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The Listening House

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 11 months ago

Seeley, Mabel - The Listening House (1938)


Very different in style from The Chuckling Fingers. The writing is neither hysterical, nor especially concerned with personal relations. The first 70 or so pages are closely tied to mysterious events happening in a decrepit old house that has been carved up into apartments. Both the house itself and the dramatic events that take place there are fairly well imagined. These segments show the strong influence of Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Circular Staircase, as various intruders keep trying to get into the house, and as mysterious nocturnal events keep happening. After this, the novel drifts off into a deep and dull investigation of hidden past crimes, all of which, through a tissue of unbelievable coincidences, turn out to be relevant to present events. The house succeeds as a Golden Age architecture extravaganza, (I just love the unusual buildings that are always getting explored in Golden Age mysteries), and the creepy initial events are not bad as melodrama, but the book never really takes off at all as a puzzle plot mystery. Years before Steve Thayer's Saint Mudd, Seeley's book reminds us that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was once one of the most corrupt in North America. It makes Chandler's "Bay City" look saintly. This book also shows the somewhat startling realism about matters of sex, mistreatment of women, etc., displayed by the HIBK novel of the era. It's a tradition that mixes feminism with realism, even naturalism.


Juanita Sheridan's The Chinese Chop (1949) seems indebted to The Listening House; both are set in old houses full of miscellaneous tenants concealing secrets. I thought this novel has little to recommend it.


Mike Grost

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