Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

THE NOTTING HILL MYSTERY

by Charles Warren Adams

 

The Notting Hill Mystery (1862-1863) is often called the first detective novel. In it, the wife of Baron R** dies after drinking acid. It looks like an accident until insurance investigator Ralph Henderson discovers that Baron R** took out several life insurance policies on her. From there, the plot continues to thicken.

 

Readers see everything Henderson sees, including letters, diary entries, witness interviews, a marriage certificate, and a map of the crime scene. The New York Times Book Review called The Notting Hill Mystery “both utterly of its time and utterly ahead of it.”

 

How to Read It: Buy it on Amazon, get a copy at a used bookstore or your local library, or read it for free (courtesy of Project Gutenberg).

 

Estimated Reading Time: 5 hours. Share your thoughts and check out the questions below!

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NOTTING HILL MYSTERY

We want to hear from you! (We may even read your comments during our next podcast!)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  1. Had you ever heard of the Notting Hill Mystery before now? What parts felt dated? How might the story have been told differently today?

  2. The forensic techniques used to gather and analyze evidence in the story would have felt fresh and new to a 19th-century reading audience. Examples include diary entries, letters, and witness depositions. As the British Library notes, these innovative techniques “would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s.” Did you enjoy being able to review all of these materials? Did the forensic feel of the book interest you? Bore you?

  3. In Section VI, Ralph Henderson writes, “Unless the case can be made to stand out clearly, step by step, in all its details, from the commencement to the end, its isolated portions become at once a mere chaos of coincidences.” The case he builds leads to a “conclusion so at variance with all the most firmly established laws of nature” that, it seems almost impossible to accept. Did some parts of the case seem impossible for you to accept? Why?

  4. Some details are deemed immaterial to the story. For example, how and why was Rosalie kidnapped? Are we really meant to believe Baron R** really just met Rosalie by accident? To whom was Rosalie’s Notting Hill letter addressed (Section IV)? Would the housemaid Sarah really have fessed up to poisoning Madame R** to avoid being blamed for tasting marmalade? Did these details bother you, or did you willingly suspend your disbelief?

  5. Mesmerism is key to the novel. When direct manipulation isn’t possible (due to questions of propriety), Baron R** experiments with secondhand manipulation with the help of a medium named Rosalie. We see the power Baron R** wields, along with broader implications related to the sympathy of twins. In what ways does Henderson’s (and others like Dr. Marsden and Mrs. Ellis, the mesmerized sick nurse) disdain for and disbelief in mesmerism ultimately enable Henderson to build a strong case about mesmerism and twin connections?

  6. Secrecy plays a role in this story. Mrs. Anderton and those around her never mention the kidnapping of her twin sister. Mrs. Anderton also conceals the biweekly leaden taste in her mouth. No one tells Rosalie that she’s sleepwalking, and the housemaid Susan Turner doesn’t tell anyone what she and her beau witnessed even after Madame R** takes ill. In each case, this information is deemed too dangerous to share or too upsetting to hear. In what ways does the desire to “protect” others often lead to terrible outcomes?

  7. Catherine Boleton (Rosalie) is sold twice: once to Signor Leopoldo at the Olympian Circus for 5£ and once to Baron R** for 50£. Slavery was made illegal in England in 1807. The young “spinster” (see the marriage certificate) then marries Baron R**. What gives?

  8. In Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone, characters remember dialogue and details with unflagging accuracy. However, several characters in The Notting Hill Mystery can’t recall key details. In what ways does imperfect recall strengthen the case?

  9. Baron R** is a master of manipulation, insinuation, and sleight of hand. Many characters even sing his praises. How does he succeed at playing people without their knowing it? Why are his machinations more effective with some people than others?

  10. Police-Sergeant Edward Reading doesn’t miss a beat. He seems to be of the Inspector Bucket (Bleak House) and Inspector Cuff (The Moonstone) school of detection. Ralph Henderson, in turn, may be the world’s best insurance investigator (aside from Johnny Dollar). In what ways might their methodologies have influenced later detective stories?

  11. What are your thoughts about the book’s final line: “Supposing [a series of crimes was committed], are crimes thus committed susceptible of proof, or even if proved, are they of a kind for which the criminal can be brought to punishment?”

ABOUT TEA, TONIC & TOXIN

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters, will discuss a game-changing mystery or thriller from the 19th and 20th centuries. Together, we’ll see firsthand how the genre evolved.

 

Along the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with the occasional guest. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin Book Club and Podcast - Mysteries and Thrillers

TEASERS & TIDBITS

YOUR HOSTS

Sarah Harrison - Host of Tea Tonic and Toxin (Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club)

SARAH HARRISON

HOST

Sarah loves getting to the bottom of any mystery having to do with life, love, work, play, personality, or process dysfunction.

Carolyn Daughters - Hot of Tea Tonic and Toxin (Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club))

CAROLYN DAUGHTERS

Host

Carolyn has loved mysteries ever since she and her sister started the highly successful CarMich Detective Agency when they were kids.

Help Us Keep Mystery Alive

Will you support our labor of love? To donate through Venmo, visit www.venmo.com and donate to @carolyn-daughters

 

Thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.

OUR SPONSORS

We love our sponsors! (Of course, to be fair, we are our own sponsors ....) Want to sponsor us? Reach out to discuss sponsorship benefits, including podcast, site, and social shoutouts!