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The Red Lamp

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 9 months ago

Rinehart, Mary Roberts - The Red Lamp (1925)


Henry Porter and his wife Jane inherit an estate in the country when Henry's uncle dies suddenly in his spooky house. Henry wants to use the house for holidays but Jane, a self-conscious psychic, is reluctant. They compromise and move into the gatekeeper's lodge with their niece, Emma, while renting the house to an eccentric old man in a wheelchair and his peculiar male secretary. Meanwhile Emma's fiance Halliday takes up residence in the boathouse.


Their arrival coincides with a spate of sheep mutilations, and for a while Henry himself is a suspect. Then people start to disappear. A mysterious red lamp shines out of the old house, Halliday is attacked and Henry narrowly avoids imprisonment. Various detectives come and go but at last the locals work it out with Halliday's aid, and justice is done.


At first I thought 'Hmm - a genuine psychic in a classic detective story? OK, let's see how Rinehart handles it.' And for a hundred pages or so I was pleasantly surprised. Then it began to get weird, and by the end I was past caring. A positive feature of the book is the use of an almost unique motive for murder, not used again until Michael Innes recycled it nearly twenty years later. On the negative side, though, when one finally discovers the identity of the murderer one's reaction should be 'Of course!', not 'Who??'.


Written thirty years earlier this would have been a boots-and-all Gothic potboiler; fifteen years later it could have been a straightforward detective story with psychic elements as a convincing red herring, like The Three Coffins. But 1925 was just a little too early for Rinehart to feel comfortable discarding all the eldritch trimmings - so we have this awkward mixture which I for one found rather too hard to swallow.


Nice characters - shame about the plot.



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