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When a Man Marries

October 14, 2009

I’m having trouble putting into words how much I liked When A Man Marries. The is the second Mary Roberts Rinehart book I’ve read, and it’s not much like Dangerous Days. For one thing, nothing particularly tragic happens. For another, it’s mostly pretty funny (I suspect these two things are related). Also, it’s a mystery novel. And at first, I thought  a lot about those differences, but then it occurred to me that the things that make the two books similar–good writing, for example–are at least as important. After that, I got really absorbed, and mostly stopped thinking about anything that wasn’t actually happening in the book for a while.

Kit McNair is the narrator, so we learn a lot about her personality, but very little about her life. Her mother is in Bermuda and her father is out west on business, but she doesn’t seem to have a chaperone. She’s recieved quite a few proposals of marriage, most of which seem to have come from two men.

The first of these is Jimmy Wilson, and he stopped proposing to Kit when he fell in love with Bella Knowles, a classmate of Kit’s from boarding school. Jimmy and Bella got married, but he drove her nuts, so they ended up getting a divorce.

The book opens on the anniversary of theat divorce. Jimmy is moping, so Kit decides to host a dinner at his house to cheer him up. She asks Max Reed, the other frequent proposer; the Mercer girls, Betty and Leila; and Dallas and Ann Brown, a married couple. The Browns bring along their friend Tom Harbison, an engineer visiting from Chile. It’s only after they all get there that the complications begin. First, Jimmy gets a telegram saying that his Aunt Selina is coming to visit. She disapproves intensely of divorce, and she’s sort of responsible for Jimmy’s financial well-being, so Jimmy’s kind of terrified, and he and the Dallas Browns come up with the idea of having Kit pretend to be Bella. She takes a lot of convincing, but eventually she agrees.

Then:

  • Harbison, the only person besides Aunt Selina who isn’t in on the masquerade, falls in love with Kit;
  • Takahiro, the Japanese butler, becomes ill an has to be taken to the hospital;
  • Bella sneaks in through the basement;
  • Takahiro turns out to have smallpox, and the house is quarantined;
  • Ann Brown’s pearl necklace is stolen; and
  • A policeman is found in the basement.

It’s all very exciting, and there’s enough going on that it’s hard to sort out which incident belongs to which subplot (which is a good thing). I was a little disappointed by the ending, but the rest of the book makes up for it. And I loved Kit’s narration, which takes place at some point in the future. She’s constantly saying things like, “we later found out — but I’m getting ahead of myself,” which I normally find really frustrating, but in this case makes a lot of sense for Kit as a character.

The characters in general are a strong point. Each of them has his or her own personality, and their relationships with each other are, for the most part, funny and believable. I’m probably going to be reading a lot more Rinehart books in the future.

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