Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The After House

The After House, by Mary Roberts Rhinehart

Out of money and in need of recuperation after an illness, a young doctor takes a job aboard a luxurious yacht as steward.  Unfortunately, there is trouble on the Ella, and before long, brutal murder throws everyone on board under suspicion.

This book is in the public domain; you can find free digital copies in several places online.

The book started out slowly (IMHO), but after a while, the action picked up and I was reading eagerly, curious to discover the identity of the murderer.  When all was finally revealed... I found it to be a bit of a letdown.  But hey, it was a freebie, so I won't complain too much.  Certainly not a great novel, though, and not even a really good mystery.

In more detail:
•  This thing shows its age (and the stereotypes and prejudices of its day) more clearly than most books of its time... or indeed many books much older.  There are offensive racial terms, and the (two, maybe?) black characters are caricatures of a stereotype-- cowardly, weak, untrustworthy-- but they're not the only ones to suffer that treatment.  There's classism and sexism, too.  People instinctively sense that Leslie is not a common sailor.  The ship's crew are superstitious and basically inferior to Leslie and "the family".  The women are to be protected even against their own wills.  "Oleson the Swede" is described thusly:  "Oleson... was a slow-thinking Swede..."  (I am more alert to the typical "slow-witted Swede" stereotype, now that I'm married to a Swedish man.  (g)  I tend to laugh at it, but really!  According to a lot of authors, Swedes are almost all very open-faced, trustworthy, trusting-- like a child, almost!-- good-humored, strong-bodied, and friendly... but definitely not the brightest in the bunch.  ...Probably these authors are just jealous.  Can't make the Swedish characters perfect, after all. ;o))

•  This text is another fine example of how poorly edited so many ebooks are.  It's really a shame.  Punctuation all over the place (or conspicuously absent where required)-- typos.  I tend not to think too much about it-- I guess you get used to it-- but sometimes there are typos that are confusing or even amusing (Burns = Bums).  It takes you out of the story.

•  There's some fairly horrific stuff in this story.  I was startled by it, at first.  Wasn't expecting it.

•  The nautical terminology is mostly unfamiliar to me, which made it somewhat difficult to picture the layout of the boat.  I think there may have been a diagram of the boat in the print copy.  Still, it doesn't seem to be necessary to comprehend everything, by the end of the book.

•  I wonder if this author was a prohibitionist.  There was a lot of negative attention to drinking and alcohol in general.

•  When the ship makes it to port, the family (and guests) are released after examination, but the others are all taken to jail "to make sure of their presence at the trial".  I wonder if that's a realistic representation of what would have happened under those circumstances.  If so, it's fairly shocking.

•  By the time we get to the "courtroom drama" portion of the story, we are hearing some of this testimony/evidence for at least the third time.  Talk about padding!

•  "Elsa" and "Ella" are so similar!  It was a poor choice to put them in the same story, even if one of them is a boat and the other a woman.  (g)  Makes you wonder what authors are thinking, sometimes.  (See also re: Tolkien's Sauron and Saruman.)

•  During the trial, it is mentioned in passing that Mrs. Johns always carries a revolver and, in fact, is carrying one even now.  In the courtroom?  Wow.  Different times, huh?

•  This author loves to call forward to future events in her work.  It's too blatant to be called foreshadowing... or even telegraphing... and I'm too lazy to look up the correct literary term.

•  You will never be allowed to forget that Our Hero is tall-- over six feet, or "six feet and a fraction".  I find men who "have" to constantly refer to their superior height rather sad.  Is that all they have going for them, that they need to remind us of it so often? 

Spoilery comments:

•  I was convinced the murderer would turn out to be a murderess.  All that talk about protecting the women-- guarding the woman-- and then it would turn out that the murderer had been hidden among them all along!  But no.  (I was disappointed, honestly.)

•  I was surprised by the murderer's identity-- but not really in a very good way.  It felt like a cheating solution.  By the explanation given, just about anyone could have been written to be the murderer, it seemed, since he was apparently barking mad, and yet able to behave and function like a normal person for years.

•  I hate it when the solution to the mystery is that there's an insane person committing the crimes-- yet s/he behaves perfectly normally before and after the crime... And then we are then asked to think of the criminal as apparently beyond reproach (because he's insane and can't help himself), yet he had the wherewithal to hide the ax (and then steal and throw it overboard)... and stash his "robe"... and basically hide his actions, which seems very much like the behavior of someone who has enough sanity to realize that Murder Is Wrong.  (Ugh.  It irritates me.)

•  Are we to believe that in all of his years aboard other ships, the murderer never drew suspicion?  What, was this his first killing spree?  It seems unlikely, and if not, wouldn't someone eventually notice that, hey, this guy has a bad habit of being aboard ships where people are murdered/go missing.

•  Is it just me, or is this kind of funny? "----- was a madman, a homicidal maniac of the worst type."  ...Ha!  Oh, so not just one of those not-so-bad homicidal maniacs, but one of the worst type.  Yeah, you don't want to meet up with one of those.

•  I disliked Mr. Turner (and the womenfolk for shielding him when they had no way of knowing whether or not he was innocent), but it was obvious he didn't do it.  He was too suspicious to have been the murderer.  (g)  At least, he was too suspicious to have done it in a novel.  In real life, he would have been the murderer.