Monday, August 26, 2019

The Swimming Pool

The Swimming Pool (1952) by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Lois Maynard and her brother Phil live in genteel poverty at The Birches, the family estate. The estate is all that is left to them after the family fortunes took a decided dip after the crash of 1929 and their father's suicide shortly thereafter. Between Phil's job as a middling sort of lawyer and Lois's income as a writer of detective fiction, they just manage to get by. Their sister Judith, the spoiled family beauty, had escaped with a timely marriage to the rich and eligible Ridgely Chandler. She has the world at her feet and Ridgely seems content to let her do as she pleases. So...why on earth does she suddenly decide to divorce him after 20-some years of marriage? 

That's what Lois wants to know when Ridge asks her to chaperone Judith on the trip to Reno. But Judith isn't talking and on top of that she seems to be deathly afraid of something or the point of fainting on the train when she looks out over the people standing about at the station. And still she won't talk--except to say that she's decided to cash in on her share of the family homestead and come to stay at The Birches for an indefinite amount of time. Having never been close to Judith, neither Lois nor Phil think this is a spectacular idea, but they can't tell her no.

From the moment she arrives at the estate, she behaves like a woman with demons on her heels--keeping herself indoors, installing extra locks on her bedroom doors, and insisting that Phil board up the windows that look out on the roof of the porch. Soon a policeman on leave has taken up residency in the cottage they've had up for lease, there are people lurking in the bushes, people taking potshots with guns, and....there's a woman's body floating in the swimming pool. Lieutenant O'Brien is certain that Judith's troubles and the woman's death have links to murder case from the past which included the shooting death of his mentor on the force. He and Lois work along their own lines while the local police and State Troopers try to figure out who the woman is and why she was killed on the grounds of The Birches. What Lois really finds out is just how little she knows about her family and the events of the last twenty-five years.

This book is a bit of a mixed bag--mostly good with a few annoying bits thrown in. First, the good: Rinehart is doing what she does best. The Gothic undertones in the isolated mansion. The heroine/s in danger. The misunderstood family motives and mysterious strangers doing who-knows-what and for who-knows-what-reason. Unidentified terror building up suspense. Foreshadowing and flashbacks. All good fun. The annoying bits: at 334 pages, Rinehart runs on for just a bit too long--we get several rounds of somebody (Lois, Phil, the family lawyer [who is not Phil], the cops, etc.) questioning Judith about what's wrong and why she's terrified and Judith insisting that there's nothing wrong (because obviously everybody wants extra locks for no reason and windows boarded up just because...). Phil is pretty much the most clueless lawyer ever and doesn't seem to be aware of much that goes on in the house unless Lois waves it under his nose in neon lights. And Lois seems remarkably naive when it comes to the $50,000 that her mother mysteriously received at time when cash wasn't all that plentiful. But--even with those annoying bits, Rinehart spins a good tale and I found myself enjoying myself a great deal. ★★ and a half.

Finished: 8/21/19
Deaths = 1 drowned, 3 shot, 1 strangled

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