The Leavenworth CaseFebruary 26, 2009
Carolyn Wells apparently discovered mystery novels after having had one of Anna Katherine Green’s books read aloud to her circa 1909. The Leavenworth Case was Green’s first and best-known book, and if it wasn’t the one that Wells heard read, then probably all Green’s books were pretty similar, because The Leavenworth Case reads like a blueprint for all of Well’s mystery novels, mostly in terms of the setting and the general construction of events. Or maybe not a blueprint, because blueprints are kind of spare and simplified, by definition, and The Leavenworth Case is as overwrought as any mystery novel I’ve ever read.
Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy retired businessman, is found dead in his library one morning, shot through the back of the head. His secretary, Trueman Harwell, seeks to enlist the aid of Mr. Leavenworth’s lawyer, Mr. Veeley, in watching over the interests of Mr. Leavenworth’s two nieces, Mary and Eleanore, but finds Veeley away on business. Everett volunteers to stand in for Veeley, and promptly falls in love with Eleanore, who, of course, appears to be guilty of the crime.
Eleanore and Mary are both very beautiful, and Henry Ritchie Clavering, who may or may not be secretly married to one of the Misses Leavenworth, has an honest and manly countenance, so although they seem to be the only viable suspects, Raymond has his doubts. For a while, I was kind of impressed with how Green seemed to be wrestling with the problem of whether or not an attractive person can also be a murderer, because in books of this sort, they never are, and it’s kind of infuriating. So much of this book revolves around Raymond having to face the possibility that someone who looks good is not actually good, and I was really interested to see how he ended up dealing with it.
And then the murderer turned out to be someone unattractive. I hate cop-outs.