A Quasi Locked Room Mystery in Mary Roberts Rinehart: The Haunted Lady (1942)

Apologies for the delay in this review getting posted, sure you’ve been dying to know what I made of this book. The Haunted Lady (1942) is the 4th Hilda Adams novel and unlike others I have read the narrative voice is in the third person. I think this choice worked really well as it meant we got to see things from other characters’ points of view and in particular we got to see outside perspectives on Hilda. Although much younger than Christie’s Miss Marple, I think the language used to describe her in the opening of the story makes them seem quite similar in their approach to amateur sleuthing:

‘She can see more with those blue eyes of hers than most of us could with a microscope. What’s more, people confide in her. She’s not the talking sort, so they think she’s safe. She sits and knits and tells them about her canary bird at home and pretty soon they’re pouring out all they know. It’s a gift.’

In this story Hilda Adams is called in by the police to the home of Eliza Fairbanks. She and her granddaughter, Janice Garrison, are convinced someone is trying to scare Eliza to death by letting in bats, rats and sparrows into her bedroom at night. What is most frightening is that no one can figure out how the animals are being let into the room. There is also an earlier incident involving arsenic. I think due to the vagueness of the case and the possibility that Eliza is mentally unstable, gives Adams’ an opening into the case, though one feels back then they were much freer with their resources. Unsurprisingly the Fairbanks household is not a happy one. The divorce of Janice’s parents has caused a massive rift, as did her father’s remarriage. Yet for all that you don’t end up disliking Janice’s parents. You expect to, but then you realise that they are far more unhappy than they are unkind. Though I think readers will be less sympathetic towards Eliza’s son, Carlton and his wife Susie. They plus Janice and her mother live with Eliza.

From very early on you know Eliza is not going to live until the end of the book and the night her murder happens there are numerous aspects for your mind to churn over: the very loud radio in Eliza’s room, hanging ropes, opened windows and suspicious acts by the inhabitants of the house. The murder itself is not a complete locked room mystery, but access to and from Eliza’s bedroom without being spotted is certainly limited and restricted. In a way you know some people have to be lying in their witness statements. There are definitely plenty of suspects to choose from, including the doctor in the case. Hilda’s relationship with Inspector Fuller is interesting as tension arises between them, due to the difference in goals they have. So overall the characterisation, style and pacing were very good. However what let the story down for me was the amount of information withheld from the reader. Consequently whilst the solution worked well and was plausible, it came across as much less satisfying because you knew you didn’t have some crucial pieces of information.

Rating: 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Clock


    • True, I enjoyed reading your post today, though I enjoyed Nemesis much more than you did. Another book I need to re-read really * she says as she gets distracted by her towering TBR pile *


      • Uh oh, the towering TBR pile — tell me about it! So many books, so little time. So many books you want to re-read but at the same time, you want to tend to your TBR list.

        Liked by 1 person

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