Monday, April 8, 2013

The Bat

Notice the spotlight with bat silhouette!
The Bat, by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood

It is...the Bat!  That is an actual chapter title, folks.  This thriller had so much cheesy fun that it was hard to put down.  I read it in one day.  It's been a book, a play, and a movie, and eventually it helped to inspire the character of Batman, so I think it counts as a must-read as far as cultural influence goes. 

Miss Cornelia Van Gorder, an 'elderly' and wealthy lady full of gumption, has rented a country home for the summer for herself and her lovely niece, Dale.  But!  So far there have been disturbances every night.  Is the house haunted?  Is someone trying to break in?  Is the legendary super-criminal, the Bat, going to make the house his next target?  Miss Van Gorder brings in a detective, Dale brings in a secret fiance, several other people barge in, and they all spend a scary night in the house complete with murder and hidden treasure and sneaky spooks.

Silent movie poster
As you might expect from a pulp thriller from the 1920s, character stereotypes litter the landscape.  There is a faithful and superstitious Irish maid, an inscrutable Japanese butler who knows jiu-jitsu (cringe-inducingly called Billy the Jap), and of course a courageous and beautiful young woman who faints rather often.  Miss Van Gorder is the best of the lot.

I gather that the novel was actually written after the successful Broadway play was produced, which does explain why it feels like a dramatic script the entire time.   Much of the action is centered in one room, and people enter and leave it right on cue--in fact all of the action is inside the house and only a few rooms are ever seen.  The descriptions are exactly like stage directions, and I should think most of them were taken directly from the script and just elaborated a bit.

The very best thing about The Bat is that it contains the single greatest line in literature, hands-down.  I think you will agree when I say that this line wins the Internet:
"I've stood by you through thick and thin," she mourned in a low voice. "I stood by you when you were a vegetarian - I stood by you when you were a theosophist - and I seen you through socialism, Fletcherism and rheumatism - but when it comes to carrying on with ghosts - "

I think this is the first Mary Rinehart Roberts book I've ever actually read, which is kind of funny--I have several copies of her paperback novels around the house, but that's because I like the cover art.  I do not own The Bat (I sure wish I did!)--I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg.

2 comments:

jennysbooks said...

Awww. It sounds so pleasing. I have a Mary Roberts Rinehart book that's been languishing on my shelves for ages, and I don't know why I keep on not reading it! I know i"m going to like it -- I love corny suspensey stories!

Jean said...

Read it! Join me! :)