Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Album by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1933)

“The terrible domination of the old and helpless…”

It is the 1930s. The entire world may be facing the great depression but for five families in the exclusive cul-de-sac called The Crescent life still flows easily with maids (who even remove one’s footwear), chauffeurs, laundresses, cooks and other luxuries. Time and manner seemed to be frozen in the Victorian era and so it is the women who rule the roost. Widows or wives, it is they who hold the purse strings and aren’t above emotionally blackmailing their young (or not so young) daughters and dependent relatives.

And they all have their eccentricities: The Talbot Matron has a mania for locking her doors all the time and keeping the keys with her so much so that even her thirty year old son, George, is not given a key to let himself in when he returns home late and has to sleep in some neighbouring house; the invalid Mrs. Lancaster has been of late hoarding her gold at her home much to the displeasure of her husband and her daughters Emily and Margaret who are more of nurses to her than daughters; in the house at the centre, Mrs. Hall is still mourning her husband’s death, twenty years after his death while her daughter Louisa wilts away; the Dalton couple in the next house haven’t spoken to each other directly for the past twenty years while Jim Wellington in the last house loves his wife Helen who with her extravagant habbits has the tendency to leave him at regular intervals.

These eccentricities which might drive an outsider up the wall, however, are accepted in the Crescent and life follows this particular pattern of their own choosing till the day, Emily Lancaster runs screaming out of her house and collapses in the lawn outside. Somebody has taken an axe and killed her mother. The crime and the brutal manner in which it was committed shakes the placid water of the community and as the police and reporters descend on the Crescent, its equanimity is shaken. Will the Crescent survive the onslaught?

Who imagined this?

The novel, narrated by Louisa (Lou) Hall follows the HIBK pattern of Rinehart and there were times when I grew mighty tired of it because of the sheer length of the novel and the convoluted plot which was not helped at all by this narrative style. Also the number of characters: the families, their servants, the policemen… were a little difficult to keep track of. The novel would have been much better with fewer characters and pages. Also the ebook was full of typos and a shocking confusion of pronouns. Despite this, I quite enjoyed the book especially as regards what can be called the awakening of Lou who realises that if she doesn’t rebel against her mother, she’d end up as Emily – a woman who was beautiful once but who has become a slave to her fussy, ‘invalid’ of a mother. I have never read of a more selfish set of Mothers and they disgusted me with their emotional arm-twisting but the younger generation – George, Lou, and Jim with their concern for each other were quite a delight to read.

Have you read this or any other book of Rinehart? Which one is your favourite?

*

First Line: We had lived together so long, the five families in Crescent Place, that it never occurred to any of us that in our own way we were rather unique.

First Published: 1933

Other Opinions: Leaves and Pages

Other books read of the same author: The Window at the White Cat

5 thoughts on “Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Album by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1933)

  1. I don’t like the idea of such dysfunctional mothers, either, Neeru. The story, though, sounds like a good one in terms of atmosphere and cultural setting. And there’s something about really eccentric characters like that that can be fun. I’m glad you found things to like about this one.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I read several Rinehart’s many years ago, and I enjoyed them all, but that was before I was told that guys don’t like Mary Roberts Rinehart novels. Phoo on them. But it was a long time ago, and I can’t give you any recommendations. You really do have to be ready to accept life in a world that no longer exists, though. To me, that’s part of the fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. For what it’s worth, here are two that have been recommended to me by a friend of mine:

    The Case of Jennie Brice. The detective heroine, Mrs. Pitman, is a peppery older lady who runs a boarding house in Philadelphia. She suspects one of her tenants might have been murdered; the police will not investigate without a corpse. A fun short read.

    Sight Unseen. A group of friends is attending a seance when the medium reveals a murder and provides clues to the murderer. The friends are by turns skeptical, intrigued, and shocked but leave the séance with skepticism predominating. Later that night, two of the attendees find a neighbor dead in his house. It is the scene the medium described…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phoo from me too. That reminds me of school days when the boys were asked to read Hardy Boys and girls, Nancy Drew! How limiting all this is.

      Thanks for these recommendations, Steve. Sight Unseen seems real interesting what with mediums and seances. I have checked Project Gutenberg and both are available for download. Looking forward to reading them.

      Liked by 1 person

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