Friday, April 10, 2015

Adventure classics -- Fleeing the scene sans ration card

The Yellow Room

by Mary Roberts Rinehart
In last Friday’s Adventure classics installment of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1945 mystery, The Yellow Room, war hero Greg Spencer looked like the most likely suspect in the murder of his unwanted wife. Desperate to prove her brother’s innocence, Greg’s sister Carol found herself hampered constantly by, of all things, the chronic shortages of World War II civilian life.

Opening the once-wealthy Spencer’s family’s vacation home, a crumbling mansion on the coast of Maine, Carol finds the body of an unknown young woman stashed in the linen closet. But the local police don't have so much as camera to take pictures of fingerprints, or any film even if they could find a camera. And anybody without gas coupons is beyond suspicion. Or is he? (Or she?) Rinehart used wartime rationing to turn a sleepy little village into the equivalent of a locked room mystery.

A writer worthy of her war-rationed typewriter, Rinehart, found red herrings (luckily, not yet rationed) at every turn. And the reddest of the herrings were those in the military. Who better to take advantage of wartime chaos by disappearing among the thousands of travelling soldiers? Or to have a second life, even a second family at a base far from home? Or even to bump civilians off a transcontinental airline in order to flee the scene of the crime?

Wait, could Greg Spencer have pulled off that last trick? Or was it the work of his best friend, Terry Ward, supposedly still stationed on the other side of the continent?

Of course, the only person who couldn’t possibly have killed the woman Greg Spencer married after a drunken one-night stand is his other best friend, Don Richardson. Richardson was engaged to Spencer’s sister Carol shortly before he left for training as a fighter pilot, but his plane was shot down in the South Pacific more than a year ago. 

Don’s brokenhearted father, retired Colonel Richardson,  clings to the pathetic hope that his son is still alive. Carol, however, has finally taken Don’s engagement ring off her finger, a move that has not gone unnoticed by Major Dane, another mysterious soldier allegedly at the little summer resort to recuperate from wounds received in action.

Will Dane be able to clear the brother of the woman he loves? Will Dane and Carol find a wartime romance of their own?

Among the most famous of Rinehart’s mysteries, The Yellow Room is still widely available. I even found it on podcast at What wouldn’t Carol Spencer have given for the aid of electronic media to clear her brother of murder? And for anyone fascinated by how to turn something that seems as handicapping as rationing into the stuff of suspense, I found an intriguing blog on the subject of rationing at

(Next Friday, what made a handful of well-brought-up women like Rinehart invent their very own mystery genre?)

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