The Swimming PoolAugust 26, 2013
So, obviously I don’t review things that are still under copyright very often, but MysteriousPress.com and Open Road Media have put out a whole slew of Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries as ebooks, and I know for a fact I’m not the only one who’s run out of Rineharts to read at Project Gutenberg.
Open Road very kindly sent me an ebook of The Swimming Pool for review, and it’s kind of great, in a very specific, Rinehart during the ’40s and ’50s kind of way. There’s a specific formula you don’t get in her earlier mysteries, where the heroine is the youngest daughter of an old family, usually one whose lifestyle has changed dramatically over the last few decades. She’s usually in her late twenties, and when a man shows up to investigate whatever the mystery is, he’s also her love interest. The closest public domain example I can think of is Where There’s a Will — which I’ve never reviewed, but which is kind of similar to When a Man Marries in tone, but slightly less awesome.
Anyway, considered on its own merits, The Swimming Pool is pretty good. The heroine is Lois Maynard, and yes, she’s in her late twenties, and she’s the youngest daughter of the family, and they’ve definitely seen better times. There’s even a domineering mother, although she’s dead by the time the story begins.
Lois and her brother Phil live on the family’s country estate, The Birches, which saw its best days around 1929, when their beautiful sister Judith was in her late teens. When the stock market crashed, they lost enough that they had to leave their city house and move to The Birches altogether. Other things that happened around that time include Lois’ father’s suicide, Judith’s marriage to the wealthy and much older Ridgely Chandler, and the murder of Mollie Preston, a prostitute from the East Side.
The various events of 1929 are dragged up again in the present — I think The Swimming Pool takes place around 1950 — when Judith, going on forty and still a spoiled society beauty, divorces Ridgely Chandler and temporarily moves back to The Birches. She’s terrified of something, but she won’t tell anyone what. Meanwhile, there’s a strange man who seems to be wreaking some kind of havoc on the grounds almost every night, a handsome police detective who may or may not have retired to raise chickens, and, eventually, a dead body in the swimming pool.
There’s a little bit too much running around in the middle of the night, seeing shadowy mysterious strangers and getting knocked on the head and shot at and stuff, but that’s always been a failing of Rinehart’s. I also didn’t like the way Rinehart had Lois zero in on the events surrounding Judith’s wedding — you know that thing where characters keep talking about a certain set of things, and it’s not organic, but the repetition eventually makes it seem that way? Rinehart was pretty subtle about it, but it bugged me a little.
Other than that, the mystery is well-constructed. And, this being Rinehart and the protagonist not being a middle-aged married man grappling with the supernatural (see Sight Unseen, The Red Lamp, etc.) everyone is at least interesting and the characters you’re supposed to like are super charming. There were ridiculous bits, but there were at least as many tense, suspenseful bits. I’ve been pretty stressed lately, and I’ve been having a hard time concentrating on whatever I’m reading, but that wasn’t an issue here — I went back to The Swimming Pool whenever I had a chance until I was done.
It’s a good, solid mystery that makes me want to read more Rinehart, and these ebook reissues seem like a good way to do that. There’s no special features or anything, but the cover art is delightful, and they seem to have a good selection. I particularly recommend The Album, which uses the same basic formula as The Swimming Pool, but also features an axe murder. I think I’m going to try Two Flights Up next — the description reminds me a little of K.