As I'm featuring another Mary Roberts Rinehart Book, The Album, this week, I thought it might be fun to look back at another of her books - one which I think was more tightly written and, overall, more entertaining.
Rinehart wrote The Man in Lower Ten in 1909 - her second book, after The Circular Staircase. It's the story of a memorable and deadly train trip. Our narrator is a lawyer named Lawrence Blakely, who sets out by train from Washington to Pittsburgh, where he is to take a deposition in a forgery case. He is carrying some critical evidence in the case along with him. After taking that deposition, he gets on a train to return home, and he is assigned to the berth numbered “lower ten” in the Pullman car.
Through a series of odd events, however, he does not sleep in that berth. Someone else is sleeping there when Blakely arrives to go to bed, and the lawyer – unhappily – moves to another berth. When he wakes up, however, he finds that he is in yet another wrong berth, all his papers including the evidence (and his clothes as well) have been stolen – and the man who had been sleeping in lower ten has been murdered. Then, the train is wrecked in a disastrous crash which kills all but a handful of people – among whom, of course, is our narrator.
From there on, the book becomes a thriller, with Blakely staying a step or two ahead of what seems to be a curiously unhurried police investigation. He falls in love with the daughter of the man he had gone to depose – a woman who appears to have a number of secrets of her own. And there will be a healthy share of odd, dangerous and sometimes deadly adventures before everything gets sorted out at the end.
I reviewed The Man in Lower Ten a couple of years ago. It's a lively and thoroughly enjoyable book. Because it is more than a century old, there are a lot of versions floating around. The one I've linked to above is an inexpensive Kindle and/or paperback edition with a new intro by Otto Penzler; I know that there are free electronic versions around as well. I do think it's worth another look.