Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: THE GREAT MISTAKE (1940) by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Today is FFB day around these parts, the weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE Don't forget to check in at FFB Central and look over the list of bloggers posting forgotten or overlooked books today. Patti has the links.

Imagine my surprise when the other night I happened to glance at my bedside bookcase and spied two Mary Roberts Rinehart books I'd forgotten I owned. One, THE BAT, I'd read before many times, but had originally lost my copy and bought a new 'used' one which, obviously, I promptly forgot I had

Two, THE GREAT MISTAKE, which somehow I'd NEVER read but vaguely remember ordering at some point in the past. How did they wind up on a pile on my bookcase - overlooked for weeks - for me to notice them at this particular point in time? I'm thinking it's the work of book fairies. No other explanation.

Anyway, THE GREAT MISTAKE (not a great title) has the same ambiance as do most of Mary Roberts Rinehart's books: the milieu of the moneyed upper classes who could afford servants and big houses way back in the good old days of, well....servants and big houses - you know what I mean. And of course, these big old houses and their grounds are always, ALWAYS mysteriously spooky at night. In this case, there's also a large pool house and assorted other nooks and crannies to contend with.

The plot: Our unsuspecting young heroine, Patricia Abbott (not our meme host) goes to work at The Cloisters (the property of the moneyed family in this story) as a kind of social secretary/companion to elderly and likable Maud Wainwright, a widow. Mrs. Wainwright is a nice enough woman but apparently burdened with secrets which she isn't about to reveal to anyone until it's too late and maybe not even then.

Also living at the house is the heir to the Wainwright fortune, the handsome and unhappy Tony. He falls for Patricia and she for him - hesitantly. No big surprise there. But still it's nicely done by an author who is always good at handling these sorts of entanglements.

Patricia can't help but pick up on the undercurrents permeating The Cloisters, especially when Maud Wainwright begins acting strange to the point that her health is affected, but refuses to explain and continues to pretend that everything is fine.

Then out of the blue, who should turn up but Tony's heretofore unmentioned wife, Bessie. The brassy blond is, to put it mildly, a gold-digger with a heart of stone. But Tony was young and impressionable when he met her and bowled over by her flashy (and now fading) good looks, he was hooked. Bessie has refused to give him a divorce though they have been living apart for quite some time. Why should she divorce him when his mother, Maud, continues to pay all her bills?

Bessie isn't the only one to turn up out of the blue. Don Morgan, a neighbor's feckless, charming and long lost husband who'd run off years before with a young employee also turns up, claiming he's ill and doesn't have long to live and would his abandoned ex-wife and daughter please take him in and take care of him in his last days. Cough. Cough.

Before long, murder occurs. A dead body is found on the side of the road clad in silk pajamas. Secrets continue to pile upon the detritus of other secrets. Poor Patricia is dragged further into the muck of the rich. The cops begin hanging around and everyone manages to look guilty as sin. Actually, the cops look pretty silly too as they keep detaining and releasing people.

As is usual in a Mary Roberts Rinehart story there's plenty of the 'had I but known' type thing going on and occasionally, you just want to shake the heroine and say TELL ME ALREADY!! But Patricia is determined to tell the story in her own way. We must be patient or flip to the back pages.

Before long, another murder occurs and our heroine finds herself in the same untenable position all of Mary Roberts Rinehart's leading ladies usually find themselves in. It always makes me wonder why they don't just grab a gun, sit everyone down and DEMAND to know what the hell is going on. But that wouldn't be lady-like.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves these questions:

Will the Wainwright family secrets ever be revealed?
Will the cruel murderer ever be caught?
Will Bessie ever stop sneering and haranguing?
Will the cops ever get a clue?
And most importantly, will Patricia and Tony EVER live happily ever after?

Read the book and see.
This is not top notch Mary Roberts Rinehart, but really, it's quite good enough.

This review also qualifies as an entry in Bev's VINTAGE MYSTERY READING CHALLENGE 2012.

Check out all the wonderful vintage books other bloggers have been posting about. Links at Bev's blog: MY READER'S BLOCK.


  1. I did read a few Rinehart books when i first started guzzling up mysteries in my teens but have no idea which ones other than THE BAT and have never gone back to them. Probably just blind prejudice for the cliches of the 'Had I But Known' school, which are probably never really as bad as they might be. Sounds a lot more fun to hear you tell it Yvette (as ever)!

  2. I haven't read any Rinehart, and I'm sorely tempted to download this tonight. I've been in the mood for this type of book, so I may just have to find it. Thanks for the review!

  3. I recently read a Rinehart and though it wasn't a very great mystery, I found myself enjoying it. This book too sounds good enough.

  4. This was my first book reviewed this year and I enjoyed it. Glad you liked this one better than The Swimming Pool.

  5. There is a novel writer named Patricia Abbott. It gives me pause.

  6. Well, in this book, Patti, Miss Abbott gets a nice happy ending. So, not to worry.

  7. Sergio: She did write some really excellent ones in that 'had I but known' genre. When she's at the top of her game, she's the best at this sort of thing. Plus there's just something so relaxing about her books, especially during the hot summer months. If you haven't read THE YELLOW ROOM or EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE, I do recommend them.
    Unlike, Ryan, I prefer THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE to THE BAT.

  8. Picky: This isn't the best of Rinehart's work, but it will do. I highly recommend: THE YELLOW ROOM, THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE and EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE, if you want to read Rinehart in top mode.

  9. Neer, I read these books mainly for the ambiance. I love the idea of summering in these large expensive houses and finding murder. Fun. (Well, maybe not in real life.)

  10. Ryan, I did enjoy it. And I admit I didn't guess the killer until near the end.

  11. Yvette, I have been meaning to read at least one book by Mary Roberts Rinehart, to begin with, since you featured her in your list of favourite mysteries and reviewed THE SWIMMING POOL recently. I had made a note of both. I am going to have to add this one too. While I haven't come across hard copies of her books so far, I have downloaded AFFINITIES AND OTHER STORIES and THE AMAZING INTERLUDE, both copyright free. I hope to tackle one of the two soon.


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