Friday, October 4, 2013

The Evolution of the Mystery Genre

The Circular Staircase
Mary Roberts Rinehart

In this mystery, Aunt Ray Innes, an affable old maid, is spending time with her nephew Halsey and niece Gertrude at the home of a banker, Paul Armstrong. On their first night there, Aunt Ray and Gertrude find Paul's relative Arthur dead at the foot of the circular staircase. Gertrude's fiancé, Jack Bailey , is a suspect at first, since he quarreled with Armstrong. He's cleared, but things get curiouser when the Armstrong bank fails, over a million dollars' worth of securities are found missing and Louise Armstrong, who was supposedly out West with her sick father, turns up at home. Aunt Ray discovers that the housekeeper was the murderer, and this leads her to a secret room in the house containing the stolen securities. Paul Armstrong appears through a secret doorway, and when he tries to escape, he falls down the circular staircase and dies.

Mary Roberts Rinehart (August 12, 1876-September 22, 1958) 

Rinehart was an American writer, often called the American Agatha Christie, although her first mystery novel was published 14 years before Christie's.  She is considered the source of the phrase "The butler did it", although she did not actually use the phrase. She is considered to have invented the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing. She also created a costumed supercriminal called "the Bat", who was cited by Bob Kane as one of the inspirations for his "Batman”.
Rinehart’s commercial success sometimes conflicted with her domestic roles of wife and mother, yet she often pursued adventure, including a job as the first woman war correspondent at the Belgian front during World War I. During her time in Belgium she interviewed Albert of Belgium, Winston Churchill and Mary of Teck. Rinehart was working in Europe in 1918 to report on developments to the War Department and was in Paris when the armistice was signed.
Novels and Plays:
· The Man in Lower Ten (1906)
·  The Circular Staircase (1908)
·  Seven Days (Broadway comedy, with Avery Hopwood, 1909)
·  The Window at the White Cat (1910)
·  When A Man Marries, or Seven Days (1910)
·  Where There's a Will (1912)
·  The Cave on Thundercloud (1912)
·  Mind Over Motor (1912)
·  The Curse of Jennie Brice (1913)
·  Street of Seven Stars (1914)
·  The After House : a story of love, mystery and a private yacht (1914)
·  K. (1915)
·  Bab, a Sub-Deb (1916)
·  Long live the King! (1917)
·  The Amazing Interlude (1918)
·  23½ Hours Leave (1918)
·  Dangerous Days (1919)
·  Salvage (1919)
·  A Poor Wise Man (1920)
·  The Bat (Play with Avert Hopwood, 1920)
·  Spanish Love (Play with Avery Hopwood, 1920)
·  The Breaking Point (1922)
·  The Red Lamp (1925)
·  The Mystery Lamp (1925)
·  Lost Ecstasy (1927)
·  This Strange Adventure (1928)
·  Two Flights Up (1928)
·  The Truce of God (1930)
·  The Door (1930)
·  The Double Alibi (1932)
·  The Album (1933)
·  The State vs Elinor Norton (1933)
·  The Doctor (1936)
·  The Wall (1938)
·  The Great Mistake (1940)
·  The Yellow Room (1945)
·  A Light in the Window (1948)
·  The Episode of the Wandering Knife (1950)
·  The Swimming Pool (1952)
·  The Frightened Wife (1953) (Special Edgar Award, 1954)


  1. What an elegant period for the murder mystery to have been conceived in.

  2. I have always loved Mary Roberts Rinehart. My mom had an original copy of The Circular Staircase, which I still have. It's falling apart since it was pubbed over 100 years ago! Back in the dark ages when I was in my late teens into my twenties I read quite a few of her mysteries, sometimes more than once. I have quite a few paperbacks on my shelf today still. I may have to go take one down and have me a read!