The After House

When I borrowed The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart from our library, I honestly had no idea it took place aboard a ship. I picked it out solely based on the author. I had listened to one of hers before and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d try another. Apparently the title should have given it away, though. I didn’t realize an afterhouse is the deckhouse nearest the stern of a ship, not that it would have mattered one way or another.

Our narrator is Ralph Leslie, a young man, out of money after paying for medical school and just released from the hospital following an illness. Leslie jumps at the chance to spend the summer aboard the Ella, a yacht owner by millionaire Marshall Turner. Leslie is to act as the steward for the guests housed in the afterhouse. There is some stress on board, but it seems like the journey should be pleasant enough, until Leslie discovers the first body. Three people are hacked to death with an ax.  Everyone on board, crew and passengers, panic, leaving Leslie to maintain control and safety- on a ship, in the middle of the ocean with a killer on the loose.

It’s a quick-moving, short story, but Rinehart sets the atmosphere remarkably well. The suspicions, the nervousness, the worry, the knowledge that they are trapped on a boat with a murderer- you can feel it all closing in around you.

There’s a bit of romance involved, but it doesn’t outweigh the mystery and is very tame in and of itself. Remember, this book was first published in 1914, and you can tell, especially in the way minorities and women are treated. My one complaint, if it is a complaint, is that the reader really had no chance at guessing the killer’s motive, or guessing the killer really, unless it was by pure luck. But the plot moves along quickly and Leslie is a likeable guy.

I listened to the audio version of this, read by Rebecca Burns. It always take me a few minutes to get used to a female narrator when the story is told in the first person by a male character, but eventually I get caught up in the story and don’t notice any more.

I am developing quite a fondness for these vintage mysteries.

You can purchase The After House from Amazon (it’s free for the Kindle) or an Indie bookstore.

3½ out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery & Detective

First published 1914
4 hours 52 minutes

Book source: Library

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The Vintage Mystery Challenge is hosted at My Reader’s Block.