The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The BatNew York is in the grip of terror for the criminal known only as The Bat is stalking the streets. Robbery and murder are his trade and no-one knows his identity. Even other criminals fear him. Meanwhile, Miss Cordelia Van Gorner, an indomitable spinster has taken residence in a house in upstate New York, until recently home to a disgraced banker. It soon becomes apparent that the house hides a secret – an extremely valuable one. But despite the large number of people with various motivations in the house, is it possible that the Bat is hiding in the house? Or is the Bat someone that no-one suspects.

Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote novels and plays from 1910 to 1953, but The Bat is one of the most influential. Not for the play and movie versions that it inspired, but it was the also one of the inspirations for a certain iconic character who has been around for the last 70 years or so – namely Batman himself.

The book pre-dates Dame Agatha, so if anything, this is from before the Golden Age. So can the Batman be unmasked?

As with Stuart Palmer and Patricia Wentworth, Open Road Media are releasing a number of Rinehart’s classic novels as ebooks. It’s a great chance to pick up some books that have been long out of print. It’s been fascinating to get the chance to see the contemporaries of Christie and Carr, and this book is rather interesting.

You can tell by the style of writing that this dates from a previous era – it’s not just hints in the setting, it just feels… old, but, on the other hand it moves around at a fair old pace. Almost every chapter seems to end with a mini-cliffhanger. At times, it does feel a little like a farce in terms of structure, with characters rushing from room to room – all it needs is the murderer to be caught with his trousers round his ankles and the picture would be complete – but it keeps the reader’s interest throughout.

As a mystery, it’s probably more of a thriller. I didn’t spot any clues to speak of – it’s not that sort of book – but when a certain incident happens, I was certain I knew who the Bat was (and I was right). It may well have been the first time the trick was played but having read many books by… a certain author, I spotted it a little earlier that I would have liked.

Overall though, it’s a enjoyable and fascinating read, giving an insight into pre-Christie crime fiction. Recommended.

Oh, while we’re here, Open Road Media have let me know that five of their titles have been reduced in price for the next week, including some Golden Age classics. They are:

  • Murder On The Blackboard – Stuart Palmer
  • She Came Back – Patricia Wentworth
  • Married People by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • Murder On Cue by Jane Dentinger
  • Sweet, Savage Death by Jane Haddam

They’re available from the Open Road site or from ebook sellers – in the UK, they’re £2.99 each.

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7 comments

  1. I’ve only ever seen THE BAT WHISPERS, the amazing 1930 movie ‘Magnifilm version (which, strictly speaking, was adapted from the 1920 stage version of the book), which stylistically was way ahead of its time in its use of an early version of widescreen and with a prowling movie camera that ducks and dives to an extraordinary degree and which certainly looks forward to the BATMAN movies – in fact, there is a mashup online that conflates the two into a great trailer – you can find it here (and remember, the clips are all genuine):

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  2. I have read this book, but I did not like it. As you say, it is more of a thriller and I am not very fond of thrillers. However, the main thing that turned me off was the writing style. Most of the time, it reads like a farcical comedy, not my cup of tea.
    There is another book by Mary Rinehart “The Circular Staircase” almost similar to this (though the Bat does not appear in The Circular Staircase). In my opinion The Circular Staircase is much better written.
    Incidentally, 28 books of Mary Rinehart (including The Bat and the Circular Staircase ) are available free as eBooks from Project Gutenberg.

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