MARY ROBERTS RINEHART. The Case of Jennie Brice (1913).

11 Jun

JennyBriceMapBig.jpgEvery spring, the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh overflows its banks and floods the first floor of Mrs. Pitman’s rooming-house in the low-rent section of town. The water-ravaged streets that surround the house, together with the atmosphere of frantic retreat to points high and dry, provide a fine setting for suspicious activity—and a good excuse for suspicious minds to entertain pesky thoughts. In March 1907, as the flood-tide ebbs and as clues turn up in its wake (there’s a broken kitchen knife, a blood-soaked towel, a missing onyx clock, and much else besides), Mrs. Pitman comes to suspect that one of her boarders has killed his wife, also a boarder. The wife, an actress named Jennie Brice, has indeed gone missing. Before long, moreover, police discover the headless body of a woman amid the flotsam and jetsam of the river.

Into the brief tale that unfolds from that evocative premise, Rinehart packs a great deal: a story of thwarted young love, a melodramatic subplot about a proud woman shunned by her family, a twist-laden courtroom sequence, and a murder puzzle of better-than-average ingenuity. It’s all a little too much for Mrs. Pitman, who narrates this adventure in the meandering, sentimental style for which Ogden Nash coined the term “Had I But Known.” She (which is to say Rinehart) brings no more discipline to her overbrimming narrative than the Allegheny does to its roiling waters.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 11, 2010 in American, Golden Age, Novel, Puzzle


One response to “MARY ROBERTS RINEHART. The Case of Jennie Brice (1913).

  1. Colin

    October 9, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    I read this a while back and found it moderately entertaining. It was the first Rinehart I’d bothered with after a long break – there’s something simultaneously attractive yet frustrating about her writing and I just kind of gave up on her for a time. While I wouldn’t say it sold me on the author again, it did encourage me to give her another chance.


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