It’s been a while since I’ve read any Mary Roberts Rinehart mysteries, but the little Dell paperback of Miss Pinkerton was the perfect size to slip in my purse. It was written back in 1932.
Miss Adams is a private nurse who secretly moonlights for Inspector Patton. He will call her in when a nurse is needed to stay in a suspicious household, and she will relay any relevant information to him. In this case the house in question is the gloomy old Mitchell mansion. The family, once a proud scion of the town, is now reduced to Miss Juliet, near her deathbed; her nephew Herbert; and two elderly servants. One night Herbert is found alone with a bullet through his head, but the evidence is questionable and will decide the fate of a large insurance policy. Is this suicide, murder, suicide meant to look like murder, or murder meant to look like suicide? As Miss Adams tends to the deaf Miss Juliet, she pokes around the house herself and strikes up an acquaintance with lovely Paula Brent, who has surprising connections to the case. Even a nurse needs to take care of her own safety, however, because when money’s involved the culprit won’t be scared to kill again to cover his tracks.
Miss Adams is a very likable and no-nonsense heroine. She has a threefold obligation that at times becomes hard for her to negotiate: her professional responsibilities as a nurse to Miss Juliet, her secret agreement with the police to help investigate, and her own feelings of justice in certain situations. The mystery itself is well-crafted. Though Mary Roberts Rinehart provides many twists and turns, especially in the question as to whether Herbert’s death is even a crime, the final outcome is plausible and based on a good interpretation of available evidence.
The book is not the first appearance of Miss Adams, and it feels like some backstory is missing. For example, Miss Pinkerton is the Inspector’s nickname for her but no reason is given. We never even learn her first name because no one uses it to address her. (According to Fantastic Fiction, it’s Hilda.) I really enjoyed this book, though, and am tempted now to seek out the other novels and short stories that feature her. Apparently some were also made into a series on B-movies. Maybe they’ll be on TCM at some point.
Nurse-as-sleuth seems a very realistic occupation to me, much more so than combinations in many cozy series. Off the top of my head I can also think of Cherry Ames (whom I adore), Nurse Sarah Keate (Mignon Eberhart), and the Nurses Three series. Are there any others?