Here's a book that has been thrilling and frightening readers for more than a century. "The Circular Staircase," which first appeared in 1908, was the first book published by the prolific Mary Roberts Rinehart, a woman who, according to mystery historian Douglas G. Greene, was probably the most popular U. S. woman writer during the first half of the twentieth century. The book created an entire genre of mystery fiction - the one we call, somewhat disparagingly, "Had I But Known." When Rinehart created it, it was fresh and new, a way to focus (and sometimes misdirect) the reader's attention; later and lesser writers brought the genre into disrepute. In these mysteries, the narrator often drops hints of coming events - along the lines of, "Had I but known the horrors hidden behind that innocent-looking door, I would never have done thus-and-so..."
"The Circular Staircase" is the subject of this week's review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you may listen to the complete review here. It is the story of an older woman who takes a house in the country for the summer, only to find that the place is the stuff of nightmares: there are intruders, a murder or two, a bank robbery and missing bonds that may be hidden in the house, and enough night-time antics to keep everything moving at a lively pace. Rinehart handles it all superbly, providing some engaging characters and a truly nasty villain or two. It holds up remarkably well for a book that has been entertaining us for more than a hundred years.
"The Circular Staircase" is my entry this week in the continuing Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge at the My Reader's Block blog. There are a great many paper editions of "The Circular Staircase," but if you happen to own an Amazon Kindle, it's worth noting that this Kindle edition is free!