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review 2019-05-11 21:15
The Circular Staircase
The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart is an author I've wanted to try for some time now and The Circular Staircase was a satisfying intro to her works. I like her writing style so far, tinged as it is with a little humour and irony.


"This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous."


The Circular Staircase was a quick and enjoyable read; I started on a Saturday and was done by the following day. It was also a tea & blanket read (a phrase I've stolen without shame from BrokenTune) - I had the flu (now recovering) and it helped keep my mind off my misery, at least when I wasn't blowing my nose for the 1000th time :(


The opening quote from the first paragraph caps everything nicely. Like her fellow city dwellers do in the summer, Rachel Innes takes her household, which includes her niece and nephew, Gertrude and Halsey, and her maid, Liddy, to the country house of Sunnyside, leased from the Armstrong family, presently out in California; the two families are acquainted with each other.


From almost day one, there are strange happenings in and around the house, with someone (a woman?) lurking outside, and inexplicable noises inside. Soon after, a man is murdered on the circular staircase, leaving Rachel and company with none of the peace promised by the retreat to the country:


"The peace of the country-- fiddle sticks!"

Aside from the murder, someone (or some persons?!) is trying very hard to get into the house, and both Gertrude and Halsey are keeping secrets. And where does the Armstrong family fit in all this?


The reveal of the murderer was a bit anticlimactic for me; I had had my suspicions but the way it was revealed and tied up was so low-key. To be fair, though, the murder and its resolution turn out to be almost secondary to the more confounding mystery of who is trying to get into the house and why.


I like the character of Rachel Innes and wish I could meet up with her again in other Rinehart books - she is not shrinking or melodramatic, and I enjoyed her often-times contentious relationship with her maid, Liddy:


"Liddy and I often desire to part company, but never at the same time."

All in all, a good read and I will certainly carry on with Ms Rinehart - The Circular Staircase was plucked from a collection of 22 books, 17 of which are mysteries. We have ample opportunity to get acquainted ;)

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text 2019-05-03 19:25
May 2019 TBR
The 7 Hardest Things God Asks a Woman to Do - Kathie Reimer
7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind - Anthony Selveggio
Always on: Language in an Online and Mobile World - Naomi S. Baron
The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome - Susan Wise Bauer
The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. - Martin Luther King Jr.
The Magician's Nephew - C.S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Glass Houses - Louise Penny
The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart
Snowdrift and Other Stories - Georgette Heyer

After more than three years of reading my books any old how, creating a TBR list again has brought on a nice purposeful feeling. And how much nicer if I complete the whole thing ;)


For May 2019, I hope to complete:


  • The 7 Hardest Things God Asks a Woman to Do - K Reimer/L Whittle
  • 7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind - Anthony T Selvaggio
  • Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World - Naomi S Baron
  • The History of the Ancient World - Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr (ed. Coretta Scott King)
  • The Magician's Nephew - C S Lewis
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C S Lewis
  • Glass Houses - Louise Penny
  • The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • Snowdrift and Other Stories - Georgette Heyer


Seven of these are from my paid TBR, and would be a score if I can finish them. The Louise Penny I'm very late in reading; when it first came out I wasn't in a good reading mindset and before I knew it another book had come out, and still another is due later this year in August. At least I have time to catch up without rushing.


The Georgette Heyer collection of stories was a serendipitous library find just now. I don't own it (I think that's the only one) but I've been waiting for a sale before I buy it. It came to mind as I was finalizing my TBR list. I checked my library, thinking no way they would have it but the little doubter was not rewarded, a happy turn of affairs. I know what I'll be doing tonight ;)


What are you most looking forward to reading this month?

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review 2018-10-23 11:06
Funny and annoying
The Circular Staircase - Mary R Rinehart,Otto Penzler

I'm not much for cozy mysteries. The vaguely acerbic nosy middle aged men and women that populate them tend to annoy me. As do the comedy of errors that people being secretive cause. I get it, the very human petty selfishness that makes one try to keep hidden personal peccadilloes even in the face of serious matters and even possible danger to loved ones. Doesn't mean I enjoy reading about it, or stop me from wishing to strangle the character even if I'm enjoying it.


With all those caveats, where this one wins is in the humour department. People are ridiculous and inconsistent, and the amount of bits I saved where Ray observes it plainly (and when in her, somewhat obliquely) are legion, and made me laugh quite a bit.


I still think the Innes family took a trip down blanket stupidity where useful communication was concerned.

What did the kids plan to do if Ray had decided to leave the house?

Keeping the room secret for the day for effect was the height of hubris

Louise... just... Louise

(spoiler show)

The casual oh-so-benevolent racism also made me cringe so hard.


I own another of Rinehart's novels, so I might revisit. This not being my genre at all, the tone was fun.


And there goes my 4th Bingo. Now for black-out.

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text 2018-10-19 19:31
Reading progress update: I've read 7 out of 362 pages.
The Circular Staircase - Mary R Rinehart,Otto Penzler

Gertrude came out was nothing but a succession of sitting up late at night to bring her home from things, taking her to the dressmakers between naps the next day, and discouraging ineligible youths with either more money than brains, or more brains than money. Also, I acquired a great many things: to say lingerie for under-garments, "frocks" and "gowns" instead of dresses, and that beardless sophomores are not college boys, but college men. Halsey required less personal supervision, and as they both got their mother's fortune that winter, my responsibility became purely moral. Halsey bought a car, of course, and I learned how to tie over my bonnet a gray baize veil, and, after a time, never to stop to look at the dogs one has run down. People are apt to be so unpleasant about their dogs.


Oh, my God! I laughed so much at this page! I got some funny looks at the train-station.


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review 2017-06-28 17:25
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart

I read this as a buddy read, but went on vacation at about the halfway point. My hotel wifi was pretty worthless, so I wasn't able to login while I was Disneylanding - and Disneyland isn't really a place for internet activity, in any case, because by the time I'd get back to my room, I was so exhausted that I sort of just collapsed into bed!


Anyway, I quite liked this fun mystery. There is a lot going on, and I found the main character to be a hoot. She has very little instinct for self-preservation, and is a bit bumbling, but is also funny and brave and loyal. I did figure out some of the elements and had a pretty good idea of the solution before the reveal, but the complicated plotting was well-done. 


Mary Roberts Rinehart is sometimes referred to as an American Agatha Christie, but this book didn't read like Agatha to me, nor did the other book by her that I've read, The Window at the White Cat. Something about her writing style is peculiarly American, and there are hard-boiled qualities to it - she's not noir, but she is also not cozy.


A lot of Rinehart's books are in the public domain. My kindle version of The Circular Staircase only set me back $.99 - for readers who enjoy vintage mysteries, I'd recommend giving her a try.

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