Following my recent review of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Yellow Room, mystery writer Mary Reed posted this on the Yahoo Golden Age of Detection list as a follow-up companion piece. The crime element in When a Man Marries is so slight that the book is not currently included in Allen J. Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, but as Mary will suggest, perhaps it should be.

   When a Man Marries is available online in etext form at the Gutenberg Project. Mary also points out that some additional biographical information on Mrs. Rinehart can be found online, including this website as a prime example.

   Mary Reed has her own website, shared with her co-author Eric Mayer; you are cordially invited to stop by. Mary and Eric also did a Pro-File interview for the original Mystery*File website before it went on its current long hiatus.

— Steve


MARY ROBERTS RINEHART – When a Man Marries (Bobbs-Merrill; hc, 1909. Hardcover reprint: Grossett & Dunlap, no date. Wildside Press, trade ppbk, 2004)

   Being excessively fond of locked room mysteries, imagine my delight once I began reading When A Man Marries to find it based on a twist on same. Set in a house full of Bright Young Things (sent up mercilessly by the author, Mary Roberts Rinehart, whose The Circular Staircase is occasionally mentioned within these walls) the plot unspools as several BYT’s suddenly find themselves sequestered in a large house under quarantine because the butler has just been stricken with smallpox.

   Meantime, the protagonist has agreed to pretend to be the wife of the house owner. This came about because the BYTs are attending a dinner party at the house, during which their host learns his dragon of an aunt — who holds the purse strings — is coming for an unexpected visit. This rich aunt has not been told he is now divorced because then the flow of money would end (fortunately she hasn’t met the now ex-wife). Complications of course ensue including the rest of the servants decamping before the Board of Health quarantines the house, leaving in such haste they do not even bother to tell the master why they are leaving, the ungrateful things.

   There’s a policeman imprisoned in the furnace room, and no sooner is the house and its inhabitants securely locked down for the duration when valuable items such as jewelry start going missing … meanwhile, the ex-wife having arrived just before quarantine was declared is now concealed from the aunt’s eyes in the kitchen below stairs, Rich Aunt is also locked in the house with the entire bunch, and one of other Bright Young (Male) Things foolishly wagers a large sum the entire crew will get out of quarantine within 24 hours — quite illegally of course and talk about chronic lack of social conscience — plus there are newspapers reporters and photographers camping around the house as well as on the roof of the house next door to keep an interested public fully informed.

   It struck me as I read that it would have made a wonderful screwball comedy/mystery with Cary Grant playing the fellow imprisoned engineer from South America, who is most emphatically *not* a BYT. How could you not laugh out loud at the whole frothy affair?

   And I did, Oscar, I did.

[UPDATE] 03-09-07. When I asked Mary to say some more about the criminous content of When a Man Marries, this was her reply:

   I would describe this novel as a romantic comedy with mystery overtones, since the question of who pinched the jewelry plays a less prominent part than in other MRR works, and comes to prominence towards the end of the book. But little hints are planted here and there as I realised when I got to the solution and thought it over a bit.

   Thinking that Al Hubin might like to know this, I sent Mary’s comments on to him. Here’s what his response was, which was pretty much what I suspected it would be:


   If anything I guess I err on the side of over-inclusion, and I think I’ll add this with a dash (Addenda #12).



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