The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green

Information

Goodreads: The Leavenworth Case
Series: Detective Gryce #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1878

Summary

When Horatio Leavenworth is found dead in his library, suspicion falls on his nieces–one who stood to gain everything in his will and one whose actions the night of the murder make her the prime suspect.  A young lawyer, Mr. Raymond, seeks to crack the case.  But he’ll need the help of detective Mr. Gryce.  Published nine years before the first Sherlock Holmes story, The Leavenwoth case introduced the first American series detective and revolutionized the mystery genre.

Star Divider

Review

The Leavenworth Case is a gripping Victorian mystery, driven, not by the oddities of its leading detective, but rather by the perplexities of the case itself.  Retired merchant Horatio Leavenworth has been shot dead in his library and all the clues seem to implicate his beautiful niece Eleanor.  But attorney Mr. Raymond cannot believe a woman so fair could be so guilty.  Thus, he appoints himself an investigator with the intent of clearing the name of the woman he has fallen for.  But the clues often seem to lead to a conclusion he is not willing to accept.

The book reveals the difficulties of relying on circumstantial evidence to solve a case.  Nothing definite seems to identify Eleanor as the murderer.  Yet her manner is guilty, her uncle was not as fond of her as he was of her cousin Mary, and she was known to have access to her uncle’s room– and to his firearm.  Really, the evidence against her seems enough to warrant her arrest.  She is fortunate she is so fair or no one would care about whether her good name was tarnished or not.

The time in which the book was written may irk some readers, both because the language can sometimes seem overwrought and melodramatic, and because our protagonist Mr. Raymond is driven primarily by his belief that beautiful women cannot be criminals.  Detective Gryce tells Raymond to read the crime records if he believes that, but Raymond, of course, does not need to.  Womanhood is synonymous with innocence.  At least, genteel womanhood.  Some readers may be annoyed, but the case itself is intriguing enough that it can bear these remnants of the nineteenth century.

The Leavenworth Case is well worth a read for anyone who loves Victorian literature, mystery novels, or the history of the mystery novel.  Green keeps readers guessing until the very end–and and that is a mystery worth reading.

4 stars

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