The Leavenworth Case is an 1878 detective novel by Anna Katharine Green, the mother of the detective novel, known for writing well plotted, legally accurate stories. This book is about the murder of a retired merchant and introduces the detective Ebenezer Gryce. It has been adapted for film twice, once in 1923 and again in 1936. You can read the book online here or listen to a Librivox recording here. It begins,
I had been a junior partner in the firm of Veeley, Carr and Raymond, attorneys and counsellors at law, for about a year, when one morning, in the temporary absence of both Mr. Veeley and Mr. Carr, there came into our office a young man whose whole appearance was so indicative of haste and agitation that I involuntarily rose at his approach and impetuously inquired:
"What is the matter? You have no bad news to tell, I hope."
"I have come to see Mr. Veeley; is he in?"
"No," I replied; "he was unexpectedly called away this morning to Washington; cannot be home before to-morrow; but if you will make your business known to me----"
"To you, sir?" he repeated, turning a very cold but steady eye on mine; then, seeming to be satisfied with his scrutiny, continued, "There is no reason why I shouldn't; my business is no secret. I came to inform him that Mr. Leavenworth is dead."
"Mr. Leavenworth!" I exclaimed, falling back a step. Mr. Leavenworth was an old client of our firm, to say nothing of his being the particular friend of Mr. Veeley.
"Yes, murdered; shot through the head by some unknown person while sitting at his library table."
"Shot! murdered!" I could scarcely believe my ears.
"How? when?" I gasped.
"Last night. At least, so we suppose. He was not found till this morning. I am Mr. Leavenworth's private secretary," he explained, "and live in the family. It was a dreadful shock," he went on, "especially to the ladies."
"Dreadful!" I repeated. "Mr. Veeley will be overwhelmed by it."
"They are all alone," he continued in a low businesslike way I afterwards found to be inseparable from the man; "the Misses Leavenworth, I mean--Mr. Leavenworth's nieces; and as an inquest is to be held there to-day it is deemed proper for them to have some one present capable of advising them. As Mr. Veeley was their uncle's best friend, they naturally sent me for him; but he being absent I am at a loss what to do or where to go."
"I am a stranger to the ladies," was my hesitating reply, "but if I can be of any assistance to them, my respect for their uncle is such----"
To be honest, I scheduled this post in advance, thinking I'd have finished it by now, but I've been glued to the Women's World Cup and have spent less time reading than usual. I am enjoying it so far. I can't imagine why it's not better known.
There is mention of a Methodist preacher in the 19th chapter:
Meeting the lady at a parsonage, some twenty miles from the watering-place at which she was staying, he stands up with her before a Methodist preacher, and the ceremony of marriage is performed. There were two witnesses, a hired man of the minister, called in for the purpose, and a lady friend who came with the bride; but there was no license, and the bride had not completed her twenty-first year. Now, was that marriage legal? If the lady, wedded in good faith upon that day by my friend, chooses to deny that she is his lawful wife, can he hold her to a compact entered into in so informal a manner?
Publishers Weekly says, "First published in 1878, nine years before the debut of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet , this atmospheric and suspenseful mystery well deserves a modern audience." Mystery Scene notes that "Green’s influence and reputation were so great at the time that Arthur Conan Doyle made a point of seeking her out during an 1894 visit to the United States."
Cross-examining Crime calls it "A Classic Which Deserves Its Reputation" and concludes,
Although it has its melodramatic moments, this is a strong and well-constructed mystery, with plenty of clues (physical and psychological), as well as a good handful of red herrings. It would not have been too out of place if it had been published in the 1920s in my opinion such are the parallels between Golden Age detective fiction and this its’ predecessor. Its’ reputation as a cornerstone in detective fiction writing is certainly justified and I’d warmly recommend it.Criminal Element calls it "a milestone of the genre" and says,
Yale Law School, among others, assigned it to its students to demonstrate the snares associated with circumstantial evidence. So cleverly plotted is it that members of the Pennsylvania Legislature insisted that Anna Katharine Green must be a pseudonym for some man, because “the story was manifestly beyond a woman’s powers.” Just goes to show you that government has always been populated by idiots.