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"The Leavenworth Case" by Anna Katharine Green

The Leavenworth Case may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

"Mr. Leavenworth's private apartment! It was here then that it ought to be, the horrible, blood-curdling it that yesterday was a living, breathing man."

Horatio Leavenworth, Esq., a millionaire, is murdered in his library while he is engaged in reviewing a book he plans to publish. He was shot cleanly in the back of the head (with his own pistol), meaning that he did not turn his head when his assassin entered the room. This fact led detective Ebenezer Gryce to conclude that he recognized the footsteps of his assailant and felt he had nothing to fear from this person. Thus begins this first novel in the "Mr. Gryce" series.

Perhaps this reader is putting too modern a spin on this story, but I can't help wondering if, as a furniture designer, perhaps author Green might have been familiar with the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui. If so, Ms. Green may have been enjoying a quiet little joke at the expense of the victim, since Mr. Leavenworth was, at the time of his death, engaged in writing a book on Chinese customs. Had Mr. Leavenworth followed the principles of Feng Shui, he would never have situated his work table in such a way that he would be required to sit with his back to the door. This is the position of disadvantage and, as his survivors learned, very bad luck.

Like Dorothy Sayers, Anna Katharine Green approaches the murder mystery with a unique angle. In Green's case, the Leavenworth Case story is told in the first person by a junior partner in the law firm that handles Leavenworth's legal matters. In other words, a character peripheral to the story. Because of his access to the family home and members, Mr. Gryce convinces the man, Everett Raymond, to do most of the footwork. He and a mysterious spy-like character known only as "Q" begin to ferret out the evidence that will condemn one player and exonerate another.

Not since Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot has the reader found cause to admire a character as unattractive as Ebenezer Gryce. Gryce's eye never quite lands on the person to whom he is speaking, preferring to focus on a chair arm or a shoe. Quite often Gryce is laid up with what appears to be rheumatoid arthritis, during which times he spends his days with his hands wrapped in bandages, wobbling on two canes if he walks at all. What Gryce lacks in social graces and physical prowess, however, he makes up in powers of deduction and understanding of criminal psychology. His ability to make a pivotal decision in this case based upon a handkerchief dropped at the scene is characteristic of his ability to fish out the meaningful clues from a sea of evidence.

Perhaps Gryce is even better at reading people. Although he involves Mr. Raymond in the evidence-gathering ostensibly because of the latter's proximity to the family, Gryce is likely aware very early on that Raymond is quite taken with the woman who is the initial suspect, and thus is motivated to find as many clues as he can in hopes of clearing her good name.
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Reviewer's Note: Interesting how we at Girlebooks discovered Anna Katharine Green. I was reading my December issue of Antiques magazine and came across an article by expert Joseph Cunningham with pictures of some of the most original looking furniture pieces I have yet seen. In this article, Mr. Cunningham proposed that the unique designs, attributed to Charles Rohlfs actually reflected a collaboration between Mr. Rohlfs and his wife, Anna Katharine Green. To illustrate his theory, Mr. Cunningham drew some parallels between the carved designs on the furniture and the illustrations that appeared in Ms. Green's books. The article mentions that The Leavenworth Case is Green's most successful novel, and that Green was one of the first mystery writers to include scientific evidence as part of her murder mysteries and courtroom dramas.

Rohlfs furniture was all handmade, not manufactured, so it sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, one can get a jewelry box for $14,000-22,000.

For further reading, this page has a link "Play Slideshow" that shows multiple illustrations of both Rohlfs furniture and Green's illustrated books. If you would like to see The Leavenworth Case with some of its illustrations, it is available at the University of Texas Tarlton Law Library. An exhibit of Rohlf's furniture will take place at the Dallas Museum of Art September, 2009 through January, 2010. Further references with pictures of Rohlfs furniture appear at the PBS Roadshow archive, Craftsman Auctions, and at the Hewn and Hammered blog.

Article citation: Cunningham, Joseph, "Anna Katharine Green and Charles Rohlfs: Artistic Collaborators," Antiques, The Magazine, vol. CLXXIV, No. 6, December 2008, p. 70-75.

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