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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Anna Katharine Green - That Affair Next Door

In That Affair Next Door (published in 1897), Miss Butterworth is an elderly woman (but somehow becomes middle-aged in her second adventure, Lost Man's Lane) of independent means, who finds herself drawn into a murder mystery involving the family next door when she becomes convinced that the wrong man has been accused.  She tests her wits against the detective on the case, Mr. Gryce, as she conducts an investigation of her own.

Having read several of Green's books now, I've noticed that her typical plot set-up is to describe puzzling, mysterious events, then have the investigators draw the wrong conclusions, in this case the identity of the murderer (shocking for detective fiction, I know).  There always seems to be a Madonna-like female who is key to solving the mystery.  It's only when they get the story from her do they find out what really happened.

In the two Miss Butterworth novels, the real criminal also follows a pattern.  I was able to guess who it was as soon as the individual made an appearance based just on this.

Despite the overall predictability, what makes the story enjoyable is the narrator, Miss Butterworth, who is sketched out by Green in quite a masterful way, complete with her own biases, vanities, and quirks, and done much more so than in Lost Man's Lane.  Green manages to insert some irony and humor in her characterization of Miss Butterworth.  Lost Man's Lane is a better detective story, but That Affair Next Door has more charm.

Miss Butterworth's unsentimental, straightforward manner of describing the other characters also makes the story, even though Green can't help but be rather sentimental about her Victorian Madonna character; it really dates the novel, but, then again, so do the horse-drawn carriages.

I find it interesting that although Miss Butterworth finds the key witness, she isn't a lot better than Mr. Gryce in actually solving the mystery.

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