Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anna Katharine Green - The Mill Mystery

Not that murder and suicide are ever cozy topics (despite so-called "cozy mysteries"), but I have to say that Anna Katharine Green definitely doesn't flinch from these subjects in her novels.  While authors like the grande dame, herself, Agatha Christie, tend to kill off unpleasant people, Green is much less discriminating.  She's as much a predecessor to the cozy sub-genre as she is to gritty urban procedural crime novels.  The title, "The Mill Mystery" sounds pretty innocuous for a story with such gruesome doings and serious psychopathology.

The Mill Mystery was published in 1886, ten years after her first novel, though she continued to write for nearly thirty more years.

It's written in first person from the perspective of a young woman, Constance Sterling (great name for a Victorian heroine, huh?), who becomes involved in the mystery surrounding the death of the local minister, Mr. Barrows, found drowned in a vat in an abandoned mill.  Many believe it's suicide, though Constance has reason to believe it isn't.  As a last promise to her roommate, who is Mr. Barrows' fiancée, Constance attempts to discover the truth.

By a stroke of luck as only happens in fiction, she is set on a promising path when she comes to stay with the Pollards, a wealthy and powerful family, as nurse to the fast-ailing matriarch.  After hearing Mrs. Pollard's mysterious dying words, Constance begins to suspect that the Pollards are somehow tied to Barrows' death, perhaps even responsible for it; the further she probes, the more likely it seems.  It gets complicated when she finds herself falling for one of the sons.

The story is fairly intricate in typical Green fashion, with different narrations inserted as different characters relate their own background story, all of which eventually fit together like pieces in a puzzle - a convoluted one, at that.  It's also an odd mixture of stereotypical, almost caricatured characters and others much more psychologically complex (well, at least one in particular).  There's also a strong gothic quality to The Mill Mystery, as with some of her other novels, and, of course, it has the inevitable Victorian sensibilities.

Overall, I give this a 4/5.

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