Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Someone - or something - is trying to frighten Cornelia Van Gorder to death.  But the plucky patrician doesn't scare easily.  Neither the unearthly sights in the courtyard nor the unnerving sounds creaking in the attic can budge her from her isolated country mansion.

Even rumors of an escaped lunatic known as The Bat only bring out Cornelia's fondness for murder mysteries, and a secret longing to play detective.  But when she stumbles upon a corpse on storm-swept night, Cornelia realizes she's involved in a most dangerous game - one she's playing alone, and in the dark, deadly shadow of.... The Bat.

I really don't remember what my first mystery book was or even what age I was when I first opened one.  More than likely it was a Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown book.  It wasn't until I read my first Agatha Christie book that I truly became a fan for life.  I was such a fan of her that I tended to ignore other well known authors and even moved onto Fantasy for a while.  Now as an adult I'm having a great time discovery authors that have made names for themselves in the mystery genre.  One author that I never heard of until Yvette, of in so many words..., reviewed a book of hers.  Her name is Mary Roberts Rinehart and because of Yvette I figured out that she wrote the inspiration for one of my favorite Agnes Moorehead movies.  That inspiration was The Bat, and luckily I found it in a used bookstore.  Once I got home I couldn't help but get started on it and I finished it rather quickly.

Now this book is actually a novelization of the stage play "The Bat" that Rinehart wrote along with Avery Hopwood. The funny thing is, the play was actually the stage adaptation of her novel The Circular Staircase. I think that fact that this book came from a stage play is what made it a blast to read. It has the ebbs and flows of a stage play as the characters enter and exit the stage. That aspect actually reminded me of "Noises Off" as characters constantly exit and enter as certain key characters are doing the opposite. Chance encounters and even chance misses are part of what makes this book feel like a romping travel through a very scary house.  Now I just need to see if I can get a hold of the play as well.

Obviously since I love the movie so much it was a little hard for me to separate the movie from the book.  This was the same problem I had with The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  While the problem was the same, my reaction to it was a little different. this time around.  I was able to keep them separate in my head and not compare the two of them as much.

When Cornelia Van Gorder decides to leave NYC for the Summer she drags her VERY Irish maid Lizzie Allen, and her niece Dale Odgen along with her to a rented mansion out in the country.  The owner of the mansion, Courtleigh Fleming, had supposedly died while he was out of town on his business.  He was president of the local bank.  After his death, Richard Fleming,  his nephew, decided to rent the place out for the Summer.  Now while that seemingly innocent transaction was taking place, other mischievous was afoot.  The Bat, the most elusive criminal ever know has been spreading terror throughout the area.  Every attempt has failed to bring his string of theft and murder to an end.  When an ambitious detective decides to attempt what has already gotten one of his colleagues killed, the capture of The Bat, the game is on.  Throw in a bank theft, from Courtleigh Fleming's bank, that a cashier is being charged with and you have the makings of a great thriller.

Fortunately, at least for her, the estate she rented was in the middle of The Bat's territory.  It doesn't take long before strange sights and sounds are bothering the residents of the house.  Men without faces, weird tapping noises in empty rooms, and glowing eyes are just some of the odd things that are bothering the residents of the house.  Because of all the strangeness the servants up and quit except for the hysterical (I mean that in both senses of the word) and Courtleigh Flemings Japanese butler, Billy.  Both of them have seen and heard things that scare them, but for reasons of their own, they won't leave.

Cornelia, who refuses to be scared by anything, quickly becomes convinced that the missing money is hidden somewhere in the house and that someone is looking for it.  She is joined in the house by the detective who arrives just as the action start heating up.  Before we know it there are characters (three of which I haven't even talked about) all over the house, some of whom end up dead before the mystery is solved.  The solution is fantastic and one of the best I've seen done in this type of mystery book.  It was slightly different from the movie version I'm used to, so while I wasn't surprised by it, I felt a little annoyed I didn't figure it out earlier than I did.  Now I will say I figured it out before the reveal, but it was still a lot of fun.

There are at least three movie versions of this story, one of them a silent film that I just discovered and will be watching soon.  The one I love though was made in 1959 and starred Agnes Moorehead as Cornelia Van Gorder and Vincent Price as Dr. Wells, one of the characters I didn't talk about in the book review.  His character, friend and physician to Courtleigh Fleming is the same, though the movie fleshes him out a bit more.  I love the movie and while I may do a review of it someday I just wanted to say that I would encourage everyone to watch it.  I found the full version on youtube and since I can't embed it, I'll include the link to the movie and keep my fingers crossed that someone will watch it.  They also have the 1926 silent movie version as well.

Challenges: M&S, VM


bermudaonion said...

Isn't it fun the roundabout way you can discover a great book sometimes? This sounds like one to look for.

Staci said...

Another great find and an author to check out. I've never really gravitated towards the older movies but now that I have a roku box and Netflix I just may be watching that 1959 version sometime.

Yvette said...

Now that you've read it, Ryan, I can comment. I say: read THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE which is the book the play was based on. I so much enjoyed TCS - much more than THE BAT which is really a re-hash.
You'll see what I mean when you read TCS - if you do. It is SUCH a terrific book. More fleshed out than THE BAT and much better written. Having said that: I must tell you that THE BAT was my first Mary Roberts Rinehart book as well. I read it so many years ago.
It's what made me a fan of Mary Roberts Rinehart. But once I read her better written stuff, I liked her even more. I'm going to watch the movie, Ryan. On your sayso. :)

I'm so glad you discovered MRR through my recommendation. :)

Don't forget to read: THE YELLOW ROOM and EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE. Also by MRR and also terrific! Oh, and THE DOOR. Lots of good stuff.

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

Sounds good! I'll have to look out for a copy at my library sales.

Have a great Easter, Ryan!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you found the full movie! You know I've never seen Agnes Moorehead in anything but Bewitched and a Twilight episode. I will go rediscover her now.

Joe Wehrle, Jr. said...

I just finished THE BAT also, have had a copy around forever, but finally dug it out again this weekend, and greatly enjoyed it. You mystery fans- do you know about Elizabeth Daly, who was Agatha Christie's favorite writer? One of her best is SOMEWHERE IN THE HOUSE, Holt, 1946, Bantam paperback 1984. I have sold some fiction myself, but I am primarily an illustrator of books and comics.