07/01/2012

The Traces of Rinehart


Sarah at Crimepieces had her first introduction to Mary Roberts Rinehart, and she liked it:

I have to admit I was a completely ignorant of the writings of Mary Roberts Rinehart and read it without any preconceptions. What immediately struck me was how modern the book was. Written in 1908, in England this is the period of Sherlock Holmes and Raffles and the Victorian era has not yet been shaken off. However, in the US, Rinehart wrote this book which seems to me to be firmly set in twentieth century America. Embezzlement, revolvers in the shrubbery, young women fleeing across the country by railroad. This is a country house mystery you couldn’t have written in England, although there is a whiff of Victorian (Wilkie Collins) melodrama about the plot.

The much-maligned (most often by people who hadn't read her books) Rinehart was indeed instrumental in bringing a distinctively American spin on the mystery tale, one that focused on the people affected by the crime rather than just those solving it. Such an approach, which was actually a throwback to the Sensation Novel of which Wilkie Collins was the most illustrious exponent, may seem commonplace today but was revolutionary at a time when most American mystery writers took their cue from England. Also, Rinehart merrily dispensed with the rather turgid protocolary tone which had been associated with the genre ever since Poe - her characters are supposed to be ordinary people (well, almost ordinary people) in extraordinary situations, and they write/speak accordingly. But most of all, her books were meant to have the reader eagerly turning the pages to see what's next; they were definetely not purely cerebral affairs. In short, she sowed the seeds from which a whole new genre - psychological suspense - would be born three decades later. That she all too often fails to get credited for that and remains clouded in oblivion is crying injustice.

2 commentaires:

Sarah a dit…

Thanks Xavier. Some readers seem to know this author very well and others not at all. As you know I fell into the latter group but will be looking for other books by her in the future.

Maxine a dit…

Sounds fascinating, Xavier, thanks for the background.