Monday, February 27, 2012
The Yellow Room: Review
Mary Roberts Rinehart does it again in The Yellow Room. Billed on my edition as a more Gothic, Had-I-But-Known story, it's really more of a twisty-turny mystery (and she delivers on the twisty-turny solution!). Shoot, if you read the blurb on the book I have here beside me, you'd think that some evil terror hangs out in the Yellow Room of Carol Spencer's family home in the country and that she goes in mortal fear of her elder brother.
As a child, Carol Spencer had always thought of Crestview as a place of light and laughter. But Carol was a young woman now, a lovely young woman, and a badly frightened one. The old mansion on the hill was no longer a refuge from the world. It was a prison from which even the man she loved could not rescue her...a nightmare from which she could not awaken...where every heart beat brought her closer to the strange menace of--The Yellow Room
Brother and Stranger It had been years since Carol Spencer had seen her brother Greg. Time and war had separated them, but Carol still could vividly remember his flashing smile, his easy grace, in the days when he had been a kind of a god to his younger sister. Now they were together again at Crestview--and it was as if Carol were facing a stranger...a stranger whom she knew she should help but could only fear...a stranger with bitterness curling his mouth...hate in his eyes...and blood on his hands....
Can we say melodramatic and over-the-top? Just a little bit.
Seriously, there are some mysterious goings-on at Crestview but not quite on this scale. Carol and her help (a housekeeper/cook and two maids) arrive at the family home to open it in time to receive her elder brother Greg who is home on leave from service in WWII. He's come back from the Pacific theater to receive a Medal of Honor and their mother wants him to have a chance to relax in the cool country air before returning to "that awful tropical heat." When the women reach the train station, there is no taxi to meet them as expected. When they reach the house, there is no caretaker to greet them with breakfast and a warm fire as expected. The gardener/handyman has disappeared. And what exactly is that odd smell?
Before the morning is over, they discover that the handyman is in the hospital with appendicitis and the caretaker has fallen down the stairs the previous Friday and is in the hospital with a broken leg. Oh, and there's a dead body in the linen closet. That somebody tried to burn to prevent identification. By then end of the book, there is another murder and a shooting. The local chief of police goes from having the usual respect (of the period) for the uppercrust, to an all-out effort to make one of the Spencer family out as the guilty party. He finally settles for the war hero. ***Spoiler Alert*****
Because after all, the war hero was tricked into a marriage with a "little tramp" who seemed to have come East specifically to blackmail somebody. (The "little tramp" would be the body in the closet.) And said hero was planning on marrying a society lady--who probably wouldn't be too happy to hear that her hubby-to-be had gotten himself entangled.
Carol doesn't know what to think. Did Greg do it? Did her sister Elinor, who has always been devoted to Greg, do it? Or is she just covering up for him? Or maybe it's somebody else altogether. She turns to her neighbor, Major Dane, for help. He just happens to be a recovering Army Intelligence officer of some sort...and soon he's uncovering all the evidence that the local police miss.
But Rinehart has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and she uses the Major's investigation to provide all the surprises. Just when you think he's collected the final clue, along comes another to make you rethink the solution. Of course, with Rinehart, there is the standard romance and there are a few loose ends that don't quite get tied up in this one (not to mention a few vital clues that are kept just a little too ambigious), but over all a fun outing--I read this one in just one day! Four stars.