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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Book Review: The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green

The Leavenworth Case is told from the point of view of lawyer Mr Raymond as he gets drawn into a mysterious murder inquiry. Mr Leavenworth has been found shot dead in his library by his secretary, Mr Harwell. The house has been locked overnight and the only people inside were Harwell, the servants and Leavenworth's two nieces, Mary and Eleanor. The curious thing about Mary and Eleanor is that, simply by virtue of being prettier, Mary will inherit all her uncle's money. Does that give Eleanor or her sister the motive for murder? And why is one of the servants missing?

I enjoyed the plot of this book. I thought it was clever, though it felt a little static in the middle before Raymond set off on his mission to locate the missing servant. The resolution surprised me, though, and that's always a good thing with a murder mystery. However, about a third of the way into the book, I lost faith with the narrator and I found it difficult to recover from that. It was very difficult for me to accept that Raymond had not considered an alternative to one of his assumptions at all and, after that, I treated him as a guide but nothing more. I didn't see how he could've been so stupid to be honest.

The rest of the book was fairly good. The later scenes with Mrs Belden were very well written and, in truth, I felt more attached to her character than the narrator. Equally, the detective Mr Gryce was an excellent character, humanised by his gout that provides Raymond with an opportunity to follow up the case on his own. The complex relationships between the suspects are gradually drawn out, realistically so, but, again, I feel this hampered the middle section of the novel.

However, The Leavenworth Case works as a piece of detective fiction and is especially interesting as a nineteenth-century example written by a woman.

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