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The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart is an author I've wanted to try for some time now and The Circular Staircase was a satisfying intro to her works. I like her writing style so far, tinged as it is with a little humour and irony.


"This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous."


The Circular Staircase was a quick and enjoyable read; I started on a Saturday and was done by the following day. It was also a tea & blanket read (a phrase I've stolen without shame from BrokenTune) - I had the flu (now recovering) and it helped keep my mind off my misery, at least when I wasn't blowing my nose for the 1000th time :(


The opening quote from the first paragraph caps everything nicely. Like her fellow city dwellers do in the summer, Rachel Innes takes her household, which includes her niece and nephew, Gertrude and Halsey, and her maid, Liddy, to the country house of Sunnyside, leased from the Armstrong family, presently out in California; the two families are acquainted with each other.


From almost day one, there are strange happenings in and around the house, with someone (a woman?) lurking outside, and inexplicable noises inside. Soon after, a man is murdered on the circular staircase, leaving Rachel and company with none of the peace promised by the retreat to the country:


"The peace of the country-- fiddle sticks!"

Aside from the murder, someone (or some persons?!) is trying very hard to get into the house, and both Gertrude and Halsey are keeping secrets. And where does the Armstrong family fit in all this?


The reveal of the murderer was a bit anticlimactic for me; I had had my suspicions but the way it was revealed and tied up was so low-key. To be fair, though, the murder and its resolution turn out to be almost secondary to the more confounding mystery of who is trying to get into the house and why.


I like the character of Rachel Innes and wish I could meet up with her again in other Rinehart books - she is not shrinking or melodramatic, and I enjoyed her often-times contentious relationship with her maid, Liddy:


"Liddy and I often desire to part company, but never at the same time."

All in all, a good read and I will certainly carry on with Ms Rinehart - The Circular Staircase was plucked from a collection of 22 books, 17 of which are mysteries. We have ample opportunity to get acquainted ;)