Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Yellow Room - Mary Roberts Rinehart

First published 1945; cover shown is the 1953 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition. 253p.

When Carol Spencer leaves her neurotic mother in New York and travels to Maine, in order to ready the family's summer house for her brother's month long break from the war, she certainly doesn't expect to find the housekeeper in hospital with a broken leg. Discovering the partly burnt body of a young woman in the linen cupboard is also rather a shock.

The next few weeks bring more shocks and strain for Carol. A new neighbour - Major Jerry Dane, a mysterious man recuperating from a war injury - begins investigating the young woman's murder from the start. His habit of rarely passing on information is the source of much understandable annoyance for the local police chief.

When a fire is deliberately lit in order to destroy evidence, and Carol's sister Elinor is shot late one night, the net seems to be closing on Greg Spencer, Carol's war-hero brother who doesn't have an alibi for the night in question. When Greg's secret marriage to the dead woman is uncovered, motive is revealed and Greg is promptly arrested. It's left to Jerry Dane to wade through the murky details of the case and bring the true killer to light.

As usual, Mary Roberts Rinehart has carefully plotted this book. Every moment of the investigation is explained, and clues seem to be discovered by the hour. The character of Elinor was deliciously unlikeable. A jarring and frustrating detail was that vital evidence is often uncovered by Carol, who then promptly forgets it for days on end. She certainly wasn't normally a forgetful person, so I can only imagine that this was a tactic of Roberts Rinehart to fill out the pages and complicate the plot.

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