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The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts…

The Circular Staircase (1908)

by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
I think I may have bought this quite cheaply, seeing an opportunity to do a bit of "vintage" reading. It has been on my kindle for a few months only.

At the beginning of this e-book version of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE there is a biographical introduction to the life and works of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Here is an extract:

This book is credited with having been the first mystery to use the "Had I But Known" formula. This style of mystery centers around the protagonist withholding important details until it is too late. Often this variety of tale is narrated as a flashback from the protagonist's point of view. They will withhold the special damning piece of information from the reader as well, only revealing it after the climactic moment involving the secret clue. When done well, the technique can create real suspense for the reader.

I found myself remembering the phrase "Had I But Known " because once you know this was a feature of Rinehart's style, then it is certainly there.

There is an almost Gothic quality to the plot lines and setting of THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE. The story is narrated by Rachel Innes, who doesn't always understand the implications of what she has observed. There are two deaths, ghostly rappings emanating from the walls and ceilings, and as the novel progresses the plot strands get increasingly complex, as if the characters have got away from the author. In fact one part of the plot resolution gives the impression of having been plucked from the air. The central plot appears to relate to the stock market crash of 1903. ( )
  smik | Jul 11, 2014 |
The authro was a big favorite of mine in my youth. ( )
  Schmerguls | Sep 15, 2013 |
How had I never heard of the awesomeness that is Mary Roberts Rinehart?? The Circular Staircase was one of the first books I downloaded for free onto my Kindle, and I only grabbed it because the author was compared to Anna Katherine Green whom wrote The Leavenworth Case (a book that I enjoyed when I read it last year). After reading The Circular Staircase I've downloaded every single book by this author that I can get my hands on. I want more!

The Circular Staircase begins with Rachel Innes deciding to spend the summer in the country with her nephew and niece. Little does she know that renting Sunnyside for the summer will mean murder, mystery, and intrigue. For mysterious happenings are going on at Sunnyside and Rachel instantly finds herself a part of them. Rachel is a great main character to be narrating the story because of her dry sense of humor. I found myself laughing out loud at various points in the story thanks to her opinions and musings on everything that was happening. In fact, being able to laugh at the story while still being intrigued by the mystery was one of my favorite parts of the book! I find more and more that I love classic mysteries like this because the authors know how to spin a good tale without lots of blood and gore. Instead Rinehart created a mystery filled with atmosphere and tension as the reader wondered what could possibly be going on at the house. It made for a great read that left me wanting more! My only issue with this book is something that goes more along with the time period that the book was written. The book does have some racial undertones in it but if you take in consideration when it was written then it makes more sense as to why the author included these viewpoint into the story. I didn't care for it but obviously I wasn't born in this time period either. Anyways....

Overall a really, really good read and a book that I enjoyed WAY more than I expected to. Just writing up my thoughts on this book makes me want to try more by her or grab up something by Agatha Christie. If you are ever looking for a gothic mystery novel then I think you should give this one a try. Just don't expect to be surprised by the ending. That part I could see coming from a mile away but luckily it didn't matter because I was enjoying the book too much. Highly recommended especially to mystery fans!

Bottom Line: One of those books that instantly makes you add the author to your must read list!

Disclosure: This was a book I downloaded for free onto my Kindle thru Amazon. ( )
1 vote samantha.1020 | Sep 23, 2012 |
Vintage and Retro are all the rage for some stuff like clothes and photography (Instagram?? I don’t get it, but whatever) and so I said ‘what the hell’ and downloaded this 100-year-old mystery novel onto the iPad. A review especially praised the stalwart spinster protagonist and the quaint setting and characters so I felt pretty confident I’d like it. Unfortunately, our stalwart spinster is also a raging racist and the supporting characters were pretty much there to be ordered about, worried over and despised by her in turn. I believe the correct term for her is battleaxe. I was bummed because at first her character reminded me a bit of Amelia Peabody.

Some of the things about the period charmed me; like the summer house rental. An estate really, with wings, stables and a gate house, complete with servants most of whom vamoosed when things started to get hairy. The old-fashioned conveyances; a mix at this time of history (1909) of trains, horse-drawn and motorized vehicles. Not sure what a Dragon Fly is, but I suspect it’s the author’s fancy since I found nothing on the web. When women fainted (as they invariably do in novels of this sort) someone ran for some ‘stimulants’. Aunt Rachel sports ‘wrinkle eradicators’ - mysterious and painful sounding. The lights went off at midnight because the electric company shuts down at that time. Funny stuff, but try as I might, the casual racism just took the shine off things for me. I know it’s how people thought and behaved back then, but it’s jarring to read about now.

While I did finish it, I didn’t race through it because it was quite put-downable. In the end I just made myself finish the silly thing. It reminded me a lot of the way Nancy Drew mysteries unfolded. We’ve got a stock bunch of characters and they end up in a place where strange things start to happen to them. Not because of them, but because of their proximity to whatever else is going on. The events that occur happen to them, but they’re not of them if you know what I mean. There’s a subplot that must be discovered. Even the clues are funny compared to how things are written these days. In this one they’re basically all physical - a pistol, a cufflink, a golf stick (not club, stick). Oh and there are funny noises inside the house and mysterious intruders no one sees or is able to capture. The antics of not just the amateurs, but also of the cops to catch these unseen villains, were hilarious. They bumbled around and tripped over one another and never so much as caught the hem of a garment, much less an actual person. Obviously there was a secret room involved, but once again no one could find it; not the good guys or the bad guys. There had to be 5 holes carved into walls before someone found it and then it was on the second try. Dopes. Nancy Drew could have totally schooled these people.

In the end, while I didn’t guess the solution (I wasn’t giving it any thought actually, the story didn’t really grab me enough), I found it a bit tired. I suppose since it’s a relatively early mystery, it wasn’t a cliche when it was written, but it certainly is now. It makes Agatha Christie’s work even more astounding because in my opinion it does hold its appeal. Yes, she wrote the bulk of her novels later than this one, but the earliest ones are pretty close to this time and they hold up much better. Alas, some vintage stories just don’t maintain their appeal into the 21st century. ( )
  Bookmarque | Apr 28, 2012 |
Rating: 3.75* of five

The Book Report: Miss Rachel Innes, spinster of circa-1908 Pittsburgh, inheritrix of two children now relatively safely launched into adulthood, and possessor of a large automobile, determines that her town residence needs significant tarting up and, to avoid the attendant chaos and disarray, moves herself, her ladies' maid, and her now-adult charges to Sunnyside, the large and vulgar country home of a local banker. As he, his wife, and his step-daughter (note old-fashioned spelling, it is relevant) are traveling to the almost foreign climes of California, Miss Innes and entourage are left in possession of Sunnyside (a more dramatic misnomer is hard to envision) for the entire summer that renovating Miss Innes's home will require. Perfect!

Not so much.

Miss Innes's maid begins the descent into spookyworld. Noises, disappearing people, mysterious presences, all cause her to think Sunnyside is haunted. Hah, says the commonsensical Miss Innes, there's a rational explanation for it all. And there is. Sadly enough.

When people start dying, as in "no longer sucking air," Miss Innes gets a wee tidge tense. When the homeowner's step-daughter shows up, in a state of complete collapse and her ward's evident amour for the girl makes it impossible to turf her out, Miss Innes begins a logical and determined effort to explain the bizarre happenings at Sunnyside. Amid this tough-enough assignment comes the local banker's reported death from far-off California, the revelation that he embezzled A MILLION DOLLARS!! (a Madoff-sized payday in 1908), and the disappearance of the embezzled bank's head cashier (also the amour of Miss Innes's female ward), and the impossibility of keeping good staff conspire to give good Miss Innes many a sleepless night. In the end, all is well, and the redoubtable Miss Rachel Innes possesses all the facts.

My Review: God bless her cotton socks, this lady is just a blast to read about! I like formidable old dowagers. (Lady Grantham aside.) They are so *certain* of their Rightness that it's fun to watch them screw up and fail. This being fiction, the formidable old dowager in question doesn't fail, and manages not to be any more overbearing, opinionated, and adamantine than is absolutely necessary.

Rinehart was a decent writer, and a decent plotter, and so the book offers pleasures in both those measures. It's not going to make the Louise Pennyites abandon the Mistress to read only Rinehart. It's over a century old, and thrills and chills come at a dramatically different pace and price in our time. But frills and furbelows aside, a good figure is a good figure, and this book has a good figure.

Visit your great-grandmother's world for a while. You might surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it. ( )
4 vote richardderus | Feb 1, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Roberts Rinehartprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berdini, MarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burns, RebeccaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hardin, CindyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herzog, Hans M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ralph, LesterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
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Book description
An aging spinster and her young wards investigate the inexplicable evil presence that darkens the musty corridors of their Elizabethan mansion.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486297136, Paperback)

A middle-aged spinster rents a country house for the summer and soon finds herself plunged into a nasty scenario of bank defaults, stolen securities and murder. An entertaining blend of intrigue, villainy and heart-pounding suspense for crime fiction buffs and lovers of great mystery classics.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:05 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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. Rachel Innes is relieved when Gertrude and Halsey arrive to keep their dear old aunt company--and allow her the courtesy of a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, the explosive sound of a revolver shot the next night shatters Rachel's hopes. And the body at the foot of the circular staircase insures many sleepless nights to follow.… (more)

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