Thursday, February 20, 2014

"A Nice, Neat Murder"

By A. Maynard Barbour (? - 1941).
J. B. Lippincott Co.
1900. $1.50 [$2.00 in 1926].
Online HERE and HERE.
According to Wikipedia:
A 1903 article in the The Atlantic Monthly stated that "A. Maynard Barbour has been generally hailed as the most successful of American writers of mystery."
As for this novel:
It always seems a pity to review a detective story or a story with a mystery in it, as such stories are written to entertain and to puzzle the reader and not written for the benefit of the book reviewer. However, we are moved to say something about That Mainwaring Affair, because it is especially worthy of notice.
It is a detective story, although not of the Anna Katherine Green order; in fact, it is considerably better than the usual story of Anna Katherine Green.
Mrs. Barbour has contrived to make her characters interesting while solving her mystery. She has written a novel which does not depend entirely upon detectives for its being. In all fairness to author and to reader we refrain from telling much of the story here. Let it merely be said, therefore, that there is a murder—a nice, neat murder—a lost will with millions involved, and a deep mystery connected with certain members of the Mainwaring family.
The mystery grows and grows until, for a time, one becomes indifferent as to who committed the murder. Mrs. Barbour has a trick of seeming to explain everything every little while, whereas she really explains nothing until the very last chapter.
To be sure, the dialogue is wooden in places, and the love scenes are what love scenes usually are in books of this character, but the story is entertaining reading for all that. Then there is a genuine surprise in the working out of the plot, and that is the main thing. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN (April 1901)
A quarter of a century passes, and then a jaded reviewer opines:
What object prompted the publisher to disinter the mediocre bones of this aged mystery story for reissue is beyond our conception. The tale first appeared in 1900, and the years have not improved its quality—on the contrary, their passing has lent to much of it the suggestion of unintended burlesque.
For example, one finds it difficult today reading: "Wretch!" he hissed, with an oath, "you have betrayed me, curse you!" to repress a smile. The better order of mystery story authors do not write that way any more. 
And from materials that closely parallel those which make up the Mainwaring murder and the prolonged legal fight of the deceased's relatives for possession of his estate, there have since been written countless superior variations of the too familiar theme. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (October 30, 1926; scroll to page 261, left middle)
Category: Detective fiction

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