The Window at the White CatMarch 15, 2012
I’ve been on a bit of a Mary Roberts Rinehart kick this week, starting with The After House and moving on to The Window at the White Cat and Love Stories. The Window at the White Cat is probably the least interesting of the three, falling into a mold I associate with Anna Katherine Green and Carolyn Wells, where some rich and/or important middle aged man is murdered at his desk and the lawyer-narrator ends up falling in love with the murdered man’s wife/daughter/niece/miscellaneous young and dependent woman. And I don’t have a problem with that; it’s just not very exciting.
The Window at the White Cat doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table, either. Not as much as it could, anyway. The main characters are only vaguely appealing, and the mystery is frustrating in the same way as many of Rinehart’s mysteries — an intriguing beginning and middle give way to an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. The minor characters are pretty great, though, and Rinehart’s humor is evident everywhere, as usual. Knox’s pratfalls, for instance.
Knox, the narrator, spends quite a bit of time sneaking around buildings in the middle of the night, and somehow he always manages to walk face first into a door, or step on the shell he was using as a doorstop. On one occasion he walks into a pile of folding chairs and knocks them down, and then five minutes later falls into a dumbwaiter shaft. He refers to this as his “usual bad luck,” and, to be fair, it’s hard to walk around an unfamiliar house in the dark, but he manages to do something hilariously clumsy practically every night. By about halfway through the book, he’s got a sprained ankle and a collection of bruises so varied and extensive as to make his doctor laugh at him. Meanwhile, his reporter friend Burton has “an instinct for getting around in the dark.”
Burton also has an instinct for free meals, and uses it frequently. Then there’s the apple-eating detective Davidson, contrary Aunt Letitia, Knox’s no-nonsense sister-in-law Edith, and a baby alligator. These and other characters liven up the book a lot, but mostly it’s a case of a lot of really enjoyable bits elevating a story that’s only okay.
Still, it’s Mary Roberts Rinehart, so, you know, it’s probably worth your while.