Lover of the Fancy

Early C20th American culture and dissent

The Circular Staircase
Mary Roberts Rinehart

£5.99

The Circular Staircase, Mary Roberts Rinehart’s classic tale of murder and intrigue in a pre-World War I mansion, is evocative yet strangely modern, with butlers and maids sprinkled in amongst the bodies and evidence. With elements of romance, white collar crime, class, race, poverty, and privilege, it’s a story told with such a deft hand that it will keep you guessing right to the end, all the while keeping you entertained with the trappings of the gilded age and a hint of the supernatural. It is the first example of the ‘had-I-but-known’ narrative style.

Paperback, 192pp
Dover Publications, 2017 (1908)
ISBN 9780486297132

Biography

MARY ROBERTS-RINEHART (1876-1958) was the most beloved and best-selling mystery writer in America in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Pittsburgh to the owner of a sewing machine factory, Rinehart trained as a nurse, and married a doctor four days after her graduation from medical school. She wrote fiction in her spare time, until a stock market crash sent the young couple into debt, forcing her to lean on her writing to pay the bills. Her first two novels, The Circular Staircase(1908) and The Man in Lower Ten (1909), established her as a bright young talent, and it wasn’t long before she was a regular on bestseller lists.

Among her dozens of novels were The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911), which began a six book series, and The Bat (1932), which was among the inspirations for Bob Kane’s Batman. Credited with inventing the phrase “The butler did it” – a phrase she never actually wrote – Rinehart is often called an American Agatha Christie, even though she began writing much earlier than Christie and was much more popular during her heyday.