Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Leavenworth Case

The Leavenworth Case
Anna Katharine Green
originally published 1878
5/5 stars

(Project Gutenberg has a free eBook version.)

Anna Katharine Green (November 11, 1846 – April 11, 1935) was one of the first Americans to write mysteries that featured a detective, and is also credited with shaping the genre into more legally accurate fiction, as well as inventing both the (new stereotypical) meddling busybody sleuth and girl detective.

The Leavenworth Case (her first novel), is a complex mystery with a well penned and well planned plot. It takes many twists and turns, but none unbelievable or contrived, and arrives at a solution at once surprising, satisfying, and obvious from the beginning if the read had been looking in the right direction.

Loosely, the plot of The Leavenworth Case is that Horace Leavenworth is found murdered in his locked library. Naturally, his household is suspected, and evidence points to one of his nieces, Eleanor.

The narrator is a young lawyer, Mr. Raymond, who has no experience is mysteries or murders. The police detective, Mr. Gryce, enlists Raymond's help because he is a gentleman, and as such will be welcome in places that Gryce would not be. While Raymond hates the thoughts of playing spy, he has become extremely interested in protecting Eleanor's reputation, so agrees. All the clues and information the reader sees are what Raymond sees, so at times, the reader is deducing (like Raymond) without all the facts. As new information comes to light, Raymond has to fit that into his hypotheses, or scrap it all together and form a new one--and so does the reader.

from wikipedia
Anna Katharine Green
The Leavenworth Case was a most satisfying mystery, and kept me guessing til the end. I was certain I knew who the guilty party was time and time again. Time and time again I had to reform my ideas around new information. The clues and misinformation did not feel contrived at all, rather it came about very naturally, as one would expect during the course of a police investigation.

Not only does The Leavenworth Case provide a meaty mystery; in it, one sees a very clear picture of life among certain classes in the U.S. in the late nineteenth century.

Given both the quality of the mystery, and the slice of history it gave, I look forward to reading many more of Green's mysteries.

~~Read for the Victorian Literature Challenge.~~

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