The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green
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Horatio Leavenworth, an immensely wealthy bachelor, is a retired merchant who enjoys great social position and respect. His two orphan nieces, Mary and Eleanor live with him in a luxurious mansion in New York's upscale Fifth Avenue. One morning, he is found mysteriously dead in his study, shot neatly through the back of his head. His will, written some time earlier, is discovered, in which he has left his entire fortune to one of the nieces, while cutting out the other completely. The building, which had remained locked throughout the night, houses a number of servants besides the two young ladies. The finger of suspicion can point only to someone inside. Written nine years before the advent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, The Leavenworth Case is little known today. However, connoisseurs of detective fiction would immediately recognize this genre reating work by an author who is now acknowledged as “the mother of detective fiction.” The book published in 1878 was the first ever American detective novel. It was a runaway bestseller and Anna Katharine Green, its thirty-two year old author, is credited with many other firsts. She was the first writer to develop the “whodunit” in its classic form. She also created the “series detective” which is a device that has been explored by countless writers of mystery novels to this day. Another invention of hers was the “girl detective” as an amateur young woman who stumbles into mysteries and solves them by dint of brilliant, logical thinking and solid leg work. Other innovations that Green is credited with are the wispy spinster, Amelia Butterworth, an early forerunner to Agatha Christie's little old maid, Miss Marple. The detective, Ebenezer Gryce, who featured in nearly a dozen of Green's later books is a portly, comfortable looking, unassuming, shy fellow whose brilliant talents are kept well hidden. Various plot devices like bodies in the library, locked room mysteries, expert witnesses and the legal aspects of detective story have their origin in Green's novels. In fact, she was so highly regarded in her time that Yale Law School used her books to teach classes in the damaging effects of using circumstantial evidence while arguing a case. The Leavenworth Case is a complex, intriguing and thoroughly gripping mystery, full of unexpected twists and turns. This is a great addition to your bookshelf and could well be the first of a collection of the more than thirty books written by a regrettably forgotten master of the craft.