Sunday, July 23, 2017

One by Mignon Eberhart, another by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mignon G. Enerhart, Postmark Murder
Open Road 2012 r-reprint of © 1955, 1956

I was scrolling through something recently, and ran across some commentary about Mignon Eberhart, a fairly popular author of what would now (I think) generally be regarded as “cozy” mysteries (52 of them between 1929 and 1988).  And I realized I had never read anything she wrote.  Whatever I ran across mentioned this book (Postmark Murder), which is available as a ebook (as is much of her work), and I thought I’d give it a shot.

The story is set shortly after World War II.  Three people (Doris Stanley, Charlie Stedman, and Laura March) are trustees under the will of Conrad Stanley (Doris is his widow; Charlie, a close friend and business associate; and Laura, the daughter of a close friend; Matt Cosden was Conrad’s lawyer).  One peculiarity of the will is that half of the estate is being held in trust for a cousin Conrad had never met, Conrad Stanislowsky, who was known to have been living in Poland, but who has apparently disappeared.  And the trust is to be wound up three years after his death, with 1/3 of the residual of his estate going to each trustee.  As it happens, Matt discovers a that the Polish Conrad had a daughter, who was in an orphanage in Vienna.  As the book opens, Matt is returning from Vienna with the daughter, Jonny. 

(I suppose I should note that Laura is deeply in love with Matt, who, before Doris married Conrad Stanley, was engaged to Doris.)

So now there is a twist.  If the legatee—and I wish they were not both names Conrad—fails to show up, does the residual estate devolve upon Jonny (who is, for the time being, living with and being cared for by Laura)?

And a second twist:  Shortly before Christmas, a man shows up at Laura’s apartment claiming to be Conrad Stanislowsky and wanting to see his daughter.  He catches a brief glimpse of her, but Laura refuses to allow any contact until he proves who he is.  And he leaves.

A strange woman (calling herself Maria Brown) calls Laura and tells her to come to an address in the Polish section of Chicago (the Pilsen neighborhood, for those of you to whom that will mean something).  Laura (disregarding the lessons of thousands of mystery novels) goes, taking Jonny with her.  She briefly encounters Maria, enters th boarding house, and finds the man who called himself Conrad Stanislowsky dead.  (Of course.) 

The remainder of the book follows (at second hand, actually) the police investigation of the murder.  Laura is a suspect, as are the other 2 trustees.  And Matt is also involved.

The set-up is fairly interesting, but following the progress of the investigation is not handled well, as we really only see it first-hand when Laura is being questioned.  And the denouement was, to me, even less well-handled.  Only Laura is particularly well-developed as a character; the city of Chicago, however, does make itself felt pretty realistically.

On the basis of this experience, I can say both that I can understand Eberhart’s populatiry and doubt that I’ll read another—unless I read a very strong recommendation for a specific book


Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Man in Lower Ten
Open Road Media, 2014 (Originally published, 1906, and in the public domain)

Another author by whom I had previously read nothing, one whose reputation today is not as high as it was when she was active (27 novels and a huge number of sorts between 1908 and 1952)

A youngish lawyer, in a partnership in Washington, Lawrence Blakely, ha to travel to Pittsburgh, to take the deposition of a man involved in a counterfeiting situation.  (His partner, Ritchey McNight, pleads he necessity of seeing the young woman he has recently fallen for.)  The trip to Pittsburgh goes smoothly, the deposition is taken, and Blakely boards the train for the return journey to D.C.  This is where things go pear-shaped.

On the return trip, Blakeley assists a fellow passenger in buying a ticket (making sure that she gets a lower berth—11C); he has 10C.  That night, hot and uncomfortable, Blakeley can’s sleep, so he gets up and, in his pajamas and robe, goes to have a smoke.  When he returns, there is someone else asleep-snoring loudly—in lower 10.  On the advice of one of the train staff, he agrees to move across the corridor to 9C—which is probably where the guy in 10C was probably supposed to be.  Later that night, there’s a crash, the man in 10C is discovered dead—not from the crash, but stabbed, the documents Blakeley had been carrying have vanished (as have his clothes).  He’s forced to dress in the clothes of whoever it was who had booked 9C (and they fit none too well).  Subsequently, he and a young lady (Allison East) leave the train; they both have reason to be concerned about an investigation into the death (Blakeley is an obvious suspect, of course).

The set-up is not bad, and has been used over and over again in mysteries set on trains.  But the “investigation” of the murder is, even for the early 20th century, essentially non-existent, and toe “solution” consists of one party who is guilty of one thing dumping responsibility for the murder elsewhere. 

So much for my introduction to MRR.


  1. excellent reviews, thanks for trying the authors, as everybody DorothyL knows by now -grin- am working my way through many early Fems authors, and both are included. MRR hasn't aged well, and while her CIRCULAR STAIRCASE is very much fun, it's terribly obvious; seems like LOWER 10 (I haven't read yet) is as implausible but without the entertainment quotient! She's a very specific taste, seemingly too sweet now. She was considered quite "new & bright" at the time (1900s).

    Eberhart is something else, she was incredibly popular and prolific in the 1930s 1940s, bit less so 1950s. And her earlier books are, like her contemporary Christie, by far the better ones. I have found her circa early 1930s books to be quite dark and edgy, especially for the time, and her command of psychological motivations and just plain understanding people, is wonderful.

    also, try Margaret Millar's 1940s novels, they're rsther Freudian, but then a lot of "suspense" thrillers were then. Hers are almost as dark as Highsmith.

  2. I have read books by both authors and enjoyed them at the time, when I first started reading mysteries. The two of Ms Rinehart that I remember as scary were the Circular Staircase and the Bat.