Lite Reads Review: ‘Locked Doors’ by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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Week sixty of Lite Reads comes to a close as we finish this Halloween-themed selection, Locked Doors by Mary Roberts Rinehart. There were questions as food for thought on social media as people had the chance to read it and think about it. Sincerest apologies for being behind schedule! Before I announce the next Lite Reads selection (October 22), I will be sharing my own thoughts here. Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t finished reading the story yet.

Locked Doors by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a classic gothic mystery story published in 1914. This short story is part of Rinehart’s Hilda Adams series. Adams is a nurse (like Rinehart herself was), as well as an amateur sleuth whose services are lent out to the local police. In this case, she is hired to work for the Reed family as a private nurse for the children after the Reeds come under suspicion. The servants have all been let go, the carpets have all been pulled up, and every room in the house is kept locked at all times. The case seems like it could be supernatural, with mysterious noises and a floating head and strange pet deaths and a missing governess locked in on the third floor. In the end, we learn that Mr. Reed had been working on a cure for the plague and some infected rats escaped, and every strange occurrence is given a rational explanation point by point.

I found it really interesting to read a story by a nurse, about a nurse, and published in 1914. There’s something really thrilling to me about reading 1910s working women in a way that I know is going to be true to the experience. In Locked Doors, Adams describes to the reader how many people are shocked to learn that she is college-educated, and how she is frustrated by people viewing her as a kind of “upper servant,” even outwardly explaining to the Reeds that she won’t be helping with the upkeep of the home, and is only there to help with the children’s wellbeing. We get to see the ways she has knowledge of health and medicine, and we see how that impacts the way she sees her mystery cases, as well as how it impacts her care of the children. Even in the conclusion of the story, she determines before the reader does that the plague is the answer and that she should have known sooner.

I could definitely tell while reading that this story was part of a series. This story is my first time reading Mary Roberts Rinehart, and there were times where I felt like having read the book that came out prior to this story (The Buckled Bag, 1914) might have been beneficial. That said, it didn’t ever feel like anything vital was missing from the character backgrounds, and the actual mystery stood on its own. I honestly feel like the story does ultimately serve as an introduction to the series. It’s short enough to not take much time out of your day, interesting enough to want to know the conclusion, and gives a nice taste of the style and characters without asking for commitment.

I think a broad variety of genres often use mystery elements, but I don’t read much of what would be considered the genre of mystery. Neither the classics nor the modern mysteries. I’ve been trying to remedy this in the last couple of years, but I haven’t explored it nearly as much as I’ve liked. I feel like Locked Doors has a lot of elements of gothic literature that I wouldn’t typically expect of a mystery. It actually made me feel a bit like I was reading the inspiration for an episode of Scooby-Doo. Everything felt like it was going down the path of the supernatural, and in the end, it was all wrapped up neatly. The explanation was very direct, like when the characters of Scooby-Doo unmask their villain to reveal something totally unexpected but much more realistic than ghosts or monsters. I feel like this type of classic mystery must have influenced the early writers of Scooby-Doo.

Overall, Locked Doors by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a solid little read. The mystery elements are pretty fun, and they definitely sparked my curiosity. I think I most enjoyed the way Rinehart incorporated her nursing knowledge. The ending was a bit much for my tastes, but it still left me relatively satisfied, which is all I could really ask for.

I hope everyone who participated by reading the story and following along on social media enjoyed the story. If you have more thoughts to add, please feel free to comment on this post, or anywhere on The Feminist Bibliothecary’s social media. Week sixty-one begins shortly, October 22, with a brand new short story selection, chosen as another spooky fall read.

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