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The Leavenworth Case

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 1 month ago

Green, Anna Katherine - The Leavenworth Case (1878)


Who killed Mr. Leavenworth? Has his niece Eleanor something to do with this crime? If not, why does she refuse to tell what she knows? What happened to maid Hannah, who mysteriously disappeared same night murder was committed? Historical importance of this book is undeniable, and has often been discussed. Ms. Green might aptly been called the D.W. Griffith of mystery fiction, as she introduces some of the most enduring conventions of the genre. Though looking some rusty to a modern reader, old friends such as balistics, wrong suspect, second murder or (not that surprising) surprise - murderer first appear there. Green also makes some attempts to misdirection (the conversation behind the door) and plays reasonably fair. Sadly, all these innovations are buried in a melodramatic story told in a typically Victorian bombastic style. Calling prose and dialogues “stilted” would be an euphemism, and some characters' behaviors and thoughts look quite alien by contemporary standards. Eleanor Leavenworth's pledge at Chapter 12 is one of the most hilarious passages I read in my lifetime, though it was obviously intended to be highly moving and edifying. Probably the only book ever to fit in A Catalog of Crime as well as in Gun In Cheek.


Xavier Lechard

Narrated by Everett Raymond, junior partner in the law firm of Veeley, Carr & Raymond, the novel opens with the unexpected visit of a James Harwell, private secretary to wealthy Horatio Leavenworth. His employer has been found murdered in his locked library, the inquest is that morning, and Harwell has come to ask Mr Veeley, a personal friend of the deceased, to advise orphaned cousins Mary and Eleanore (Mr Leavenworth's nieces) during proceedings. Mr Veeley however is away so Raymond undertakes the task.


The case is particularly mystifying since there is no sign of forced entry, the house was bolted as tightly shut as it had been the night before, nothing was stolen -- but lady's maid Hannah Chester has gone missing, leaving behind her clothing and savings.


The inquest is in Mr Leavenworth's home, and detective Ebenezer Gryce is already there when Raymond arrives. Gryce and Raymond overhear the cousins at loggerheads, and one subsequently refuses to answer certain questions put to her during the inquest. Damning evidence is given and grave suspicion is thrown on one cousin. Even so, could Hannah have had a hand in the murder or is there a darker reason for her disappearance? Where is the missing key to the library? What secret are the cousins hiding, and can it be related to the murder of their uncle and benefactor?


My verdict: Untangling the case involves Raymond in a wide ranging investigation and Gryce takes a lesser role -- or so it seems at first glance. Tracing the required information takes intelligent work aided by a dash of good fortune. The solution hangs together well although ultimately the revelation of who was responsible for the murder and the motive is somewhat overwrought so with regret I must say is not the best Gryce adventure of the admittedly small sample of two so far read.




Mary R

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