Mary Roberts Rinehart is considered the mother of the HIBK (Had I But Known) school of mystery writing where the main character and/or narrator (frequently female) proceeds throughout the story in a manner which has the effect of prolonging the action of the novel. The Circular Staircase (1908) was her first novel written in this vein and The Haunted Lady (1942) is full of all sorts of HIBK foreshadowing.
...days later she was to see the importance of that bag; to see its place in the picture. (p.40)
Nurse Hilda Adams, known affectionately as Miss Pinkerton to her friend and sometime employer Inspector Fuller, is called in to keep an eye on the elderly Eliza Fairbanks. Miss Fairbanks has gone to the police with a story of intimidation and attempted murder. Someone has been putting bats and rats in her bedroom and sprinkling arsenic on her strawberries. She is sure that someone is trying to scare her to death...and if that doesn't work, perhaps take more effective measures. Her family thinks she may have gone a bit batty herself, but Nurse Adams soon proves her patient to be perfectly sane. She herself finds a bat and a rat in Miss Fairbanks' apparently sealed room and hears mysterious noises coming from the patient's room as well as other portions of the house. She arranges to sit outside the room every night to keep Miss Fairbanks safe. But to little avail...
That evening, Wednesday, June the eleventh, Marian left the house, bag and baggage....And only a few nights later her mother was murdered as she lay asleep in her bed. (p. 81)
The inhabitants of the house--from Miss Fairbanks' children, their spouses, and her granddaughter to the servants--as well as the doctor (who is in love with the granddaughter) all have an interest in the lady's death. And each in their own way are behaving oddly--running around the house and grounds at night; sealing up windows and painting after the woman's death; finding themselves scared out their wits and denying it all....
Later Hilda was to know that Susie had done a superb piece of acting that night; that she had been frightened almost out of her senses when she came racing up the stairs. (p. 109)
On the surface Nurse Adams gives every appearance of a straightforward investigation--peering into dark corners, checking up on mysterious noises, examining the rooms and belongings of various family members, and reporting her findings to Inspector Fuller. But he knows "Miss Pinkerton" too well and believes that she's keeping information back--"If I thought you have any pets around hear and are protecting them, I'd--I'd turn you over my knee." He should...she is at the very least not telling everything she knows whether to protect someone or innocently thinking it not important:
She tucked it away in her memory, however, to wonder later if she should have told it. If it would have changed anything, or altered the inevitable course of events. (153)
Even with Nurse Adams on the spot and gathering up clues, it takes another death--this time of the maid--before Fuller and Miss Pinkerton can put everything together. She finally figures out who put the animals in the room and why, how a radio might play by itself, how a flimsy piece of rope tied to a shutter figures in, what was kept in the cupola, and what the maid knew--and it all points to one person.
Rinehart is an expert at atmosphere--the Fairbanks house is creepy at night and the inhabitants are all a bit eccentric (to put it mildly). And she ties up her murder mystery quite tidily--although I'm a bit unsure about the culprit. Not because I don't believe in the motivation, but I'm not sure that I see how they could have done it. Spoiler (highlight apparent blank area if you don't mind a reveal): The person in question was given a hypodermic of sleeping medication and was supposedly out for the count. If it had been a pill, I could see her pretending to take it and pretending to be asleep. How do you get out of having had an injection?
But overall, an excellent read and an excellent example of Rinehart's style of mystery.
This fulfills the "Woman in the Title" square and completes two Bingos on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. Linda at Philly Reader has also read The Haunted Lady for the challenge. Be sure to check out her review as well.