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The Circular Staircase

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  5,541 ratings  ·  557 reviews
For twenty years I had been perfectly comfortable; for twenty years I had had the window-boxes filled in the spring, the carpets lifted, the awnings put up and the furniture covered with brown linen; for as many summers I had said good-bye to my friends, and, after watching their perspiring hegira, had settled down to a delicious quiet in town, where the mail comes three t ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 1st 2004 by Wildside Press (first published 1908)
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People looking for a mild scare at Halloween

I normally struggle with books written this early in the twentieth century, but at the start of this mystery novel I was really engaged. & the character of amateur sleuth Rachel Innes kept me entertained until the end. Brave, feisty & witty. The relationship with her devoted but outspoken servant Liddy was the most entertaining part of the book.

There was no laudanum and Liddy made a terrible fuss when I proposed carbolic acid, just because I had put too much on the cotton once and burned
Richard Derus
Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: The Circular Staircase is perhaps Mary Roberts Rinehart's most famous story. Wealthy spinster Rachel Innes is persuaded by her niece and nephew Gertrude and Halsey to take a house in the country for the summer. Rachel is unaware that the house holds a secret, and soon unexplained happenings and murder follow.

My Review: Miss Rachel Innes, spinster of circa-1908 Pittsburgh, inheritrix of two children now relatively safely launched into adulthood, and posses
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Written in 1908 this is an early mystery, written by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876- 1958), a prolific American author. The story revolves around Rachel Innes, who rents a house in the country, for her and her two adult wards – Halsey and Gertrude. It soon becomes clear that Rachel (or ‘Aunt Ray’) is one of those redoubtable women, who tend to be terrible practical and used to dealing with the hysterics of servants. This is useful, as the house she rents from the Armstrong family, named “Sunnyside, ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
‘The Circular Staircase’ is a terrific mystery! Despite having the constant cliffhanger chapters of a serial as well as the never-ending crises (the story was first published in 1907 in magazine installments), the story is truly engrossing, drawing one into reading a long time at night. At least, this one did! I never guessed whodunit, or why at all.

Rachel Innes, wealthy spinster, narrates the story. She has rented a house in the town of Sunnyside for the summer unaware the family of the absent
When I was in junior high school, I worked in a used book store, one of those shady businesses, usually located in a seedy part of town, where a patron could bring in two books and get credit for the purchase of one. The vast majority of our books were brought in by lonely housewives and unmarried women, and they were primarily Harlequin Romances, various Harlequin spin-offs, Dame Barbara Cartland, and the interesting genre called "gothic romances." It was in the gothic romance department that t ...more
Suki St Charles
I really enjoyed this book! My edition has a cover that reminds me of the old Nancy Drew mysteries that I loved as a kid (The Circular Staircase), and I thought it read like a cross between a Nancy Drew written for adults and a ghost story. Much of the book felt more like a ghost story than a mystery (no supernatural elements, but there was a definite "the-calls-are-coming-from-inside-the-house" vibe). The back cover of this edition shows floor plans of the three floors of the house (no basement ...more
Edited on 1/21 for minor spelling issues that I noticed after it showed up in my notifications because some lovely person "liked" it. Also what in the blue fuck is up with this cover!? Is that Jesus? Cause it looks like Jesus.


I began this as an audio book but (fortunately) made the decision to switch to hard copy about halfway through. As Mary Roberts Rinehart is considered one of the matriarch's of the modern mystery novel I think it would be only fair to get some new recordings done of
1908, Rinehart's second novel. Miss Rachel Innes has an eventful "summer vacation" in the country... Deservedly a classic, although the plot is extremely "dated" now. Three stars for plot and most characters, four stars for Miss Rachel and "atmosphere", which is still quite effective; recommended, three-and-one-half stars.

When blue-blooded Philadelphian, late-40ish spinster (in 1908 that was the equivalent of ~60ish now) Rachel Innes and her niece Gertrude and nephew Halsey rent a perfectly enor
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mystery lovers (not hard-boiled!)
Recommended to Sue by: Sara Chamberlin
Fun to read with lots of details and possible suspects. I enjoyed just going with the flow of the story, making a few guesses along the way (one of which turned out to be very true). A bit more sprightly than some of Dame Agatha's, it seemed to me. Not sure what age Aunt Rachel is meant to be (spinster aunt is so open-ended), but she certainly joined the fray. ...more
Tom Mathews
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable. The plot was full of unexpected twists and turns that didn't make a lot of sense until the end. The fact that it was written in 1908 both added to and detracted from its charm. The descriptions of the transportation and social conventions of the day were all the more fascinating for their natural inclusion rather than the conscious insertion of a writer who has researched the past and is trying to describe it. For the same reason, though, I found the ref ...more
Ivonne Rovira
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1908, The Circular Staircase won't be what you expect: a hyperventilated Edwardian piece, loaded with implausible plot and purple prose. Our heroine, the middle-aged Rachel Innes, proves caustic, intelligent and quite humorous from the very start. Her well-meaning quarrels with her foolish maid Liddy provide great comic relief, and you won't find Miss Innes making the sort of stupid exercises in derring-do that get modern-day heroines nearly killed in today's mystery novels. Nor wil ...more
An enjoyable mystery that kept me guessing throughout. The writing style, narrated by spinster Rachel Innes, was yet another drastic difference for me from Rinehart's other works I have read (K. and When a Man Marries) was distinctly humorous in what could have been an extremely spooky horror story in parts. It has heavy Gothic overtones but Rachel laughs off one after the other and stubbornly stays until the mystery is solved.

This would have been five stars for me, but I docked one for heavy a
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Rachel Innes, a middle-aged woman decides to spend a summer in a summer house with her niece and nephew. She found what seems to be a perfect place for this, only this perfect place appeared to be haunted the first night Rachel spends in there. In addition to this, a dead body appears in the house some time later. If you think this is bad, mysterious events further down the road make haunting and dead body pale in comparison.

I really like the character of Rachel Innes. She appears to be an intel
Rachel is a spinster who has had custody of her orphaned Halsey and Gertrude, since they were children. They talk Rachel into renting a house in the country for the summer, where a murder occurs.

This was a nice cozy mystery with plenty of twists and misunderstandings. The relationship between Rachel and her companion, the nervous widow Liddy brings a great deal of comic relief, but I wish the two racist comments would've been taken out of this edition. All in all, I may read more from Rinehart.
Nov 06, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a reread and I'm not at all sure when I read it originally. Probably way back, 1980 maybe on the outside! But I do know that I had forgotten most of the guilty, but not Gertrude or Halsey or the duo of country renters.

I give her high, high marks for the pioneering of the plot, contriving manipulators that ended up being the perps, especially this murderer nailed. BUT, but now in 2017? Well the snark hits me differently, I think. I found it far more humorous back in the day. It is still
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This was such fun! I was immediately taken with the conversational, and somewhat breezy, style. I did not expect that for a book originally published in 1908. I think this is Rinehart's most well known novel, but I will happily look for another and see if it comes close to the same quality/enjoyment.

There are a couple of things which make its age noticeable: the electric company quits sending electricity at midnight, the doctor has a buggy, and the cab is a horse-drawn trap. Despite the age of t
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, kindle
Written in 1908, this mystery/thriller wasn't as dated as I had feared (about the same as the Golden Age mysteries of the 30s & 40s). The first person narration worked well & Miss Innes (the narrator) was an engaging, no-nonsense older woman who has no pretensions of being a detective but isn't going to stand for any funny business going on in her house. I did figure out part of the solution but there were enough twists and action that it didn't detract from my enjoyment. Perhaps I was able to s ...more
May 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Bettie by: Wanda
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
In my youth I must have read this book and this author because my mother did. . . .

However this one was not one I remember. . .but liking to skip down the gardenpaths of vintage reads like this, I launched. The narrator is old and full of herself, and it is a story told so she can correct herself, and she spares herself no error in her mea culpa moments. I wanted to like it more than I did, but it was exactly what I wanted - a vintage read. There are a few moments where a person feels the change
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Interesting setting and case, but the plot lacks of tension.
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The novel that made Mary Roberts Rinehart famous, and a tremendous gothic romp -- a sort of updated North American version of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, in which anything in the night that doesn't go bump isn't earning its keep.

Wealthy spinstress Rachel Innes, her city house under reconstruction, takes a six-month lease on the country mansion Sunnyside from its owners, banker Paul Armstrong and his wife. Soon "Aunt Ray" is joined by her adult nephew Halsey and her niece Gertrude -- plus, br
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
How had I never heard of the awesomeness that is Mary Roberts Rinehart?? The Circular Staircase was one of the first books I downloaded for free onto my Kindle, and I only grabbed it because the author was compared to Anna Katherine Green whom wrote The Leavenworth Case (a book that I enjoyed when I read it last year). After reading The Circular Staircase I've downloaded every single book by this author that I can get my hands on. I want more!

The Circular Staircase begins with Rachel Innes deci
David B
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Spinster Rachel Innes and her two young wards take a country house for the summer only to become enmeshed in a complex web of murder and intrigue.

First, let me recommend the excellent audio version of this mystery on BJ Harrison’s podcast “The Classic Tales.” His choice of material is generally good and he is a fine performer. The story itself is quite convoluted, but Rachel is a plucky, resourceful heroine and a good first-person guide to the action. I’m no authority on early twentieth century
Jan C
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fairly enjoyable. Very reminiscent of Phoebe Atwood Taylor's stories about Miss Prudence Whitsby (Asey Mayo stories). Both involve spinsters summering at the shore, or at least in the country. I wondered if they were written around the same time not really, 1908 vs. 1931. I listened to the audio but I just discovered that this book is free on Kindle. I will be looking at others of her books.

Not sure if I thought she wrote romance or horror, but I was pleasantly surprised at this mystery.

Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
More twists and turns than a circular staircase in a hall of mirrors. Three and a half stars rounded up because I really liked the heroine--a lady of a certain age who is as feisty as they come. I kept picturing a slightly younger Maggie Smith in the role. The plot got a bit too convoluted and I didn't care about any of the supporting cast, but it was a fun read and surprisingly contemporary for a hundred-year-old novel. ...more
The Circular Staircase was published by Mary Roberts Rinehart in 1908. It's a busy, entertaining mystery story. The story is told from the 1st person perspective of maiden aunt, Rachel Innes. The story is set in Sunnyside, an estate in the country that she has rented for six months while her apartments in New York are being renovated. The home was rented from the Armstrong family, who are away on vacation. Along for the ride are her personal maid, Liddy, and her niece and nephew, Gertrude and Ha ...more
I Read
Dec 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: detective
The best bit about this book was the humour – it amused me all the way through and Rhinehart incorporated it seamlessly so that it didn’t feel remotely there just for the sake of being inserting something funny. I haven’t read a detective novel written in this style before, but it definitely added to my enjoyment and meant the mundane but necessary parts of the novel became as liked, even more so as the intriguing or revealing parts of the plot – there was rarely a dull moment.

I love authors th
L.T. Fawkes
May 25, 2012 rated it liked it
The drama is over-the-top, particularly in the early going, in this 1908 whodunit. There are people fainting all over the place and one guy even drops dead of fright. And the plot is so convoluted it gets to be funny.

But it's interesting reading (especially if you love history) because of the narrative voice, that of a fifty-ish spinster one-percenter, who, in the course of telling the story, frequently and inadvertently reveals the prejudices and biases of her class and her era. Good (sometimes
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book more than I thought I would. The plot was quite complicated considering when it was written. The siblings annoyed me but I loved the relationship between the main character and her maid, as they were obviously great friends, which I would have thought was rare given the class and race difference.
This author has been called the American Agatha Christie even though she was writing before Christie, and I did feel the same comfortable reading with her.
DeAnna Knippling
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A spinster rents a house for the summer for herself and her two adult charges, a niece and nephew. A series of coincidences lead to MURDER.

This is early Scooby Doo. The house is supposedly haunted, but the main character isn't having it. Doors slam, footsteps pad, and while nobody wears a rubber mask, puzzles of identity abound. Written in 1908, this book still feels fresh and natural, due to the forthright character voice. The plot is a bit overdone, but ehhh. A solid read.
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Mary Roberts Rinehart was a prolific author often called the American Agatha Christie. She is considered the source of the phrase "The butler did it", although she did not actually use the phrase herself, and also considered to have invented the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing.

Rinehart wrote hundreds of short stories, poems, travelogues and special articles. Many of her books and plays

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