Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Door: Review

First off....this review is chock full of spoilers.  I can't really talk about the book the way I want to without spoiling it.  So--if you don't want to know the solution, don't read past the synopsis until after you've given Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Door a read of your own.

Synopsis:  Elizabeth Bell is an older woman with a houseful of servants and a niece staying with her.  When the family nurse, Sarah Gittings, is brutally murdered and hidden down a brick sewer Miss Bell begins to wonder how well she knows the people around her.  Because the police inspector makes it clear that it is no homicidal maniac or random burglar who has done this--evidence indicates that Sarah knew and trusted her murderer.  And Sarah isn't the last to die.  There is a cunning mind behind the deaths who wants nothing to disrupt his complicated plans--and doesn't mind seeing an innocent man sent to the electric chair if necessary.  

Okay, for those of you still with me....This is one of the most disappointing books I've read by Rinehart.  It is credited with being the source for the cliche "the butler did it," because--guess what--he did.  I knew that was a very good possibility going in which is why I chose to read it (I needed a good butler story for my very own Vintage Mystery Challenge).  But that's not what ruined the book for me.  At almost 400 pages, it is, I believe, the longest book I've read by Rinehart.  She manages to wrack up four murders and three murderous attacks along the way and not dredge up much of my interest along the way.  She takes a very long time to work her way to the solution--which, admittedly, is probably a surprise for anyone who doesn't have an inkling of the butler connection before reading.

My biggest complaint about the book is Miss Elizabeth Bell.  She, apparently, is perfectly content to see servants, friends, and strangers all polished off one by one rather than allow the police to have ANY information or clues that she happens to stumble on.  What should you do if you find a rug with kerosene on it after the murderer has killed someone and tried to burn up the body? Hide the rug and try to burn it up in the middle of the night.  Find out that someone has behaved suspiciously with a glass after another person has died?  Well, the last thing you want to do is tell the police--because heaven forbid that we make the widow upset knowing that her husband might have been murdered.   Miss Bell is the most obstructive person in a detective novel (for no good reason) ever.  She exasperates me.  I stopped caring about whether we were going to find out if the butler really did do it and how he accomplished everything long before the mid-way point.  Miss Bell keeps saying she doesn't know what came over her when she tries to hide something.  I know what came over her--a case of the stupids, that's what came over her.  

Miss Bell is also the narrator of the story and she tells it from memory.  She spends way too much time foreshadowing events in very odd manner--it's not even quite the "Had I But Known" sort of thing (although there are bursts of that too).  It's just annoying.  For instance:

It seems strange to be writing all this....the light-hearted experiment to find if a pencil dropped from the third floor made the sound I had heard, and my own feeling that it did not; and the final discovery of the shattered pane in the rear French door of the drawing room, and our failure to see, lying on the step outside, that broken point of a penknife which Inspector Harrison was to find the next morning.

Some of the bits are more pointed and come near to spoiling the mystery for the reader.  This is just not Rinehart at her best.  The Bat does the older woman in the old house much better. The characterization is better, the dialogue is better and the action is better.  I might reread The Bat at some point.  I won't be rereading this one.  Two stars--and I'm not sure about that.


Yvette said...

I remember (sort of) not liking this one either, Bev.

I want to recommend EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE which is one of my all time favorite Rinehart books - if you haven't read it already.

Also THE YELLOW ROOM and, I think, THE WALL.

I usually find something to hang onto in any Rinehart book. Though of course, some are absolutely top notch and some are not. :)

Ryan said...

I agree with Yvette, you should read all the ones she listed. I haven't read this one yet, but of all the ones of hers I read, there were two I didn't like.

Bev Hankins said...

I've read (and enjoyed) The Yellow Room. I'll be sure to check out the others!

Unknown said...

If you enjoyed The Yellow Room, I suggest reading The Swimming Pool: both books are among my all time favorites.

Bev Hankins said...

Elizabeth: I believe The Swimming Pool is hanging out on my TBR piles. Will have to look....

Ryan said...

I just posted a review of this one tonight, and I agree, this was long, drawn out and not a favorite.