Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: The Man in Lower Ten

The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart
unknown publication info (free e-book) (originally published 1906); 204 pages

In the early-to-mid-twentieth century, American author Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote numerous mystery stories and novels, inventing the idea behind "the butler did it," creating a character who partially inspired the creation of Batman, and earning the title "the American Agatha Christie." In her first novel, The Man in Lower Ten, lawyer Lawrence Blakeley travels home by train after taking a deposition pertaining to a fraud case. When Blakeley goes to his berth (lower ten) on the Pullman sleeping car, he finds a drunk sleeping there and at the recommendation of the porter, sleeps in unoccupied lower nine instead. When Blakeley awakens the next morning, he finds the vital documents in his fraud case stolen and the man in lower ten murdered. Blakeley assumes that the murderer intended to kill him, since he was supposed to be in lower ten, and that the murder has something to do with the fraud case. However, because of circumstantial evidence, the police accuse Blakeley of the murder. He spends the rest of the book attempting to prove his innocence and to discover who the man in lower ten was and if he (the victim) was connected to any of the other passengers on the train.

I found The Man in Lower Ten to be a fun book, if somewhat implausible. Every time I thought I could see where the plot was going, Rinehart threw in another twist. Every time I thought nothing else could go wrong in Blakeley's attempts to prove his innocence, something else did go wrong. Also, because Blakeley narrates the book in first person as if he is telling the story to a friend, he sometimes gets ahead of himself and reveals facts too early. However, this happens only with facts pertaining to subplots. Rinehart uses this "first-person narrator who tells too much too soon" device in other of her books, so it may be typical of her work. However, this is the first detective novel to earn a spot on American bestseller lists, and despite its flaws, it is worth reading both as a piece of detective fiction history and on its own merits.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

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