The Man in Lower Ten

This was kind of an odd one. I love Mary Roberts Rinehart – but this one was not quite up to where I expected it to be. Unfortunately it’s one of those books where the unsolved mystery is more interesting than the solution. It’s a great setup – rather dull lawyer fellow (with vivid best friend – I liked that the kind of boring one was the narrator) goes off to get some very important papers for a very important case, and on the train ride home has them stolen. And also comes in as the best suspect for a murder in his Pullman car. Luckily for him, the train suffers a horrific accident, so he has the chance to avoid immediate investigation, and also to fall in love – with his best friend’s girl.

The writing is entertaining; characterization works, and all the red herrings and wrong suspects that litter the landscape make for a good yarn. Everything eventually pulls together and gets cleared up – and I admit to disappointment at the wrap-up. Sometimes the journey is just more fun than the destination.

One warning: this is very much of its time. In a couple of ways, actually – it startled me when the narrator talks about choosing a hansom cab; the involvement of the train made me think for some reason that it was a Golden Age book, from the forties or so. Then there’s the line “Pittsburg without smoke wouldn’t be Pittsburg, any more than New York without prohibition would be New York.” So – Pittsburgh used to be spelled without the “H”, and it’s during Prohibition. Check.

But just in case you go into this thinking it’s just a very well-written historical mystery that uses some great details to let you know when it’s set – well, reality will hit you like the Ice Bucket Challenge when words are used to refer to non-white races that would probably not be used today, even by the most dedicated anti-anachronistic writer. Yeah. It was first published in 1909. Things were different then. It can be (to use a period-appropriate adjective) delightful – but it can be cringe-worthy as well. Which was also the case with a few remarks about women, too, which – come now, Ms. Rinehart.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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