“I expect you’ve got into a habit of seeing to things. Taking my place, giving orders, seeing to the servants and the flowers. But it is not your house yet, Myra.”
Myra never intended to fall in love with a married man. Of course, Richard Thorne’s situation is unique: his wife Alice is serving a life sentence for murder. Richard and Alice can never be together again, yet if he divorces her, it will look as if he believes in her guilt. Ever since she came to live at Thorne House with her guardian, Lady Cornelia, Myra has admired Richard’s loyalty to his wife. She would never ask him to betray his marriage. Yet it has become intolerable, living in Alice’s house, loving Alice’s husband.
She can’t go on like this much longer. Something has to happen. When it does, however, it’s the last thing Myra ever expected. Alice comes home, her conviction overturned. But if Alice didn’t shoot Jack Manders on that dark night two years ago, then who did?
Another Woman’s House is an atmospheric suspense novel with an intriguing central premise. Mignon G. Eberhart smartly keeps the narrative tight, as events unfold quickly over the course of a single night. She also pulls off the tricky feat of making the relationship between Myra and Richard, which could easily come off as sleazy, highly sympathetic. As usual with Eberhart, the detection is a little thin, but (also as usual with Eberhart) this is more than compensated for by the doom-laden aura that clings to the narrative, culminating in a scene of almost operatically unhinged tragedy.
Myra wasn’t at Thorne House when Jack Manders was shot, but she’s heard the story enough times. The Manders brothers, Jack and Webb, were trusted friends of the Thorne family. No one could believe Alice capable of shooting Jack, yet Webb insists he saw the murder through an open window. With such powerful testimony from the dead man’s brother, Alice’s conviction is not surprising, though her loved ones still believe in her innocence. After all, what possible motive could she have had? Jack was a friend, certainly, but after all, “mere friendship does not give rise to murder. Only violence breeds violence.”
When the only evidence against her is discredited, Alice is free. She is ready to reclaim her house and her husband, leaving Myra genuinely torn between her sympathy for Alice’s ordeal and her love for Richard.
How strange it was that she could hate Alice and feel sorry for her at the same time. Hate her? But she did not hate her. It was impossible to hate Alice; and Alice was in the right. It always came back to that.
The reader feels rather the same way about Alice, who comes across as someone who is so accustomed to playing the martyr that she slightly overdoes it even when she is truly the victim of a harrowing experience. The sweeter and more understanding she is, the more off-putting Alice becomes.
Myra quickly realizes that the only way to free herself from Alice’s web is by solving the murder of Jack Manders herself. The suspects include the victim’s brother Webb Manders, Alice’s best friend Mildred (the ugly duckling to Alice’s swan), and Richard, whose alibi was always a little shaky. And what about Myra’s baby brother Tim, just back from the war at the time of the murder? Tim might have been jealous of Jack’s friendship with Alice. “He’s crazy about [Alice]. Always has been. Sure, call it puppy love if you want to. But this puppy was trained to kill.”
Unfortunately, Myra is not a very skilled detective, managing to misplace the one piece of evidence she finds. In fact, no one here seems very good at solving crimes, not even the police. If it were up to these characters, the case would never be solved at all. It is not the process of detection that makes this mystery compelling, but rather the seeming impossibility of the crime. While everyone seems at least a little suspicious, the narrow timeline appears to rule out all of the suspects. Each person’s testimony contradicts someone else’s. Someone is lying; the question is who. Solving the mystery isn’t really the point, however, as the murder investigation exists merely to lend an air of intrigue and danger to an already tense situation.
Another Woman’s House is really a mood piece and a bit of a character piece. These are areas in which Mignon G. Eberhart always excels. Here she does an excellent job of making Alice’s presence pervade the entire book, sickly sweet yet oddly sinister. Anxiety levels are so high from the very start that it’s easy to see how Myra and the others might find it difficult to function, however frustrating that can be to witness at times. Even if the the solution itself is not startlingly original, the execution is top-notch, and the book’s dark, feverish climax lingers long after the last page is finished.
In a sense it doesn’t matter that this mystery is easy to work out – the plot might not be the most complicated of this kind of novel, but I found the novel to be hugely enjoyable and very compelling.
Another Woman’s House is available as an ebook from the Mysterious Press.
2 thoughts on “Another Woman’s House (1947) by Mignon G. Eberhart”
Great to see you blogging again. Your posts and ratings inform me of books I never otherwise knew existed. The only Eberhart books I have read are “From This Dark Stairway” and “The Mystery of Hunting’s End” and enjoyed those. I have not heard of this one though. Eberhart seems a fairly prolific author as I often see a range of her titles in my hunts in used book shops.
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Thanks so much for the kind words! Eberhart was extremely prolific, but she operated on two different modes. The Sarah Keate novels from the early 1930s (which include the two books you mention) are more traditional detective stories with a rather cynical narrator. Eberhart’s other novels are romantic suspense like this one, with atmosphere and the emotions of the characters being prioritized over detection. Most readers seem to prefer the Keate books, but I have a soft spot for had-I-but-known style thrillers so I do enjoy both versions of Eberhart.
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