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Friday, March 30, 2012

Mary Roberts Rinehart - The Man in Lower Ten

From my sampling of four of her novels, it seems like Rinehart either has hapless, bumbling male narrators or (overly) self-confident, supposedly competent female narrators.  I couldn't get through the fourth book I tried, The Buckled Bag, whose narrator fit into the latter category.

I really liked The Man in Lower Ten (with one of the bumbling male narrators), which I just finished.

The Man in Lower Ten is narrated by Lawrence "Lollie" Blakeley, a 30 year old attorney, who's interested in sports and little else; he has a well-deserved and self-described reputation for being indifferent to women, in particular.  He's charged with transporting some important material evidence in a legal case, some forged papers, by train.  There's a murder on the very same train he's traveling on, and he becomes implicated.  To top it off, the papers he's carrying, along with his other possessions, are stolen.  Just when it couldn't get any worse, the train is struck by another train; there's a horrible smash-up, and a number of people are killed.  He's one of the few survivors.  He spends the rest of the novel trying to figure out the complex strands involving the stolen papers, the murdered man, and a number of mysterious characters who figure into the case, and at the same time escape being arrested for the murder, himself.  He falls in love for the first time while he's at it.

I thought The Man in Lower Ten was very well-crafted, with a number of quirky, interesting characters who really added to the story.  The love story was probably the least "realistic" of the various plotlines.

Of the three Rineholt mysteries I've read (the others being The Circular Staircase and The Window at the White Cat), I thought this one the best.  Like the others, it's not so much designed to solve the mystery along with some savvy investigator; rather, critical evidence - particularly confessionals - don't pull it together until the final chapters.  The bulk of the story is involved in running down blind alleys, back-tracking, and starting again, and the suspense and humor that accompanies the process.

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