Lover of the Fancy

Early C20th American culture and dissent

The Red Lamp
Mary Roberts Rinehart

£8.99

A professor tries to stop a murder spree, uncertain whether the culprit is man or ghost… An all-around skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, literature professor William Porter gives no credence to claims that Twin Towers, the seaside manor he’s just inherited, might be haunted. He finds nothing mysterious about the conditions in which his Uncle Horace died, leaving the property behind; it was a simple case of cardiac arrest, nothing more. So, though his wife, more attuned to spiritual disturbance, refuses to occupy the main house, Porter convinces her to spend a summer at the estate, staying in the lodge elsewhere on the grounds. But not long after they arrive, Porter sees the evidence of haunting that the townspeople speak of: a shadowy figure illuminated by the red light of Horace’s writing lamp, the very light that shone on the scene of his death. And though he isn’t convinced that it is a spirit and not a man, Porter knows that, whichever it is, it is responsible for the rash of murders – first of sheep, then of people – that break out across the countryside. Somehow, though, the suspect eludes him every time, and in his pursuit, Porter risks implicating himself in the very crimes he hopes to solve.

Written with atmospheric prose and a tension that rises with every page, The Red Lamp is hybrid of murder mystery and gothic romance that shows the American Agatha Christie at the height of her powers.

Paperback, 312pp
Penzler Publishers, 2019 (1925)
ISBN 9781613161029

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.