Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958) was the most beloved and best-selling mystery writer in America in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Pittsburgh to the owner of a sewing machine factory, Rinehart trained as a nurse, and married a doctor four days after her graduation from medical school. She wrote fiction in her spare time, until a stock market crash sent the young couple into debt, forcing her to lean on her writing to pay the bills. Her first two novels, The Circular Staircase (1908) and The Man in Lower Ten (1909), established her as a bright young talent, and it wasn’t long before she was a regular on bestseller lists.
Among her dozens of novels were The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911), which began a six book series, and The Bat (1932), which was among the inspirations for Bob Kane’s Batman. Credited with inventing the phrase “The butler did it”—a phrase she never actually wrote—Rinehart is often called an American Agatha Christie, even though she began writing much earlier than Christie and was much more popular during her heyday.
“[Rinehart’s] literary distinction lies in the combination of love, humor and murder that she wove into her tales. . . . She helped the mystery story grow up.” —The New York Times