Friday, May 1, 2015

FFB: "The Door" by Mary Roberts Rinehart reviewed by *Guest Blogger* DASHIELL HAMMETT


Thanks to Don Herron and his pal Terry Zobeck (HERE) I was able to locate scans of The New York Evening Post, which featured many book reviews by Mr. Hammett. This one is from the issue dated Apr 5, 1930.

'The Door' Won't Shut Till Ended

THE DOOR. By Mary Roberts Rinehart. Farrar & Rinehart. $2.
Reviewed by Dashiell Hammett

THERE are several murders and several attempted murders in this exciting bit of the Bell-Somers family history told by a typical Rinehart spinster. First Sarah Gittlings, the family nurse, leaves the family dogs tied to a tree in the dark and vanishes; and shortly after the dogs are found the rope they were tied with vanishes, to be found a little later with Sarah's corpse in a sewer. Then a woman named Gunther is murdered. Nobody knows her and her murder seems for a while to have no connection with the nurse's, but it has. Meanwhile prowlers go inexplicably in and through and out the Bell house, terrifying the residents.

Inspector Harrison, the detective assigned to the mystery, does not make much progress. A nice enough fellow personally, In spite of his habit of strewing the scene of his operations with broken toothpicks, he is rather naive and inefficient professionally. (The truth is he should have had his man before the book was a third done.) But even he can soon see that the members of the Bell and Somers families and those connected with them are a good deal busier trying to hide personal and family secrets than aiding justice. People suspect one another, try to shield one another, cast suspicion on one another. Judy Somers is knocked unconscious and locked in the toolshed. The butler is assaulted. The mysterious prowling goes on. Members of the family disappear. Another is murdered. Lies are told in court rooms. The butler is shot, and then, finally, by one means or another, the truth is dragged out of this dark tangle and in the penultimate sentence the murderer is named.

It is very easy to find a lot of things wrong with the story. It is certainly too long, too wordy as well as too cluttered up with nowise important action put in merely to make it more confusing. The maintenance and complication of the mystery depend too largely on folks’ consistently missing each other by unpredictable inches in the dark and unpredictable seconds in the light. The final explanation is unnecessarily weak, implausible, and, what is worse, leaves several loose ends not accounted for though Mrs. Rinehart does not sin here in that respect so much as she did in her earlier "The Red Lamp." It is simply impossible to believe In the arch-criminal. The constant use of the ancient device for building up suspense—by hinting at dark deeds ahead—becomes annoying. And, to be picayune in the end, walking-sticks buried naked in earth that is stamped down over them are not dug up fairly covered with anybody's fingerprints, and there is undoubtedly something at least pitiable about the plight of characters condemned to run around with standard legal documents stuffed in their shoes.

When all this fault-finding has been done, however, then is this to be said for "The Door": nobody who begins it is at all likely, barring acts of God, to leave it unfinished. He may hoot at its soft spots, he may be irritated by its old-fashioned cast—Mrs. Rinehart is distinctly not a writer of this decade —but he will read it through. Well, readability is the standard by which books of this sort should be judged.

6 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

A well rounded review. I didn't know he did these.

jhegenbe said...


Wow. What a treat! Almost "A simple Art of Murder" Hammett-style.

Stephen Mertz said...

A terrific post. It would be great if Hammett had kept a list of the books he read in a year. I know he took on the task of reviewing but it's still weird to think of Hammett reading one novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart (and finding it difficult to put down!) much less two.

John said...

This is a fantastic find. Just goes to show that an icon of hardboiled crime fiction could be an open minded and fair critic as all good critics should be.

Oscar said...

How to write a review, a fine lesson.

Lexman said...

thanks, very interesting...