Sunday, February 26, 2017

Episode of the Wandering Knife

Episode of the Wandering Knife (1950) contains three stories--two novellas and a short story--by Mary Roberts Rinehart--the titular "Episode of the Wandering Knife" (1943), "The Man Who Hid His Breakfast" (1949), and "The Secret" (1950). Even though the last two were published later, they both have a war-era feel to them and, in fact, Nurse Adams is turned down in her effort to join the nursing staff for the armed forces at the beginning of "The Secret"--leading many to believe that the story was written earlier, but Rinehart was unable to place it for publication.

In the "Episode of the Wandering Knife" Mrs. Shepard throws one final champagne party before handing her palatial home over to the Government as a convalescent home. Over two hundred people are wandering round the grounds, but, since the Mayor has been invited, there are also policemen at every gate and doorway so no one can get in or out without being seen. When the party comes to an end, her son Larry goes home to the smaller house on the grounds to find his wife (who had pleaded illnesses to avoid the party) stabbed to death. Of course, Mrs. Shepard flies to his side and, not believing her son capable of murder, hides the distinctive hunting knife (his) which has been used to do the deed. As the title might suggest, the knife then plays a merry game of hide and seek--disappearing from Mrs. Shepard's hiding place and popping up here and there until its final appearance in the back of victim number four. Larry's sister Judy and a reporter by the name of Tony try their hand at amateur detecting in an effort to clear him of his wife's murder.

"The Man Who Hid His Breakfast" features Inspector Tom Brent who is looking forward to retirement, but who is assigned to one last case before hanging up his badge--he must solve the case quickly or face demotion. On the face of it, it should be pretty easy. A woman has been found strangled in her own home where the doors and windows were all locked up tight. The only other person in the house is her daughter. It seems it was mighty convenient that mother has died since Joy wanted to marry a man that her mother didn't approve of. But Brent is convinced that the girl and beau are innocent. But how can he prove it and who else could have wanted the women dead? When he hears about the odd action of the man who hid his breakfast before checking out of his hotel room, he plays a hunch and finds the answer.

"The Secret" is the last of five stories featuring Rinehart's recurring character, Nurse Hilda Adams. The story begins with Nurse Adams being turned down by the armed services for having an irregular heartbeat. When Inspector Brent learns that his favorite amateur sleuth will be staying on the homefront, he calls upon her to take up the case of Tony Rowland--a beautiful young woman who has been behaving erratically and...somewhat dangerously. She broke off her engagement--to a man she was obviously in love with and has since tried to shoot her mother and was behind the wheel when she and her mother had an automobile accident. Then her aunt, with whom the two are staying, tumbles down the stairs. The inquisitive nurse soon finds that Tony won't speak to anyone except a mysterious man she meets outside after dark, the mother is kept locked in her bedroom, and she (Nurse Adams) is not allowed to tend to anyone but the aunt. But the aunt apparently knows too much because she is killed--right under the nurse's nose. Nurse Adams finally unearths the secret hanging over the household and saves Tony from an uncertain fate. 

My previous experience with Rinehart has been with full novels. So it was interesting to see what she could do in the abbreviated format. Rinehart does a great job of setting the stage, creating suspense, and giving attention to character in the shortened space of the novella and short story. The titular story is especially good--providing a fair number of twists and turns given the format. Very enjoyable.  ★★ and 1/2

Just as an aside...I did wonder if the toilet tank was the binding theme of these stories. Mrs. Shepherd hides the knife in the tank of her bathroom toilet. The breakfast was hidden in the toilet tank of a hotel room. So, I kind of expected the "secret" to be found hidden in the toilet tank in the last story. I'm afraid thematic connections of that sort.

This counts for "Knife" on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Cloak & Dagger, Follow the Clues, How Many Books, Mount TBR Challenge, My Kind of Mystery, Pick Your Genre, Vintage Mystery Challenge, What's in a Name, A-Z Reading Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Mystery Reporter, Where Are You Reading, 


Peggy Ann said...

I read this too. I really liked it. All her books are decent.

Bev Hankins said...

Peggy Ann--yes, she was quite good. Especially given how early in the mystery game she started.