Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green

Anna Katherine Green's mystery was first published in 1878. Her detective, Ebenezer Gryce, reminds me of Sherlock Holmes. Both are able to deduce remarkable conclusions from scant evidence and astute observations. However, Ebenezer Gryce predated Sherlock Holmes by nine years.

In this story, the first in a series—Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy unmarried gentleman who lives with his two nieces in a 5th Avenue mansion is found dead in his own library. This is a locked door mystery. Because the library door is locked, the key missing and the weapon—his own pistol— is found in its usual place, it is assumed that the culprit is either a family member or one of the "servants."

His two nieces, Mary and Eleonore, both had motives for the murder. The two cousins brought up together are not accorded equally under Leavenworth's will. Mary stands to inherit all his money while Eleonore will receive a small stipend.

An inquest, held at the scene of the crime—usual for that time period—uncovers circumstantial evidence pointing to the guilt of Eleonore—or at least implicating her in the murder. To add to the melodrama in the household a member of the staff, Hannah Chester, disappears the very night of the murder.

Mr Everett Raymond, a young lawyer and an assistant to the family lawyer, narrates the story. Because the head of the firm is away on business, Mr. Raymond arrives at the house to render some legal advice to Mary and Eleonore. While there the body of Mr. Leavenworth is discovered.

Ebenezer Gryce, the detective, is broadly painted as an eccentric character in both his looks and behavior.

Green touches on a number of motifs throughout the book. Mr. Leavenworth is obsessed with an intense dislike of the English and forbids his nieces from even contemplating a relationship with someone who is English. Mary has surreptitiously married an Englishman who she sends away because she doesn't want to lose her inheritance. Her uncle is clear about what will happen if she ignores his wishes. His estate will go to Eleonore and Mary will receive nothing. She has a strong motive for wanting her uncle dead.

Early on in the book Mr. Raymond and Gryce pair up. Gryce notes that he is not a gentleman and it's more difficult for him to deal with the wealthy and upper class. Another motif—class and money distinctions.

It is the detective using his deductive skills, avoiding the lure of circumstantial evidence and apparent motives , who hones in on the real killer.

All ends well—save for those who have died. The nieces mend fences, Mr Raymond smitten with Eleonore begins to court her, and tthe detective displays his adroitness.

I read a free digital download because my library didn't have a copy of the book. Then I discovered that there is a recently released Penguin Classic edition with a forward by Sims. In the foreword Anna Katherine Green's lineage from, "Gryce to Holmes to Poirot" is explored as well as" another of Green's creations, spinster Amelia Butterworth to Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple."

I throughly enjoyed The Leavenworth Case and my delight was enhanced by reading of the first accorded both the novel and Anna Katherine Green—first detective novel by a woman in any country. Her career spanned five decades.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you liked this one. I read it for the challenge too! It had been on my TBR list for ages. Great review!