Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Patient in Room 18: Review

The Patient in Room 18 is the debut novel for Mignon G. Eberhart.  It is also the book that introduces Nurse Sarah Keate (who would appear in six of Eberhart's 57 novels). Nurse Keate is strong-minded, red-haired, and sharp-tongued. She has a bit of the Had-I-But-Known heroine's attributes and, though often quick-witted, she does fail to recognize certain danger on a couple of instances in this, her first encounter with murder.  She is much more assured and consistently perceptive in The Mystery of Hunting's End (my personal favorite)--but I'm sure that, as with all things, practice makes perfect and as her involvement in murders continues she becomes more adept.

In her debut, Nurse Keate faces the theft of radium (being used for medical purposes), the death of a patient and a doctor and the janitor/night watchman.  The patient in question, one Mr. Jackson who needs the radium for his treatment, is given a hefty dose of morphine and sent into a permanent sleep.  It would appear that the murder was necessary so the villain could steal the very valuable radium.  Detective Lance O'Leary, who has a very impressive capture rate, is called in to track down the radium and the killer.  And he's the one who discovers the patient's doctor dead in a locked closet.  Did the doctor walk in on the killer and get murdered to keep him quiet?  Or is there more to this mystery than meets the eye?  It would seem that there were at least four people wandering in and out of the Room 18 and most of them were carrying deadly instruments of one sort or another.

And then, in a classic little move, Higgins the janitor/night watchman pops up and confides in Nurse Keate.  You see--he's seen something that "just ain't right" and he doesn't know what to do about it.  Despite her best efforts Higgins refuses to reveal the most important bits of his information because he simply has to run off and see to his boiler.  And even though Nurse Keate sees one of the possible suspects slinking away, it doesn't occur to her that Higgins might actually be in danger because of his knowledge (this would be one of her less-than-stellar moments).  Naturally, before too many pages are turned we have another corpse on our hands...poor Higgins.

After finding the radium and losing it again, O'Leary (with helpful tidbits from Nurse Keate) manages to gather enough clues to stage a grand finale in....Room 18.  All the suspects are brought together and O'Leary gives us the standard Golden Age wrap-up monologue.  Accusations are thrown about until finally the villain slips up and reveals knowledge that only the killer could know.  Snap goes the trap! And snap go the handcuffs!

Despite my rather trite summation and being full of standard mystery plot devices, this really was an enjoyable read.  I liked seeing Sarah Keate in her first mystery and watching her relationship with O'Leary begin.  There are plenty of clues--I picked up on most of them--and plenty of plot twists--I missed some of them.  And the denouement was very satisfying.  I certainly recommend this early look at a hospital-based mystery with a strongly-written female character.  Three and a half stars.

Clues are funny things. When they seem to point one way they are very apt, on close investigation to point another way entirely. So please don't hesitate to answer my questions. (Lance O'Leary; p. 93)

 Well--here is one definite and concrete trick. As a rule, given enough rope a man can hang himself. Often I find that there will be one little circumstance that only the guilty man knows. Sooner or late he lets it out. Sometimes I have to trap the man I suspect into such an admission. (O'Leary; p. 220)

1 comment:

J F Norris said...

I liked ol' Sarah in FROM THIS DARK STAIRWAY. She and O'Leary work well together. I'll have to read more Eberhart next year. She can cook up a good plot and throw in a nifty twist or two. And she has really nailed that creepy atmosphere of the HIBK school.