Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Case of Jennie Brice

The Case of Jennie Brice by Mary Roberts RinehartThe Case of Jennie Brice is a crime novel that tells the story of a blood-stained rope and towel, and a missing tenant, Jenny Brice—all of which convince Mrs. Pittman that a murder has been committed in her boarding house. But without a body, the police say there is no case. Pittman tries to ferret out the killer by using the key to Jennie’s apartment to investigate.

In this classic mystery from the “American Agatha Christie” Mary Roberts Rinehart, a terrible crime unfolds amidst the worst possible circumstances-devastating flooding that has incapacitated the city of Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

Excerpt: 

I had been making tea when I heard Mr. Ladley go out. I fixed a tray with a cup of it and some crackers, and took it to their door. I had never liked Mrs. Ladley, but it was chilly in the house with the gas shut off and the lower floor full of ice-water. And it is hard enough to keep boarders in the flood district.

She did not answer to my knock, so I opened the door and went in. She was at the window, looking after him, and the brown valise, that figured in the case later, was opened on the floor. Over the foot of the bed was the black and white dress, with the red collar.

When I spoke to her, she turned around quickly. She was a tall woman, about twenty-eight, with very white teeth and yellow hair, which she parted a little to one side and drew down over her ears. She had a sullen face and large well-shaped hands, with her nails long and very pointed.

“The ‘she-devil’ has brought you some tea,” I said. “Where shall she put it?”

“‘She-devil’!” she repeated, raising her eyebrows. “It’s a very thoughtful she-devil. Who called you that?”

But, with the sight of the valise and the fear that they might be leaving, I thought it best not to quarrel. She had left the window, and going to her dressing-table, had picked up her nail-file.

“Never mind,” I said. “I hope you are not going away. These floods don’t last, and they’re a benefit. Plenty of the people around here rely on ’em every year to wash out their cellars.”

“No, I’m not going away,” she replied lazily. “I’m taking that dress to Miss Hope at the theater. She is going to wear it in Charlie’s Aunt next week. She hasn’t half enough of a wardrobe to play leads in stock. Look at this thumb-nail, broken to the quick!”

If I had only looked to see which thumb it was! But I was putting the tea-tray on the wash-stand, and moving Mr. Ladley’s papers to find room for it. Peter, the spaniel, begged for a lump of sugar, and I gave it to him.

“Where is Mr. Ladley?” I asked.

“Gone out to see the river.”

“I hope he’ll be careful. There’s a drowning or two every year in these floods.”

“Then I hope he won’t,” she said calmly. “Do you know what I was doing when you came in? I was looking after his boat, and hoping it had a hole in it.”

“You won’t feel that way to-morrow, Mrs. Ladley,” I protested, shocked. “You’re just nervous and put out. Most men have their ugly times.”

She was standing in front of the dresser, fixing her hair over her ears. She turned and looked at me over her shoulder.

“Probably Mr. Pitman was a man,” she said. “My husband is a fiend, a devil.”

Well, a good many women have said that to me at different times. So I said nothing, and put the cream into her tea.

I never saw her again…

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