Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review: The Bat by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart

by Mary

Everyone in the city, from millionaires to the shady citizens of the underworld, goes in fear of The Bat. All that is known of him is like his namesake "he chose the night hours for his work of rapine; like a bat he struck and vanished, pouncingly, noiselessly; like a bat he never showed himself to the face of the day". The media scream in vain for his arrest. Such was his tawdry fame that, inevitably, "a popular revue put on a special Bat number wherein eighteen beautiful chorus girls appeared masked and black-winged in costumes of Brazilian bat fur; there were Bat club sandwiches, Bat cigarettes, and a new shade of hosiery called simply and succinctly Bat".

But the fact remains the Bat was a cold-blooded loner whose crimes range from jewel theft to murder and whose calling card was a drawing or some other form of expression of bathood.

Detective Anderson asks his chief to be transferred to the Bat case. His superior is reluctant, because his other best investigator, Wentworth, was killed by The Bat. However, Anderson insists, having been a friend of the dead man, and so his chief, convinced Anderson will meet the same fate as Wentworth, promises the next time the Bat strikes and a new case is opened Anderson will be transferred to work on it.

We next meet wealthy, elderly, and independent spinster Miss Cornelia Van Gorder, scion of a noble family and the last of the line. An adventurous spirit, at 65 and comfortably situated, she still longs for a bit of an adventure. It maddens her to think of the sensational experiences she is missing as she contemplates that "...out in the world people were murdering and robbing each other, floating over Niagara Falls in barrels, rescuing children from burning houses, taming tigers, going to Africa to hunt gorillas, doing all sorts of exciting things!" Why, she'd love to have a stab at catching The Bat given half a chance!

But all is not lost, for having taken a house in the country for the summer Miss Van Gorder finds herself within twenty miles from the very area wherein the Bat had committed three crimes. Courtleigh Fleming, owner of the house, has died, and the bank of which he was president just failed, possibly because Mr Bailey, its cashier, has stolen over a million dollars -- or so it is said.

Since Miss Van Gorder's arrival at the Fleming mansion strange things have happened: she has received an anonymous letter advising her to leave, the lights mysteriously went off one evening, her butler claims he spied someone looking into the kitchen, and Lizzie Allen, Miss Van Gorder's personal maid for decades, is convinced she saw a strange man on the stairs.

Miss Van Gorder's niece, Dale Ogden, is a guest and her aunt senses she is unhappy about something, perhaps an affair of the heart. As the story opens, Dale has a phone call and goes off to the city. While she is there she will look for a gardener. After she departs, it transpires the cook and housemaid have decided to leave for obviously false reasons. Despite all persuasion, Miss Van Gorder states she *will* remain in the house with or without a full staff, but as it happens an agency promises replacements in three days. Until then they will just have to manage with the aid of the butler and the hoped-for gardener.

And then adventure makes its appearance in Miss Van Gorder's life, for in the morning post there comes another anonymous letter stating "If you stay in this house any longer--DEATH. Go back to the city at once and save your life". Being a stubborn person, Miss Van Gorder decides to handle the matter not by calling in the authorities but by ensuring the numerous windows and doors of the house are kept locked and by making a phone call, the recipient of which we are not told at that point.

She is practicing with a revolver she purchased for a trip to China when Dale arrives with the news a gardener will be there to take up his duties that evening. After dark a storm begins to rise while Dale goes off to the local country club to visit Richard Fleming, the deceased house owner's nephew and heir, who lives at the club. Miss Van Gorder, left with her maid and the butler, finds herself growing nervous. So she gets out the ouija board and she and a very reluctant Lizzie hold a session. The board first spells out a string of nonsense and then B-A-T.

Not long afterwards, Brooks, the new gardener, arrives. The advancing tempest knocks out the lights and the stage is set for various characters to flit in and out a many doored and windowed living room lit most of the time only by candle and firelight. The Bat is based upon a stage play and I imagine one that must have had its audiences perched on the edge of their seats a fair bit of the time.

My verdict: I would describe The Bat as related to the old dark house mystery, with enough obfuscation to keep the reader guessing although one or two surprises are less well concealed. I found it a light, diverting read which held the interest without taxing the attention too much and would sum up The Bat as an excellent cold-night-outside read.

Etext: The Bat by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart

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