decent mystery here, although personally when I got to the solution, I had to cry foul. Although the author peppered her book with lots of little details and clues for the reader to sock away until guessing time comes, she didn't give the right clues to allow for any armchair detective to even come close to her solution. Unfair!
However, this book has an interesting history behind it. It was Mary Roberts Rinehart's own take on a similar, true murder case where a man had been found guilty and had been protesting his innocence for seventeen years; The After House was her version of the case where she offered a plausible, alternative suspect in an effort to get the case reopened.
I won't be adding The After House to my list of favorites written by Rinehart, but two of her novels, The Album and The Man in Lower Ten, are very much worth trying out if you're a vintage crime reader. I should really go dig those out and reread them.