“I’m afraid. I’m afraid of this house. I’m afraid of every shadow and every sound. I’m afraid when the door opens; I think I’ll die during that split second when I see the door’s about to open and can’t see yet that it’s just a policeman. Or someone I know…”
From the outside, Rue’s life looks like a Cinderella story. The former nurse has married her boss, brilliant surgeon Brule Hatterick, after the death of his wife Crystal. But no one ever tells you what to do when the fairy tale goes wrong. Brule has married Rue out of convenience so that she can run his home and raise his teenage daughter in the same efficient way she runs the operating room. The household remains loyal to Crystal’s memory, however. Rue can’t seem to get a foothold with the servants and young Madge won’t even speak to her. Rue is painfully aware that she isn’t beautiful like Crystal. She doesn’t know her way around high society. And if her marriage to Brule is strictly business, how long is he going to keep her around if she can’t fulfill her side of the bargain?
Just when it seems her situation couldn’t get worse, Rue learns that police are investigating the death of Brule’s first wife. Rue was the nurse on duty when Crystal Hatterick died, and it would be very convenient for Crystal’s friends and family if an outsider were the killer. The clock is about to strike midnight. Rue’s happy ending is in danger…and so is her life.
The Glass Slipper is an exercise in claustrophobia, as Rue finds the home and marriage she entered so hopefully closing in around her like a jail cell. The plot contains many of Mignon G. Eberhart’s trademarks: a heroine torn between two men, a clever older woman who may be friend or foe, all set against the background of Chicago’s upper crust. Eberhart does offer up some macabre surprises, however, including a series of poisonings that cause the victims’ hands to turn green. Despite the atmosphere of romantic suspense, there is also a whodunnit here, though solving it depends on two key facts that are not revealed until late in the book.
It isn’t until after Rue marries Brule, “her emperor,” that she discovers the other woman in his life. The beautiful and imposing Alicia Pelham was Crystal Hatterick’s best friend and is engaged to Crystal’s brother Steven. Now that Crystal is gone, Rue can’t help wondering whether Brule would have married her if Alicia had been free. Alicia certainly makes herself very much at home in the Hatterick mansion. “Her look said, You are the interloper here; you are the stranger; your time is short.”
As one murder follows upon another, Rue becomes the prime suspect. Police descend upon the house like locusts: the imposing Inspector Miller and his partner Funk, who shyly touches everything “with thin, not too clean hands, like little claws.” Through it all, Crystal’s memory is more suffocating than ever.
That drawing room, too, had been Crystal’s; she had decorated it. Its pastels, its French chairs, its gilded mirrors and crystal-hung lamps had been Crystal’s selection. Rue had never liked the room; now it seemed garish and full of grisly contrast. Crystal’s room; Crystal’s white hands touching and selecting these soft fabrics; and now the two men in the room had come, businesslike, to investigate Crystal’s murder.
Rue is offered help from the two men in her life, though she is unsure whether either can be trusted. Her husband Brule reminds her that they have come through other life and death situations together, “shoulder to shoulder.” But how can Rue believe him when she’s seen the way he looks at Alicia? Brule has made it clear throughout their marriage that “he wanted her to be gay and laughing and, though he didn’t say it, frivolous. A doll, pleased with the pretty things he gave her instead of love. A person who didn’t really matter and thus wouldn’t trouble his conscience.” By contrast, Brule’s assistant Andy Crittenden seems deeply in love with Rue. He is the first to warn of danger, even offering to help her escape the police. Still, Rue knows little of Andy’s life outside the hospital. Essentially, her choice is between someone she trusts who treats her badly, and someone who treats her well but leaves her feeling oddly suspicious. You know, just a typical romantic dilemma.
Though the characters spend much of their time trapped in the mansion, there are still some moments that vividly convey the book’s Chicago setting. Does the city still have the “dark days” Eberhart describes or are they, like London fogs, a thing of the past?
The day darkened with afternoon, became all in a moment one of Chicago’s dark days. It is a curious thing, this sudden shifting of air currents (affected somehow but mysteriously by the lake), which combine themselves with a pall of smoke and fog and settle down like a blanket upon Chicago. Perhaps the extreme concentration of Chicago’s business area has something to do with it; perhaps Lake Michigan, stretching north and east into dull grays, enormous, incalculable, is the sole cause; however that may be, it is so accustomed an occurrence that Chicagoans accept it without comment, turn on lights and go about their business quite as if daylight instead of twilight mantles the streets.
Rue has a few moments of intelligence (not drinking from a glass left by someone who broke into her room at night) that are mostly counterbalanced by moments of idiocy (not locking the door of her room at night in the first place). Her tendency to go along with whoever happens to be around at the moment gets her into some muddles. Rue actually does manage to solve the crime herself, albeit at the last possible second, which puts her ahead of many HIBK heroines.
The Glass Slipper is an entertaining example of Mignon G. Eberhart’s usual type of florid suspense, with a few extra twists added. These new additions probably won’t be enough to win over skeptics, but fans of women in jeopardy will find much to enjoy.
It’s an enjoyable enough read, with a teasing bit of the bizarre that is something out of Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr (the murder victims all have hands that have turned green).
But there’s really no way for the reader fairly to deduce the criminal (though s/he may guess it on GA mystery aesthetic principles), unlike with some of Eberhart’s earlier books.
The Glass Slipper is out of print, with used copies widely available.