This is my first read by Eberhart, who like Rinehart (the topic of yesterday’s post) was well-known for her suspense writing skills and female characters who face jeopardy on a semi-regular basis. Again also like Rinehart in today’s read, we have a nurse who is narrator and amateur sleuth – though I think in the case of Nurse Sarah Keate it is more fair to say she is an information gatherer for Detective O’Leary, who unveils the final solution.
The mystery centres on room 18, at St Ann’s hospital, where over the course of around a week 3 people die in there. However the story begins with a very awkward dinner party, which Keate and fellow nurse, Maida Day are invited to, hosted by Corole, the cousin of Doctor Letheney. Other medical associates are also present, as well as Jim Gainsay, who is an old friend of Letheney’s passing through town. Oppressive weather and romantic tension all add to the uneasiness of the evening. However it is when Keate and Maida go on their night shift that things begin to go awry as in quick succession Keate experiences an array of odd events, (including objects flying pass her and being knocked down by a prowler), culminating in the failure of the electric lights due to the erupting storm. And in to darkness Keate finds that that patient in room 18 has died and not by natural causes… The radium being used in their treatment (all $65,000 worth) has been removed from them. The theft of the radium seems to be the motive for killing and suspicion soon rests on the dinner party guests who all discussed this patient’s treatment hours before. It also doesn’t look very good that Doctor Letheney has disappeared, until of course a grim discovery is made in the locker of room 18… From here on in there is a whole host of suspicious circumstances and unnerving events which would discompose even the calmest of people. What is even more worrying for Keate is the increasing amount of suspicious evidence surrounding her friend Day, who is acting incriminatingly to say the least.
This is definitely a complex case, with clues leading in multiple directions at once, though the romance element does allow some eliminations. Whilst the reader is able to see most of the clues available to O’Leary I think some are unfairly withheld and the solution would have been easier to solve if we were able to read more of O’Leary’s deductions on the evidence he and Keate find. Keate is good at uncovering information but she doesn’t seem to be able to do much with it. Equally in some respects she is a good narrator to follow, but on the other hand she is also a bit of an odd one. She is at the centre of events and knows all the relevant suspects, yet she also seems to lack an in depth understanding of their personalities and characters. We don’t get up close with any of them, not even Day, who she is supposed to be close to, but doesn’t hugely challenge about the number of lies she is telling. I do wonder whether the closeness is more presumed on Keate’s part than Day’s, as Keate does seem to over praise Day’s looks in a crush-like way.
However the hospital setting works really well and the impact of each unnerving event on the community as a whole is effectively revealed. You can definitely class this as a suspense mystery novel, with Eberhart cleverly playing on unknown terrors being far more frightening and stressful than known ones. Personally I think the story could have been shortened a little in terms of the investigation and the final revelation scene, but the complexity of the case itself meant Eberhart just about gets away with the overall length of the novel.
I’m not sure this novel has got me rushing out for works by Eberhart, but I don’t think I would write her off completely. Any suggestions for what her best novels are?
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Nurse