Miss Pinkerton (1932) by Mary Roberts Rhinehart

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Nurse

Rhinehart is not an author I have read much of, having only read The Yellow Room (1945), so I was interested in reading one of Rhinehart’s Miss Adams novels. Miss Adams is a nurse who seems to have more than her fair share of frightening and mysterious adventures and they are not always ones she falls into accidently, as in this case she is called in by Inspector Patton, to be his eyes and ears in a household where a suspicious death has taken place.


In this household resides Miss Juliet Mitchell and her two servants, Mary and Hugo. Mitchell’s nephew also used to be an unwelcome addition, until he is found dead late one night. Various characters are spouting that the death is either suicide or accident. Yet if that is the case why is the homicide squad involved? Whilst tending to Juliet, who is very elderly and unwell, Miss Adam soon starts picking up useful clues and information for the inspector, such as the mysterious woman who tries to pump Adams for information and the even more mysterious behaviour of the inhabitants, amongst other things. Unsurprisingly since this is a story of the HIBK school, there is many a night time incident filled with intruders, people not being where they should be and many a bump on the head. There is a range of motives for Wynne’s death if it is murder, from his insurance policies to a romantic rival. Of course what makes the case even harder is that everyone is holding information back and it takes a while for this information be divulged, but not before another death occurs, a death which involves Adams much more than she would have wanted.

Overall Thoughts

Lesson Learnt from a HIBK Heroine: Leave a sleeping cat where it is.

This is my first encounter with an amateur sleuth who is also a nurse and in the story itself it is shown how such a job can help with detecting, saying that people ‘never think of… [a nurse] as a reasoning human being’ and that such nurse ‘see[s] a great deal more than they imagine, and sometimes us[es] what she sees.’ Unlike some female sleuths I have read about this year Miss Adams is involved in the uncovering of clues and finding out important information, yet I think she acts more as an assistant to Inspector Patton, rather than as a detective who is equal to him and this is borne out by the ambiguous way her role is described. For instance there are some positive moments where Inspector Patton says that ‘Miss Adams is a part of this organisation, and a damned important part. We’ve got a lot of wall-eyed pikes around here calling themselves detectives who could take lessons from her and maybe learn something.’ Yet when Miss Adams is injured in the cause of her work Inspector Patton says that, ‘I don’t mind telling you that I thought I’d lost my most valuable assistant’ and here I think the word ‘assistant’ is quite telling. Miss Adams herself says that she ‘never claimed to be a detective’ and instead sees herself as a resource to be used by the police: ‘what I had was eyes to use and the chance to use them where the police could not.’ She also sees herself as a sounding board for Patton’s theories. Most of the time I think she enjoys this, such as when she says that ‘the game is in my blood after all.’ But there are times when she likes it less, seeing herself doing the police’s ‘dirty work for them,’ by reporting back the confidences she gains. Inspector Patton does nickname her ‘Miss Pinkerton,’ but I still don’t think he sees her as being equal to him in sleuthing. He likes to benefit from her sleuthing skills, but I feel he also likes to control them to an extent. However, I don’t think I minded this as much as I normally might do, as Miss Adams is involved in the action of the story and when she disagrees with Patton’s ideas she acts on her own initiatives. I think the only niggle I started having in the final quarter of the book was that Miss Adam’s moves away from sleuthing and into a more heroine in jeopardy role, with Inspector Patton keeping a fair bit of information to himself. I think I would have liked to have had more access to this information. There does seem to be a little romance between the pair of them though this only really comes through in the text in the last couple of pages when Patton says to her to let him know when she is interested in taking on a new case, a case which he describes as ‘very long and hard… involving a life sentence, chains and what you have you…’

In comparison to The Yellow Room there was less drama and tension, which I think the urban as opposed to rural setting contributed to. I also think the characterisation was more in depth in The Yellow Room as well. However the crime in this book is very clever with a substantial back story which is revealed to the reader piece by piece. The narrative style is also engaging, one which is narrated by Miss Adams herself and I think her voice is one you enjoy listening to and following. I definitely would like to try another Miss Adams adventure, as I think it would help to give a more rounded picture of what she is like and how she works in the cases she is involved in.

Rating: 4/5


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