cover image The Red Lamp

The Red Lamp

Mary Roberts Rinehart. Penzler, $25.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-61316-113-5

Originally published in 1925, this entry in the American Mystery Classics series from Rinehart (1876–1958) showcases her extraordinary gift for sustaining high levels of tension. The plot is recounted through diary entries made in 1922 by William Porter, a literature professor, who inherited a large house near the town of Oakville from his uncle Horace. Horace was found dead in his home, apparently from heart failure, hours after Porter’s wife, Jane, had a vision of Horace lying still on the library floor. Despite misgivings about the circumstances of Horace’s death, and local insistence that the house is haunted, Porter rents it out to an invalid and his secretary. More deaths follow, and Porter becomes a person of interest to the police. Rinehart’s prose is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson (“All houses in which men have lived and suffered and died are haunted houses”), and she excels at the tantalizing tease, as in the prologue, when Porter is asked about what really happened in 1922, and he refers to a “diabolical symbol” found near the bodies of slaughtered sheep. Fans of eerie whodunits with a supernatural tinge will relish this reissue. (Oct.)