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Mary Roberts Rinehart: Mystery Author

Updated on September 13, 2014

Mystery Books Author

The butler did it.

I know, I know, it sounds very cliche, doesn't it? But, cliches have to start from somewhere. In this case, the butler did do it! Well, only in one of mystery author Mary Roberts Rinehart's books did the butler commit the murders. The actual phrase did not occur in the book, The Door, but this author (whom you may never of heard of before) is credited with starting the phrase which was reinforced by a play based on her book by Tim Kelly entitled The Butler Did It.

If you enjoy mystery books and want to find out more about this mystery author, please join me in reading about this classic writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The "American Agatha Christie"

Female Mystery Author

Please forgive me if my comments seems stereotypical, but she does not much look like a writer of thrilling mystery books, does she? After all, she is pictured in Victorian clothing and was a female writer from over a century ago! Maybe that is what I find so appealing about her writing. Her books contain a classic, old fashioned flavor to them yet contain mystery elements that keep readers on their toes with unexpected turns in the plots and characters.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was born in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 12, 1876, where she lived with her extended family. Although her father created and held a successful patent for a sewing machine part, most of his inventions were not recognized leaving the family in deep financial trouble and her father suicidal. As stated in her 1931 autobiography, My Story, "He went away one day and killed himself, standing in front of a mirror in a strange hotel so that the shot would not fail." Perhaps that sad event is what added a melancholy element to some of her mystery books. Mary graduated from nursing school in 1896. (I find it interesting that Agatha Christie worked as a nurse / pharmacist and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a doctor. I wonder if the medical knowledge of all three of these mystery book authors contributed to the excellent details of their stories!)

After marrying a physician, Dr. Stanley Rinehart, the couple had four children. While working as a busy mother, she started writing short stories which were published in many forms including regular submissions to the Saturday Evening Post among other newspapers and magazines. Her first mystery book, The Circular Staircase, brought attention to her name for future books. Although this best selling mystery story was written 14 years before Agatha Christie published her first mystery novel, many people have referred to her as the "American Agatha Christie".

The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase
The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase was the first book that I read by Mary Roberts Rinehart. (I have to admit that I chose it because the title reminded me of something that might have been a title of a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew type book that I loved as a kid!) In fact, one of the reviews that I read called it a "Hardy Boys book for adults". As I read the book, I immediately started to enjoy the characters such as Miss Innes, a darling older lady who has a nose for discovering mischief! She moves into an old house for the summer with her niece and nephew when they start to hear and see unusual things. Soon there is a murder! Is the house haunted or does someone just want them to think that, and why? The book sold well over a million copies when it was published in 1908.

 

Inspirational Woman

Mother, Writer, Business Woman, and Advocate for Woman's Health

During World War I, Mrs. Rinehart's writing continued to grow in a new fashion as she became a war corespondent in Belgium. Afterward, she penned more than sixty mystery books that gained popularity as well as a large variety of other types of books, short stories, articles, plays, a Broadway comedy, and movie script. She also became the director of her sons' publishing company, Farrar & Rinehart.

While working a demanding yet successful career, this amazing woman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought adversity by having a mastectomy which was quite new and more controversial than it is today. In a time when women preferred not to talk about the subject, she decided to bring light to the issue by doing an interview in 1947 with Ladies' Home Journal where she discussed the importance of breast examinations.

Mrs. Rinehart died on September 22, 1958 at the age of 82.

The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point
The Breaking Point

Love is in the air for a pleasant, down to earth small town doctor! All he wants to do is marry his sweetheart, but is he really who he says he is? He is not even sure himself! Interesting characters from around the country with varied backgrounds start to cross. Clues about a long ago murder start to surface, but instead of giving answers, these clues only produce more mystery as a reporter and the authorities try to make connections.

 
Vincent Price / Mary Roberts Rinehart's "The Bat"
Vincent Price / Mary Roberts Rinehart's "The Bat"

What do Mary Roberts Rinehart, Vincent Price, and Batman have in common?

Ah, here is where it gets interesting! As I was researching books from Mrs. Rinehart, I found many references to The Bat. Apparently, Mary wrote a slightly different version of The Circular Staircase as a play called The Bat in 1920 which made its way to silent film in 1926. Check it out ... no, really, scan over the first few minutes of the movie here. Does the main character remind you of anyone popular on the big screen today? Perhaps a dark figure who "flies" around with bat ears and a big cape? BATMAN!!

While we think of "Batman" as being a crime fighting hero, Mary Roberts Rinehart's version was a murderous super criminal. Bob Kane, who created the character "Batman" has claimed that he was inspired by the 1930 film based on the same story, The Bat Whispers. The movie below, also entitled The Bat was filmed in 1959 and stars some exciting stars such as Vincent Price (ooohh, think creepy horror movie), Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), and Darla Hook (The Little Rascals).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Bat

The Window at the White Cat

The Window at the White Cat
The Window at the White Cat

Lawyer Jack Knox is happy in his job until a pretty lady asks him for help to investigate the murder of her uncle, a local politician. Although he announces that he is no sleuth, he find himself in dark alleys and large estates as several seemingly unrelated clues find him. Mary Roberts Rinehart brings mysterious twists into the plot that make readers ponder until the end of the book.

 

Famous Mystery Authors

I do love to read a good mystery! Here are some other reviews that I wrote about my favorite mystery authors!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: the author of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes!

Agatha Christie: the author of Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot mysteries.

Lorena McCourtney: not as well known, but author of the Ivy Malone Mystery Series and others.

Free Mystery Books for the Kindle!

Kindle Fire HDX 7", HDX Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB - Includes Special Offers (Previous Generation - 3rd)
Kindle Fire HDX 7", HDX Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB - Includes Special Offers (Previous Generation - 3rd)

Many of Mrs. Rinehart's books - both of the mystery and romance variety - may be found for free ebook downloads on the Amazon Kindle and apps! In fact, I was first introduced to her wonderful writing style while searching for free mystery books for my Kindle. I had one of the early models, but now enjoy reading on the Fire!

 

Who are your favorite mystery authors? - Which mystery novels do you most enjoy?

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    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image
      Author

      JoyfulPamela2 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @anonymous: I'm glad you enjoy her books, too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      She was overshadowed by Christie, but Rinehart's books are marvelous. She's an interesting character in her own right, and I admire how prolific she was. Thanks for this!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image
      Author

      JoyfulPamela2 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @texan203 lm: They are my favorite genre to read! :)

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image
      Author

      JoyfulPamela2 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @dlobel: You're welcome! Hope you enjoy it, too!

    • dlobel profile image

      Debra Lobel 4 years ago from Oakland, CA

      The list is endless, but Agatha Christie is in the top 10 as is Sir Conan Doyle. I just got The Circular Staircase for my Kindle from Amazon. Thanks.

    • texan203 lm profile image

      texan203 lm 4 years ago

      I love mysteries