Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: THE CIRCULAR STUDY by Anna Katharine Green

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1900

Genre: mystery

Topics: psychology, family, love

Proposed alternative title: Remember Evelyn!

Review by heidenkind:

Oh Anna Katharine Green, why can't I quit you?

Ebenezer Gryce is thinking about quitting detective work, but a curious case delays his retirement. It's the murder of a wealthy old man in a locked room, a circular study with lights that change colors and walls that move. There's a also a talking parrot who keeps saying "Remember Evelyn," and a servant who doesn't talk at all but is clearly a bubble off. What can it all mean? A clue (or "clew," as Green writes it) leads Gryce to Miss Butterworth (I'm going to assume this book predates the maple syrup company), who is only too willing to help the investigation.

I usually find Green's stories completely bizarre, and The Circular Study is no exception. I would call her the Dan Brown of her time, but I don't want to insult Dan Brown. That being said, there is a lot going on in this novel, and some of it is very Dan Brown-esque. For example, the old man's body is spread out on the floor with a cross on his chest. Mysterious! What does it all mean??? And why does the parrot keep saying to remember Evelyn?

Green's writing can be iffy at times. She uses words in a way that makes me want to say, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Also, her stories are very frustrating because she sets the reader up for certain things (a modern reader, anyway) and then never follows through. For example, Miss Butterworth is super-suspicious and way too sweet and perfect. I kept expecting her to turn out to be a femme fatale à la The Maltese Falcon, even though I knew she wouldn't be because this is an Anna Katharine Green story and everyone is as they appear.

Despite it all, though, I actually was enjoying The Circular Study for the first half. It may have been crazy town-ish, but at least it was interesting. But then the story switches to a long, drawn-out flashback that tells the reader everything about the old man and how he wound up in the circular study. Even if I didn't hate flashbacks on principle, and even if the flashback itself wasn't Dickensian-in-a-bad-way, this would come off as a total cop-out on Green's part. She's supposed to have her characters solve the mystery, not tell us how it was done. I don't know what she was thinking; maybe she just got bored? Either way, after that it was kind of a struggle to finish.

I wish I could say this was going to be my last Green book, but it probably won't be! Even though I usually end up disliking her stories, they're so strange I find myself horribly fascinated by them. Also I tend to like the separate elements in her novels even if I don't like how they come together. Read at your own peril!

You might also be interested in:

  • my review of A Difficult Problem by Anna Katharine Green here.
  • my review of Midnight on Beauchamp Row by Anna Katharine Green here.
  • Aarti's review of The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green here.

Download The Circular Study by Anna Katharine Green at Project Gutenberg|Librivox