Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Confession & Sight Unseen: Review

"The Confession" is the first of two novellas published in a single volume by Mary Roberts Rinehart. In it we have elderly Miss Emily Benton, the last of a venerable family, who has offered her home to Agnes Blakison and her servant Maggie as a summer retreat.  But the retreat becomes more a place of fear as a curious air of terror and suspense takes over.  There are late night phone calls with no one on the line.  Miss Agnes finds evidence of someone prowling about the house at night, but no real proof of who it might be.  There are hoof prints in the garden.  And Miss Emily seems to want Miss Agnes to discover something....but what?  Then Maggie brings Miss Agnes a paper she found beneath the telephone stand.  A paper that contains Miss Emily's confession to murder!  Is it the ramblings of an elderly woman who was kept too much to herself?  Or did Miss Emily really kill someone--and if so, who?  Or perhaps she's shielding someone else.  Miss Agnes won't rest until she knows the truth, but the once-friendly townsfolk seem determined to block her every question.  And what of the nightly intruder?  Is he determined to keep Miss Agnes from doing any more investigating?

I see a lot of the The Bat in this story.  Middle-aged woman and servant take on a summer home.  There is much mystery and nightly goings-on.  Servant gets all nervous, threatens to leave, but doesn't.  But, while The Bat was great fun in the tradition of cliffhangers with plenty of action, this one doesn't quite pull it off.  Miss Agnes talks a lot about the atmosphere and how the feeling of terror and nervous tension takes her over, but I never really felt involved in the story the way I did with The Bat. I hung in there to see what the final solution was (I should have caught on, but I didn't), but I didn't feel satisfied at the end.  Two stars.


There are some things so incredible that the brain automatically rejects them. I looked at the paper. I read it with my eyes. But I did not grasp it. (p. 49)

The calmer and more placid the daily life, the more apt is the secret inner one, in such a circumstance, to be a thriller! (Martin Sprague; p. 58)

There are a good many things  that can't be reasoned out with any logic we have, but that are true, nevertheless. We call it intuition, but it's really subconscious intelligence. (Martin Sprague; p. 94)

In "Sight Unseen" a group of friends who call themselves the "Neighborhood Club."  Each Monday night they get together for a little entertainment--everything from nights discussing literature and drama to civic reform.  And then Mrs. Dane, the most eclectic of the club members, suggests an investigation into the spirit world....a seance.  What starts out as a light-hearted effort to prove or disprove psychic phenomena turns serious when the medium in question taps into an unexpected death among their other neighbors.

Arthur Wells is found dead from a gunshot wound and the police and the coroner are prepared to find it suicide.  But The Neighborhood Club know a few things the officials don't and Horace Johnson and Dr. Sperry begin an investigation of their own to see just how right the medium was in her other-worldly visions.  Did the seance really bring them information--not only from beyond the grave but from the house down the street?

I enjoyed this one more than "The Confession"--although I did think that Horace Johnson got just a little too wound up in all the "spooky atmosphere." At times he came across like he was trying out for the part of the damsel in distress in a Gothic or Had-I-But-Known Thriller.  It also would have been nice if he'd actually told his wife what he and Sperry was up to--maybe she wouldn't have been so jealous.  But, overall, a fun little romp into the world of spritualism and a decent mystery novella.  Three stars.  So, two and a half stars for the volume.


There come days, now and then, that bring with them a strange sort of mental excitement. I have never analyzed them....There are days when the world is a place for love and play and laughter. And then there are sinister days, when the earth is a hideous place, when even the thought of immortality is unbearable, and life itself a burden; when all that is riotous and unlawful comes forth and bares itself to the light. (pp. 122-3)

Since that time I knew there is a madness of courage, born of terror. Nothing could be more intolerable than to sit there and wait. It is the same insanity that drove men out of trenches to the charge and almost certain death, rather than sit and wait for what might come. (pp. 180-1)

You and I, Horace, live our orderly lives. We eat, and sleep, and talk, and even labor. We think we are living. But for the last day or two I have been seeing visions--you and I and the rest of us, living on the surface, and underneath, carefully kept down so it will not make us uncomfortable, a world of passion and crime and violence and suffering. (Mrs. Dane; p. 195)

It has been my experience that the most innocent action may, under certain circumstances, assume an appearance of extreme guilt.... (p. 196)

Almost all women, I have found, although not over conscious themselves of the charm and attraction of their husbands, are of the conviction that these husbands exert a dangerous fascination over other women, and that this charm, which does not reveal itself in the home circle, is used abroad with occasionally disastrous effect. (218)


Ryan said...

I love the cover of this one, this will go on my list of Mary Roberts Rinehart books that I need to get still.

Rick Mills said...

It all fell into place for me when I realized that everything Emily was doing was to attract attention to the telephone stand, and her belief that that if Providence wanted her punished, the hidden confession would be found. I thought it a nice, tight story with a little surprise twist at the end! And 100 years old this year.