Anna Katharine Green, The Leavenworth Case
In this early American detective novel, young lawyer Everett Raymond is shocked to discover that a longtime client of his firm, Horatio Leavenworth, has been shot dead in his New York home. Since the firm’s senior partner is ill, Mr. Raymond takes on the responsibility of visiting the bereaved family, which consists of two beautiful nieces, a private secretary, and the servants. He also attends the inquest, where the evidence points to one of the nieces, Eleanore Leavenworth, as the guilty party. But Mr. Raymond, struck by Eleanore’s beauty and grace, is convinced of her innocence. He decides to clear her name by collaborating with the police detective in charge of the case, Ebenezer Gryce. But his investigation unearths a shocking secret about the Leavenworth family that may have dire consequences for the family as well as for the murder investigation.
This book is a mystery novel written in the 19th century; that’s pretty much all you need to know to decide whether or not you’ll enjoy it. I thought it was an entertaining and quick read. Despite the flowery language, the book moves quite quickly, with the shocking news of Mr. Leavenworth’s murder being revealed on the first page. The plot is engaging and inventive, especially for its time (the book predates Sherlock Holmes by several years). The characters, on the other hand, are a bit dull and ill-formed. Mr. Raymond, the narrator, could basically be anybody; and the Leavenworth women have few characteristics, at least for the first half of the book, other than being extremely beautiful. So if you’re looking for a deep psychological study, this book probably isn’t for you. But I still found it fun and entertaining, and I’d consider reading more of Green’s work.