The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Haunted Lady (Hilda Adams 4)The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rinehart truly deserves her epithet as the American Agatha Christie. This story is a classic locked-room mystery. An old woman is found dead in her room that is tightly sealed and guarded by a nurse outside the door. It’s a traditional Victorian style house with many rooms, family members, servants, and regular visitors who may or may not have motives. Nurse Hilda Adams is the protagonist cum detective. The writing is sharp, old-fashioned, and refreshingly free of swearing and gore. The plot is convoluted and far-fetched. I doubt anyone figured it all out until the final reveal but I managed to guess one small piece in advance. It may be too tame and complex for some, but I enjoyed it.

The author does have one original stylistic trait that I found interesting: overt foreshadowing. For example, Hilda would meet someone and the author would write something like “She would later describe the person to the inspector as looking ill and upset,” thus suggesting that this physical state is important to the mystery. Or maybe you’re supposed to wonder if Hilda is mistaken or even intentionally describing the person inaccurately. She could have written that Hilda met the person and he looked ill and upset. Why write that she later told the inspector at that point? She could mention it later when Hilda actually talks to the inspector. The point is to alert the reader that this is a clue (or maybe a red herring!) She’d begin a chapter with “Mrs. Fairbanks was murdered on Saturday night.” At that point in the story, it was still Saturday morning and the author proceeds to write about everything that happened on Saturday, but you’re forewarned that you’d better pay attention to where everyone is at every point because you know the murder is about to happen. These are not spoilers because you are told very early on who is going to die. You lose the surprise element to an extent from the foreshadowing, but instead you get a sort of foreboding suspense which is at least as entertaining.

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