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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Leavenworth Case

Anna Katharine Green

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To purchase The Leavenworth Case

Title: The Leavenworth Case
Author: Anna Katharine Green
Genre: Novel
Written: 1878
Length: 337 pages
Availability: The Leavenworth Case - US
The Leavenworth Case - UK
The Leavenworth Case - Canada
The Leavenworth Case - India
  • The Penguin Classics edition has an Introduction by Michael Sims

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Our Assessment:

B : very good in parts; a bit of a mess as a mystery

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 15/3/2010 .
The Spectator . 15/3/1879 .
The Spectator . 16/8/1884 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his atmospheric and suspenseful mystery well deserves a modern audience. (...) Green (1846-1935), whose smooth prose remains fresh, makes Gryce an interesting enough character to leave fans of traditional whodunits eager to see more of the detective in reissues of his further exploits." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Compression, too, might have been applied, with much benefit. How many of Poe's marvellous tales could be put into this volume ! Still, The Leavenworth Case is a meritorious effort." - The Spectator

  • "There is nothing convincing about The Leavenworth Case, and the suspected but innocent persons are not very interesting ; but there is a good deal of ingenuity in the plot, and, as the law proceedings introduced are American law proceedings, we do not know whether the author has avoided the perils that environ lady novelists -- and, indeed, gentlemen novelists also -- who meddle with criminal procedure." - The Spectator

  • "(I)n everything but style one of the best novels of crime and detection." - The Times (30/8/1898)

  • "(I)t also conforms to the demands of Victorian popular fiction, complete with over-ripe exclamations, red herrings, sinister strangers, lost keys and torn-up letters. What differentiates it from British equivalents is its snappy pacing, even if Greenís investigator seems slower-witted than his readers." - Christopher Fowler, Independent on Sunday (23/3/2014)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Leavenworth Case, a bestseller in its time, would continue to be read and published (recently in the Penguin Classics series, the version I relied on) even just for literary-historical reasons: the 1878 novel introduced 'the first American series detective', Ebenezer Gryce -- nine years before Sherlock Holmes, as Penguin repeatedly reminds readers -- and, while not a huge leap from your usual Victorian thriller, is definitely a major marker in the transition to the modern mystery-genre.
       While Ebenezer Gryce is the investigator that puts the pieces together, he is not front and center for much of the novel. The Leavenworth Case is narrated by a young lawyer, Everett Raymond; Gryce enlists him to help with the investigation but they're only partially a team, as Gryce manipulates the (easily manipulated) young man to help him solve the case.
       The beginning of the novel is excellent. The older partners at Raymond's law firm are absent when he learns that an old client, Mr. Leavenworth, has been murdered and so he is the one that rushes to the scene. A coroner's inquest has already been arranged, and it's this -- much like a trial-scene in a legal thriller -- that Green grippingly uses to present the facts, evidence, and suspects in the case.
       Leavenworth left neither a wife nor children, but he had two wards, the orphaned cousins Mary and Eleanore -- and it is known that his estate will go, pretty much in its entirety, only to Mary. Found shot in his library, nothing appears to have been stolen -- so it doesn't look like robbery -- and all the indications are that it was an inside job: it must have been someone in the house. Complicating matters: the ladies' maid, Hannah, disappeared that night.
       Raymond finds himself besotted at first glance by the beautiful Eleanore -- problematic, because the evidence suggests she might be the guilty party. She certainly acts like she has something to hide, and of course much of the plot revolves around what that might be. Raymond is convinced of her innocence, but since she won't come to her own defense, the situation is a difficult and delicate one. But, with a little help and encouragement from Gryce, Raymond busies himself "moleing" around to get to the bottom of things. (He does not do much lawyering, and it's a wonder he can keep his actual job.)
       "I don't believe in unnecessary communications", one of the characters admits, and it seems to be a guiding principle for several: far too much of the novel depends on the characters simply not sharing the information they have (and, as it turns out, there's quite a bit of information out there). Worse yet, as evidence emerges, the lack of communication means it's not always put in the proper context for the others, making it harder yet to prove anyone's innocence.
       There's a mysterious gentleman who hangs around; what looks like a secret marriage; lost, hidden, misappropriated, forged, and burnt documents galore; and a second very suspicious death. Green piles it on pretty thick (and a bit convoluted), but of course finds a neat resolution.
       Raymond is a decent guide through the proceedings -- a bit blinded by love, which leads to some misunderstandings that readers can easily see coming, and a bit of a stuck-up naïf ("A spy in a fair woman's house ! How could I reconcile it with my natural instincts as a gentleman ?"), but energetically involved -- and while there are some longueurs, Green also manages some genuinely exciting episodes. And Gryce, in particular, is a fine figure, and one can see why Green deployed him in additional works.
       The Leavenworth Case falls a bit short of classic-mystery heights -- relying too much on the extremely annoying and frustrating unwillingness of characters to share what they know -- but some of it is expertly done, and much of it reads very well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 Sepetmber 2014

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The Leavenworth Case: Reviews: Anna Katharine Green: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular American mystery author Anna Katharine Greenlived 1846 to 1935.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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