Home LibraryBook Review 2024 Reading Challenge: Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Man in Lower Ten

2024 Reading Challenge: Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Man in Lower Ten

by A Bee In My Bonnet
1 minutes read

This year I’m participating in several reading challenges and this is an entry for those challenges. You can find more posts under these tags:

Goodreads 2024 Reading Challenge - Finished 4/20

Book Review

The Man in Lower Ten

The Man in Lower Ten
Format: Ebook
Page Count: 175
Published: January 1, 1909
Washington, D.C.-based attorney Lawrence Blakely has been asked by his partner to deliver some important documents to a client in Pittsburgh. In the course of his return trip, the occupant of the train berth opposite his ― the lower ten, which Blakely was supposed to have taken — is savagely murdered. Was Blakely the intended victim, and did the crime have something to do with his briefcase full of vital evidence? When the murder weapon turns up underneath his pillow, Blakely becomes the prime suspect and is forced to stay one step ahead of the police in an increasingly deadly mystery.

I’ve heard of Mary Roberts Rinehart before, but I’ve never actually read any of her books. I’m not exactly sure why—it’s just how things turned out. When I first got into mystery novels, I was more drawn to Agatha Christie’s work. But I’m thrilled to report that this American counterpart to Agatha Christie surprised me with an enjoyable book that shares a lot of similarities with the stories I’m used to.

Opening the book, I anticipated the same writing style I’ve encountered with more recent authors – choppy in parts, straight to the point in some, or even downright confusing in others. Having been raised on Christie’s works, I prefer my dialogues to be more chatty and the characters to be well-rounded. I enjoy the gossip, the extra character details (even those of secondary characters), and the tendency to ramble a bit while setting up the mystery. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading this book; it was a welcome return to the style I was used to.

On to the story

Feeling encouraged by the pleasant writing style, I settled into enjoying the story itself. The murder unfolds on an old-fashioned sleeper train, and since the setting is in the early 1900s, there were moments when I struggled to visualize all the travel arrangements. Nonetheless, I managed to grasp the highly unlikely scenario that someone from outside the cabin could have committed the murder of the eponymous man in the lower ten. It’s essentially a locked room mystery, putting the protagonist Lawrence Blakely in quite a tight spot.

From then on, it was just a waiting game until the handcuffs came closing in on Blakely. Naturally, he did his utmost to stay one step ahead of the fuzz. Things get even more tangled when he unintentionally gets involved with Allison West. She was not only a fellow passenger on the ill-fated trip but also the granddaughter of one of his clients (he’s a lawyer) and happens to be his partner’s romantic interest.

Pursing my lips here…

At first, I wasn’t completely convinced by their love story, but looking back, I guess experiencing a shared trauma naturally brings people closer together. Ms. West wasn’t the most annoying love interest I’ve come across, but I couldn’t help but twitch a bit at all the “shielding” around her character. The mystery would have been cleared up much earlier if the men asked her directly. Then it hit me that this was published in 1909, and I realized that the norms of that time shouldn’t be judged solely through the lens of modern-day values.

Talking about other “norms” that wouldn’t fly in this day and age, I had to do several double-takes when I stumbled upon some casually racist language, particularly concerning the Pullman porters who were Black. If this kind of language bothers you, be on the lookout when reading the second and third chapters.

At the beginning of the story, I found myself a bit puzzled. There were so many throwbacks and a lot of fuss about the Bronson case. Blakely’s entire trip was tied to papers related to the case, which seemed like a given situation. It led me to think this book might be part of a series, but it turns out it isn’t.

Verdict

All in all, I found the journey of unraveling the mystery more enjoyable than the actual solution. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the culprit was someone in the cabin. I guess it was a big deal for Lawrence Blakely since not finding the culprit meant facing the gallows, but honestly, I didn’t care much about who they were or how and why the crime happened. One of the reasons I love diving into these old mysteries is because they offer a peek into a bygone era. The actions and descriptions that might have seemed mundane to Rinehart at the time are utterly fascinating more than a hundred years later.

4.0Overall Score

The Man in Lower Ten

Washington, D.C.-based attorney Lawrence Blakely has been asked by his partner to deliver some important documents to a client in Pittsburgh. In the course of his return trip, the occupant of the ...

  • Plot
    3.7
  • Characters
    3.8
  • Setting/Atmosphere
    4.2
  • Writing Style
    4.5
  • Enjoyment Factor
    4.0

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