Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), American author and journalist wrote the murder mystery The Circular Staircase (1908) [see audio below]. It was a best-seller, and she remained a highly popular author for more than forty years. Although Rinehart is best remembered for her mysteries, she also wrote comic stories, romances, and plays, as well as editorials and feature articles.
Rinehart is often compared to Agatha Christie. She wrote over sixty popular mysteries and is sometimes attributed with the phrase "the butler did it". Many of her books and plays were adapted for movies, such as The Bat (1926), The Bat Whispers (1930), and The Bat (1959 remake). A total of 8 of her novels were made into movies.
While many of her books were best sellers, critics were most appreciative of her murder mysteries. Rinehart, in The Circular Staircase (1908), is credited with inventing the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing. The Had-I-But-Known mystery novel is one where the principal character (frequently female) does things in connection with a crime that have the effect of prolonging the action of the novel. The phrase "The butler did it", which has become a cliché, came from Rinehart's novel The Door, in which the butler actually did do it, although that exact phrase does not actually appear in the work.
1. The Circular Staircase - was originally published in 1908 and includes all the elements of the classic whodunit – mysterious events, ghostly apparitions, things that go bump in the night and murder. In The Circular Staircase "a middle-aged spinster is persuaded by her niece and nephew to rent a country house for the summer. The house they chose belonged to a bank defaulter who had hidden stolen securities in the walls. The gentle, peace-loving trio is plunged into a series of crimes solved with the help of the aunt."
2. The Bat - The novelization of the play of the same name that had an initial run of 867 shows on Broadway and has been performed all over the world and been made into three movies over a span from 1926 to 1959. An intricate mystery, with a wide cast of characters.
3. The Man in Lower Ten - Someone had to take the bank notes to Pittsburgh and take a statement from John Gilmore confirming that they were indeed forged. It was McKnight's turn to go, but he was bagging off because he wanted to spend the weekend visiting Alison West in Richmond. And so his law partner, Lawrence Blakeley, is left with no choice but to make the trip himself. All goes well at first, but on the train home, Blakeley wakes to find that the notes, along with his clothes, are missing from his sleeping berth. It was an eventful night. In addition to the theft, there's been a murder in the berth across, and when the weapon is found under Blakeley's pillow, he becomes one of the prime suspects.
4. The Case of Jennie Brice - The flood brings in not only the muddy waters but a series of suspicious clues that convinced Mrs. Pitman, a boarding house keeper, that a murder has been committed at her boarding house. Jennifer Ladley aka Jennie Brice is missing and with the help of Mr. Holcombe, a quirky gentleman with a passion for mysteries, they embark on a quest for the truth behind the disappearance of Jennie Brice.
5. The Street of Seven Stars - Published in 1914, this novel tells the story of Harmony Wells, an innocent and beautiful American in Austria to study violin. Harmony has talent and she dreams of a career in music. After her friends run out of money and return to the States, Harmony stays on in hopes of earning enough money to continue her lessons. Along the way, she meets Peter Byrne, an American doctor in Vienna following his dream to study surgery. Peter is already watching over an orphan boy in a local hospital and now he takes it upon himself to protect young Harmony from the unsavory side of life in the big city. With life pressing in, Peter and Harmony each must decide how much to sacrifice for the sake of their dreams - and for each other.
6. The Window at the White Cat - When a clumsy, well-meaning lawyer gets involved with a pair of delightful old maids and a beautiful girl, he must acquire some of the skills of his friends the detective and the newspaperman to solve the puzzle of The White Cat. That’s the name of a back-street political club serving beers, political favors and, occasionally, murder.
7. The Amazing Interlude - It is the early days of The Great War. As the curtain rises, Sara Lee is sitting by the fire in her aunt and uncle’s home, knitting a baby afghan. Her beau’s name is Harvey. He has his eye on a little house that is just perfect for two and he will soon propose to Sara Lee. But in this play, the mise en scène is about to change. A fairyland transformation will take place and Sara Lee will step into a new and different story, where she is the princess in a forest of adventure. There is a prince, too, whose name is Henri. He is as strange as the forest itself. And then just as suddenly, the scene changes back and Sara Lee is once again sitting alone by the fire, knitting socks for the soldiers this time, and with a memory and a new stirring in her heart. This is the story of Sara Lee’s amazing interlude.
8. The Breaking Point - Mary Roberts Rinehart set this story in a New York suburban town, shortly after the end of the first world war. Dick Livingstone is a young, successful doctor, who in the course of events becomes engaged to Elizabeth Wheeler. But there is a mystery about his past, and he thinks himself honor-bound to unravel it before giving himself to her in marriage. In particular, a shock of undetermined origin has wiped out his memory prior to roughly the last decade. Rinehart, who presumably had been reading, or reading about, the then popular Sigmund Freud, plays on what today is called "repressed memory," as she takes Dick into his past, and into the dangers that, unknown to him, lurk there. Is she correct about the behavior of memory? Who knows? After all, this is not a clinical treatise, but a work of fiction, one of the thrillers that made her such a popular writer of the earlier twentieth century.
9. The Confession - When Agnes Blakiston rented the old parsonage at Miss Emily's request she soon came to regret it. Was the house haunted? Did Miss Emily have a secret so terrible she would rather die than reveal it? To find the answers you will need to listen.
10. Dangerous Days - Dangerous Days opens in a still neutral America, though within a year the country will have joined the European alliance against the Central Powers in the first world war. Clayton Spencer, a successful industrialist and owner of a munitions plant, finds himself facing several problems: not only anarchism and German sabotage, but also the prospect of a deteriorating marriage, and of a son who all too often shares his mother's frivolous and essentially self-concerned point of view. How far will America's entry into the war change such views? What will it mean for Spencer, for his family, and for his business?
11. More Tish - Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote 6 books about the elderly Letitia (Tish) Carberry and the escapades she gets her elderly lady cronies into. The series led to a 1942 movie with Majorie Main. This particular book, the third in the series, was written after Majorie's stint as a war correspondence in Belgium during the first World War.
12. Tish: The Chronicle of Her Escapades and Excursions - The story of three "middle aged ladies". Follow along as they have all sorts of adventures.13. When a Man Marries - A divorced playboy hosts a dinner party complete with a stand in wife to placate his aunt who financially supports him. When his chef is hospitalized with smallpox symptoms, the fun begins. Throw in an ex-wife, a mystery, and a little romance and you have a comedy of side splitting proportions.
14. The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry - Letitia, Aggie and Lizzie are at it again, solving mysteries, getting into scrapes. Is there no end to the antics of these three spinster ladies? A murder at a hospital, reuniting lovers, a mangy dog or does it have fleas? The hilarious and often perilous adventures of Letitia Carberry.