The Case of Jennie Brice was first published in 1913 - my MMP edition issued in 1969 by Dell. Cover by Garridos. The image is appealing but has quite literally nothing in common with the contents of the book. I bought my copy at a UBS for $2.00.
The plot summary for this book was a bit misleading which seems to be a theme with older MMPs - they amp up the drama and intrigue to advertise the book. This one sounded like a Gothic/romantic suspense type book based on the cover/back matter.
There was really very little romance, although there was a slight romantic subplot between a couple of the side characters. It was really more intriguing for that - the basic premise is that the narrator, a semi-impoverished woman named Mrs. Pittman in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, owns a large boarding house. Jennie Brice, a local and not particularly successful actress, and her husband, Mr. Ladley, an even less successful playwright, are residents of the boarding house. At the beginning of the book, the Allegheny river overflows its banks and floods the area, including the boarding house - the early pages of the book follow the narrator as she pulls up carpets and everyone retreats to the upper rooms of the house.
This was really interesting - the descriptions of the icy water swirling throughout the house, the boat tied to the stair railing, and the way that the residents of the flood district simply coped with the reality that they were being flooded again was riveting.
During the flood, Jennie Brice goes missing. Mrs.Pittman finds several clues that point to murder: the rope tying the boat to the stairs is bloody, there's a broken knife in the kitchen, and Jennie's dog is found trapped in a place he shouldn't have been. In addition, her neighbor ends up with Jennie's striped fur coat, when Mr. Ladley has told everyone that she left town wearing the coat. And Mrs. Pittman's treasured onxy clock - the only thing left of her youthful gentility - has gone inexplicably missing.
There are a couple of curve balls related to the mystery. A headless body is dredged up after the flood, but it has a distinctive scar and no one can identify it as being Jennie. Witnesses have been discovered that claim that Jennie spent the days after her appearance with them, hiding from her husband. Mr. Ladley goes on trial for the murder. Ultimately, one of the local residents - not the police, but a man who is interested in crimes, figures the whole thing out.
The solution was fairly well-done, especially considering that this book was published in 1913, a full 7 years before Christie published The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Stylistically, it has significant weaknesses, but this is the genre in its infancy, and it reads better than a lot of early detective fiction. I liked it more than The Circular Staircase, which I remember finding disjointed and confusing, although I might give it another read since I've become much more familiar with the early genre conventions and quirks. I have a few other Rineharts on my shelves and I will continue to pick them up at my local UBS as they appear.
As an aside, Mary Roberts Rinehart's sons went into publishing, which caused her to break her contract with Doubleday to go with their new publishing house, Farrar and Rinehart. After Farrar left, they merged with Henry Holt to become Holt, Rinehart and Winston, This publishing company later merged with MacMillan, and still operates as Henry Holt and Co. And here we are, in 2019.