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The Window at the White Cat

March 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.

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6 comments

  1. I kind of want to read The Leavenworth Case before this one.


    • Yeah, The Leavenworth Case is kind of the ur-text for this one. And Mary Roberts Rinehart will probably make a good antidote.


  2. Another book that I read just before you… This one is not great; as you say the ending is contrived. She was a prolific author – over 100 books that I can see – and while I have only read about a dozen there are some real crackers in there.
    “Bab, a sub-deb” is hilarious, about a senior in school trying to be as sophisticated as her elder sister.
    “Where there’s a will” is entertaining, about the death of the owner of a spa resort and the resulting battle for ownership.
    “A poor wise man” is a social novel, and probably would have been described as a “Women’s book”.
    “The Man in Lower Ten” is a thriller about (what else) a lawyer and a mysterious woman.
    “When a Man Marries” is another hilarious one, this time about a mismatched bunch who get quarantined in a house.
    “Sight Unseen” is a murder mystery, with (yes) a lawyer and some neighbors playing amateur sleuths. Pretty good.

    If you enjoy Rinehart I’d also recommend Louis Tracy and Jeffery Farnol.


    • I think a lot of Rineharts endings fall into this pattern, although this ending isn’t as bad a cop-out as When a Man Marries or The After House.

      I’ve read most of the ones you suggest; When a Man Marries is one of my favorites, but I find Bab, a sub-deb pretty irritating. I failed out of the one Louis Tracy book I started, and I’ve never been able to warm up to Jeffery Fanol. I don’t think either of them has anything like Rinehart’s light touch.


  3. “His Unknown Wife”, by Louis Tracy, has a lot of action–description here, contains some spoilers, though.

    http://manybooks.net/titles/tracylouother09his_unknown_wife.html


    • The one I tried had a lot of action, too. I’m probably due to give Tracy another try, but he made me cringe a lot, so I don’t know.



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