As a teenager, when I found a book I liked I checked out every book the library had by that author. Thus, I remember long rainy afternoons reading The Red Lamp, The Bat, The Yellow Room, A Light in the Window, The Circular Staircase and The After House, all by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her suspense novels were just frightening enough to send shivers up my spine, but not so ghostly that I had to sleep with the light on.
She was born in 1876 and died in 1958, several years before I first read her books. Often compared to Agatha Christie, Rinehart’s first mystery novel was published 14 years before Christie’s. I recently found a 1926 Dell paperback of the Bat (photo above) at Powell’s bookstore and added it to my small collection of older paperback mysteries. Although originally 25 cents, Powell’s priced it at $3.95. I love those old paperbacks with original cover illustrations: the Bat cover was by Walter Brooks. I could find no online reference to Walter Brooks as an illustrator or artist, but there is a writer of a series of children’s’ books who was a contemporary of Rinehart. Further research is required.
Rinehart is included in a section called ‘Lady detectives’ in another interesting 1971 book I own: The Murder Book: An Illustrated History of the Detective Story, by Tage la Cour and Harald Morgensen (published by Herder and Herder). This book disputes assertions elsewhere (online) that Rinehart originated the “had I but known” form of mystery where key information is not divulged that would assist the reader (and police) in solving the mystery. Despite this minor controversy, I continue to recommend Rinehart’s books as either collector items or as a good read.