The man who rented the suite of rooms upstairs in the Buntings' home certainly seemed to be a gentleman. "Mr. Sleuth" he called himself. Of course, he did have a few peculiarities. But he was quiet, required little in the way of attention or service and gave no trouble. And yet, little by little, the Buntings began to wonder if there wasn't something terribly wrong somewhere. And could there be some connection to those dreadful murders that began in the slums of London...but had now moved to the neighborhood where the Buntings and their lodger lived?
Welcome to a really marvelous early thriller - The Lodger, by Marie Belloc Lowndes, first published a century ago, in 1913. The Lodger is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
The story of The Lodger is based rather loosely on the true story of Jack the Ripper, who haunted the slums of London in 1888, murdering and mutilating prostitutes. Although there have been many books and articles speculating about the killer's identity, he still remains unidentified. His story has been the basis for a great many fictional crime books over the years. One of the first, and among the most popular, was Marie Belloc Lowndes' The Lodger. The Buntings, a couple of former servants, are in desperate need of money to avoid starvation, quite literally. They decide to rent some empty rooms in their house. And so there is a knock at the door one evening and a gentleman comes to look at the rooms. He likes them - and rents them on the spot.
The Buntings are elated. But when a series of brutal murders takes place in their neighborhood - the work of an unknown killer calling himself "The Avenger" - the Buntings begin to wonder about the man upstairs and his habit of going out by himself after midnight into the fog-shrouded streets...and they notice that the nights when their lodger goes out are often the nights when someone is murdered...
It's a fine story, chillingly told, with a very deliberately ambiguous ending. The Lodger was the basis for several movie versions, but I prefer it in its original form as a thriller novel. Given its age, it is long since out of copyright, and while there are paper editions available, it is free in a number of e-book formats. As a thriller, it's a bit slower than today's readers may expect, but I think it's worth noting that after a full century, it still packs a pretty powerful punch.
The Lodger is another entry - my sixteenth! - in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge over at the My Reader's Block blog, this one in the category "Book to Movie." That's sixteen books in sixteen categories. If you haven't looked to see what everyone is reading, I suggest you check out the challenge results - there are a lot of VERY good books that you might want to consider adding to your own To Be Read pile.
Let me add a hat tip here to mystery novelist Margot Kinberg, whose "In the Spotlight" review of The Lodger on her first-rate blog reminded me that it was definitely time for me to re-read it!