The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Circular Staircase, published in 1908, is perhaps the best known work of the American mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart. It was chosen as one of the 100 best mysteries of the last century.

The narration is cosy and comfortable. The writing is easy to read.

The main problem with the story is that it has a rather thin plot which is stretched to the breaking point.

I know that this is fiction and everything is not supposed to be very realistic. But in The Circular Staircase every character behaves in such an unreasonable way!  The family living in the house are overall a very normal bunch of people caught up in a bad situation. But the way they all act and keep information and evidence from the investigators is atrocious to say the least. And all this without any tangible reason.

Everyone just keeps wondering and going round and round. Ladies go on fainting spells, people are tied up, detectives swarm the house and the mystery goes nowhere very fast.

A lot happens during the course of the book. The book is full of chases, people in disguise, mysterious ladies in black, secret passages and at least half a dozen deaths! And yet I felt bored at times. All of this action serves no other purpose than just to lengthen the novel.

None of the book’s characters are really likeable. Most of them are stubborn and short sighted.

The book does have certain situations that were quite spine tingling. But it could have been much shorter. The same things just seem to happen again and again and again…

By the time I finally finished The Circular Staircase, I no longer cared who did what. I was just glad it was over!

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4 comments

  1. Not a very promising review. I was thinking of including this in my Vintage Mystery Challenge, but your review isn’t very encouraging — and I thank you for that! I had a similar experience with Anna Katharine Green’s The Mill Mystery, and I’m beginning to think that the length and the endless detail is a sign of the times in which they wrote.

    1. You’re welcome! Yeah, I think it is a sign of the times in which they wrote too.

      The only Anna Katharine Green story I’ve ever read was The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock (1895). It was just so boring! I haven’t read anything by her ever since.

  2. Another one that I’ve long thought I’d like to read….Sorry it didn’t make a good impression either! But glad to see your reviews. I’ve got you updated on the progress site!

    1. Thanks for updating! I appreciate it.

      Both the The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux and The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart have been on my ‘To Be Read’ list for a long time. I felt the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge was a good opportunity of getting them out of the way. These two have disappointed me. Let’s hope the next mystery I pick up lifts me out of this mystery funk.

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