The Notting Hill Mystery - Secrecy, Mesmerism, Manipulation & Murder
Welcome to The Notting Hill Mystery podcast episode from Tea, Tonic & Toxin!
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.”
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The Notting Hill Mystery: Podcast Transcript
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea, Tonic and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison,
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a tea, or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:42
.. but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
… and join us on the journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:54
Carolyn, what are we talking about today?
Carolyn Daughters 0:59
We’re going to talk about The Notting Hill Mystery, which is, potentially the first full-length detective story.
Sarah Harrison 1:12
Are we saying that about each thing we’re reading? It feels like we are.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16
We are. And the funny thing is, we’ll just continue it through the 19th century and into the 20th century and beyond.
We’ll just continue it indefinitely. It is interesting, though. Why is every single one of these considered the first?
I think they each have their camps. Their people who are like, this is the book, this is the first one, this is it. The Notting Hill Mystery is, from beginning to end a mystery. It’s not about characterization. It’s not about developing story, per se. It’s about figuring out crimes. From beginning to end, it’s this thing that is going to be evolving for another century and a half. And it’s written in a way that is potentially interesting and also potentially difficult. We’re gonna discuss that. In many ways, a lot of the things that are done in this book, the way the evidence is analyzed, the way it’s captured, the way it’s discussed, very methodical, super detail oriented. This is going to influence a lot of mysteries to come.
Sarah Harrison 2:46
Awesome. Especially the one we just did. The Woman in White.
Carolyn Daughters 2:54
Yes. Let me go through the plot of The Notting Hill Mystery. In case you have not read this book (which you should if you get a chance). Sarah and I are going to chat about the book whether you’ve read it or not. So we appreciate your being here.
Sarah Harrison 3:10
Yes, it’s quite short. You can read it if you’re interested.
Carolyn Daughters 3:13
The story is set in London, where a baron’s wife dies after drinking acid while sleepwalking. Insurance investigator Ralph Henderson reviews the evidence and learns the baron had taken out multiple life insurance policies on his wife. The investigator eventually concludes that the baron is responsible for three deaths in total. All he has to do is prove it. To build his case, the investigator establishes a chain of connection between the baron’s wife and a woman named Mrs. Anderton. He goes back 27 years to the birth of twin girls. The girls have a morbid sympathy of constitution by which they suffer from each other’s ailments. At age six, the younger twin is kidnapped. Years later, the elder twin marries Mr. Anderton. (So this is Mrs. Anderton Henderson.)
The investigator then reconstructs the chronology of events from when Mrs. Anderton and her husband become patients of the baron who is a famed mesmerist. The baron conveys something called mesmeric fluid to Mrs. Anderton through the intervention of a clairvoyant named Rosalie. From the time Mrs. Anderton and Rosalie meet, it’s obvious there’s a psychic connection. The baron learns that Rosalie is Mrs. Anderton’s twin sister from long ago and that Mrs. Anderton has 25,000 pounds. If she dies, the money goes to her husband. If her husband dies, the money goes to the twin sister. The baron marries Rosalie, who is the twin sister Rosalie takes ill due to poisoning. In fact, both Rosalie and Mrs. Anderton experienced severe illness with the same symptoms at the exact same time. Seems the Baron is making Rosalie the conduit to Mrs. Anderton’s eventual death by poison. When Mrs. Anderton eventually dies, Mr. Anderton is arrested on suspicion of murder. He committed suicide. Next Rosalie dies by drinking acid.
The case the investigator builds includes a map of the crime scene, medical and chemical analysis reports, eyewitness testimony, family letters, and diary entries. The investigator includes every salient detail, noting that the evidence is circumstantial, and quote “so delicate and complicated that the failure of a single link would render the remainder worthless.” Ultimately, you, the reader, must decide if the evidence is enough to convict the baron for insurance fraud and three murders.
Sarah Harrison 5:46
I think before we get started today, we have a listener award. There was a particular six year old, the youngest listener that we know of. So we wanted to give an award to …
Carolyn Daughters 6:08
Thea Seeberger. She is living in Switzerland outside Zurich currently, and she is our reader of the month.
Sarah Harrison 6:17
Also one of our most international awards.
Carolyn Daughters 6:20
Yes. She and her mother, Caroline, and her father, Greg, were listening to our podcast in the car in Switzerland. So it’s true folks, we have we’ve gone global.
Sarah Harrison 6:33
Thea will receive one of these amazing Tea, Tonic, and Toxin stickers that she can stick on whatever she wants.
Maybe on one of her books or something.
My son sticks his stickers on just everything. He’s three. I think six year olds are probably a little more sophisticated with their stickers. Nate pulled one out of his nose.
Carolyn Daughters 7:04
Seems like some sort of commentary there.
Sarah Harrison 7:07
These are big stickers. I don’t think they’d get up in the nose. But maybe that’s a challenge for someone out there.
Carolyn Daughters 7:13
Yeah, that makes them potentially less dangerous. We’re not going to claim they’re not dangerous.
Sarah Harrison 7:20
Yeah. Don’t put them into your nose.
Thank you, Thea.
Carolyn Daughters 7:26
Thank you, Tanya. And thank you to Caroline and Greg Sherman as well for being listeners of our podcasts. We appreciate you. And, as I said, we’re international now. Switzerland … who knows what’s next?
Sarah Harrison 7:42
I don’t know what’s next.
Carolyn Daughters 7:44
Canada … Mexico. The sky’s the limit. It’s crazy. So Sarah, we pivoted here. We were going to talk about The Moonstone next.
That’s right. We tricked you, listeners.
We did. In fact, I tricked.Sarah, and then we tricked all of you.
Sarah Harrison 8:10
Here I bought this copy of The Moonstone. I’m halfway through it. And Carolyn says hey, can we switch? And I said, “certainly.”
Carolyn Daughters 8:19
I was gonna go either way. I wasn’t going to fight too hard for it. But I kept seeing all these people writing that The Notting Hill Mystery is the first full-length detective novel and it’s an inverted mystery, meaning it’s a howdunit, not a whodunit. We know right off the bat who did it. But we don’t know what happened. How did this whole thing come together? And so I wondered if we could wedge this in between because we’re moving chronologically. Can you talk about that a little bit? About the chronology here?
Sarah Harrison 8:52
Absolutely. I’m pretty easy to convince. All you have to do is say, “Chronologically, it should go.” And I think it probably should have gone before The Woman in White, right?
Carolyn Daughters 9:05
I don’t think so.
Sarah Harrison 9:06
Really? Because they are like twin stories.
Carolyn Daughters 9:10
Yes. But chronologically, The Notting Hill Mystery comes after The Woman in White.
Sarah Harrison 9:13
Really? That changes my opinion a lot. Because The Notting Hill Mystery seemed like The Woman in White, only both sisters get killed. Both sisters and Hartright would have died in this story. But, yeah, I like going in chronological order. And I think that this particular collection that you’ve curated here really lends itself to that because we’re looking at the development of the mystery novel. There hasn’t always been mystery novels. They developed over time, these tropes to hold. One thing one leads to another. For me, reading something in chronological order just adds a layer on that you can absorb non-academically. You’re absorbing it through reading, but you can see the development and the next steps. Carolyn asked, “Hey, I’m reading a lot about this Notting Hill Mystery, so can we insert it?” To me, that made a lot of sense. But I am actually shocked and amazed that this book came after The Woman in White. I need to Google that now.
Carolyn Daughters 10:36
I just checked the date. It’s 1865. I believe The Woman in White is 1860. The Moonstone is 1868. I might have some of these dates wrong.
Sarah Harrison 10:48
I’m googling it right now.
Carolyn Daughters 10:51
We’re googling it live, people. We’re doing our research live. Even though we’re international now we don’t have people to do this for us.
Sarah Harrison 11:00
The Woman in White was written in 1859-60. And The Notting Hill Mystery was 1860?
Carolyn Daughters 11:09
Sarah Harrison 11:12
Carolyn Daughters 11:13
Sarah Harrison 11:15
I had the worst copy of The Notting Hill Mystery, by the way. If you’re watching this on a clip, don’t get this copy.
Carolyn Daughters 11:24
It’s all italics, which is terrible.
It’s one of those big, flat books. And everything is italicized. I don’t know. At first I thought this is a mistake. I think it’s a mistake of judgment. I reconciled myself, well I guess it’s supposed to indicate it’s all written or handwritten or something. But it is not pleasant to read everything in italics on these giant pages.
The copy to get is the British Library crime classics copy, which has a normal amount of metallics, which is minimal. In life, italics should be minimally used.
Sarah Harrison 12:10
Everything in the title, the author … Amazon sometimes as these weirdo additions. I didn’t read the reviews. I was in a hurry.
Carolyn Daughters 12:24
Because I gave her and the listeners very little warning.
Sarah Harrison 12:29
Not only that, but so I had this other copy, which I highly recommend. I got this heritage edition copy of The Moonstone on eBay. I love heritage editions. And I thought, goodness, we’re reading all these old books. I’ll see if I can find some other cool copy on eBay. Well, they sent me the wrong book. It wasn’t even The Notting Hill Mystery. It was a totally different book. And so then I had a shorter time to try to get this copy, and I just got the first thing I saw on Amazon.
Carolyn Daughters 13:03
One noticeable difference is my copy of The Notting Hill Mystery says author Charles Warren Adams, the author’s name. However, he went by a pseudonym at the time of writing, Charles Felix, and that’s the name on her copy of the book.
Sarah Harrison 13:18
But he was legitimately the king of Sardinia, right?
That I did not know.
Charles Felix was the Duke of Savoy Piedmont Aosta and King of Sardinia from 1821 to 1831. Born in Turin as the 11th child and fifth son, born to Victor Amadeus the Third. So I thought, wow, the king of Sardinia wrote a mystery novel. And I actually thought that Wilkie Collins lifted it. It was so similar to The Woman in White. I thought that’s where you must have gotten it.
Carolyn Daughters 13:57
Or the lifting went the other direction. “I love this Woman in White story. What if I took out all the characterization …”
Sarah Harrison 14:06
Right, so instead of the count here, you have the baron. And instead of half sisters, you have twin sisters. But it was like the personality of the baron was even the same as the personality of the count. They were both chemists. In both books, people say, “he was the nicest person I ever met.” He was also very overweight. They talked about how much he ate, only the baron likes to eat meat, the count likes to eat pastry. They’re both amateur chemists. They’re both prescribe stuff. They’re both amateur doctors. They have all the manners.
Carolyn Daughters 14:54
Yeah, I didn’t think about all this.
Sarah Harrison 14:57
I was shocked. I was like, holy cow, Wilkie Collins would have been really in trouble for plagiarism, but I guess that goes the other way.
Carolyn Daughters 15:05
Yeah. Charles Felix / Charles Warren Adams might have been.
Sarah Harrison 15:11
Carolyn Daughters 15:14
To be clear, they’re very different books, even though they seem similar.
The Woman in White really fleshes out a number of characters. You like them, you don’t like them, you feel for them, what have you. But you understand some things about them. It’s harder in The Notting Hill Mystery.
Sarah Harrison 15:34
Yeah, you’re really just reading secondhand accounts. Someone’s compiled all this information and put it in a file. Henderson compiled all this, put it in a file, and just leaves it for you to decide.
Carolyn Daughters 15:54
Yeah, so it’s an insurance investigator, who’s, from what I can tell, the most thorough insurance investigator ever.
Sarah Harrison 16:00
I didn’t pick up that he was an insurance investigator. So this is mostly about insurance fraud, folks.
Carolyn Daughters 16:07
It is. The thing that it reminds me of is what I enjoy listening to on Sirius XM on that classic station — Johnny Dollar.
Sarah Harrison 16:20
I don’t know what that is.
Carolyn Daughters 16:21
Johnny Dollar is an insurance investigator with an action-packed expense account.
Sarah Harrison 16:27
Carolyn Daughters 16:27
Yes. He’s amazing. And there’s tons and tons of episodes that are totally worth checking out. And so when I saw this guy was an insurance investigator, I was like, right on!
Sarah Harrison 16:41
Yeah, he outwits literally 100% of people in the story.
Carolyn Daughters 16:47
He’s I mean, he is very detail oriented. Now, to be fair, I had I had never heard of The Notting Hill Mystery. On the surface, the story has all of the elements of many of the most gripping mysteries. It includes poisoning an evil hypnotist, a girl kidnapped by gypsies, a series of murders that are in their nature and execution too horrible to contemplate. And yet, in a lot of ways, it’s not one of the most gripping mysteries. It’s super interesting. I loved the forensic detail, I loved the way the investigator pulled together every possible piece of evidence and then displayed it for readers to look at. The thing that felt really interesting and different is the way that the information is presented. It does not allow you into the interiority or the heads of any of the characters, including the investigator.
Sarah Harrison 17:53
And one of the more brief ones that did have a diary, I believe it was Mrs. Anderton …
Carolyn Daughters 18:05
I kept wanting to call her Anderson.
Sarah Harrison 18:08
Yeah. But she has some diary entries that feel a little more relatable. And again, that reminded me of The Woman in White. The diary entries in that book were the most relatable as opposed to the other collections of documents.
Carolyn Daughters 18:34
We’re presented with first-person accounts, we’re presented with diary entries, we’re presented with all kinds of fact-based information. So you feel for some characters simply, I’m going to argue, because you’re supposed to. Rosalie, the twin sister, we don’t want her to die, Mrs. Anderton, we don’t want her to die. Mr. Anderton, from all evidence, loved his wife dearly. And he commits suicide when he is accused of killing his wife. We don’t want him to die. We can tell that he loves his wife. And yet, we’re held at arm’s length with all these characters.
Sarah Harrison 19:19
Yeah, that was interesting. I feel like if we were in their heads, this is an extremely tragic story. In The Woman in White, all these characters lived. And had a happy ending.
Carolyn Daughters 19:35
Most of those characters lived. Except for the poor woman in white.
Sarah Harrison 19:42
But most of the characters lived, whereas here everybody died in sad and preventable and frustrating ways. I think if we were in their heads, this would be a really different story, but having this collection of documentation keeps you at arm’s length, emotionally.
Carolyn Daughters 20:08
Emotionally, for sure. You almost feel like a forensic detective or somebody studying the pile of evidence.
Sarah Harrison 20:18
Yeah, I guess you’re in the place of this insurance investigator. And what a weird job that is. These tragic stories and lots of death.
Carolyn Daughters 20:32
So what happened is the baron had taken out two life insurance policies on his wife who dies by drinking acid.
Sarah Harrison 20:45
So a lot of this was hard for me to pick up on until the very end when I realized, “Oh, she died from acid?” I guess that was earlier in the beginning, but maybe that’s a side effect of the way the story was put together. And maybe because my book was entirely in italics. it was another barrier of getting into to the story for sure.
Carolyn Daughters 21:14
I think a lot of this would have felt new and eye-opening to a 19th century reading audience. They probalby had not seen books like this. Evidence presented in such detail. The diary entries, letters, witness depositions. The British Library says that these innovative techniques would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s. So how did you feel, Sarah, about having all of these materials to comb through? Did you feel like a detective?
Sarah Harrison 21:47
I didn’t feel like a detective when reading The Notting Hill Mystery. There’s the thing about current chronological order. At the beginning, there is a certain amount of clunkiness in people trying out these new ways to do things. If you were to write a book like this now, I think it would have really been smooth. But I felt like a lot of stuff seemed really obvious. And I had to like watch people be doofuses about it. For example, 100% of people noted that Rosalie was afraid of her husband. 100% of people noted that. And yet they all disliked her and like the husband. And I was like, really? Nothing speaks to you there? Huh.
Carolyn Daughters 22:46
To be fair, there were a couple of characters who did not like the baron.
Sarah Harrison 22:49
After they got to know him, yeah. Mrs. Anderton went from liking the baron to not liking him and preferring Rosalie.
Carolyn Daughters 22:57
And then there’s the witness. The guy who lived in the same boarding house. He’s the one who presents information to the investigator and to the police about the baron. Something caught his eye along the way, and he was like, this guy is not right.
Sarah Harrison 23:20
Although he didn’t dislike him as much as I thought he would based on how they characterized Aldridge. He was like, well he was really good to his wife — never seen anybody like his wife more. She seemed afraid of him, but I’ve never seen a nicer husband. I mean, are we naive?
Carolyn Daughters 23:42
Fear aside, it was all good.
Sarah Harrison 23:45
It was weird for me. So I feel like if this was written today, it would have been very well done. But as it was, a lot of stuff seemed really obvious. And interesting, but maybe not mysterious.
Carolyn Daughters 24:04
Yes. So if it were done today, I think we would have been more surprised at the end as to how the baron pulled off what he pulls off.
Sarah Harrison 24:16
Yeah, that was an interesting aspect too.
Carolyn Daughters 24:19
Yeah. The mesmerism. He’s a hypnotist, essentially. And apparently the most skilled guy in the world.
Sarah Harrison 24:28
I would like to know more about if hypnotism emerged as an art or pseudo science at the time.
Carolyn Daughters 24:40
Yes. I think we would have been eased into that idea. And we would have figured it out along the way, or suspected, or there would have been some red herrings where we would not have known that he was the one doing it. Or in a more contemporary story, he might not have been the one who was doing it. Like Rosalie would have been that evil doer the whole time or something like that. In a contemporary story, things might have been shifted, and we might have been more emotionally connected to the characters. So my tribute to this book is that, thankfully, it was written so that other books could then beg, borrow, and steal from its structure and continue to evolve the form.
Sarah Harrison 25:35
Carolyn Daughters 25:38
So this case is an interesting one. It’s based in large part on a series of potential coincidences, what in the book is called, something that “could look like a mere chaos of coincidences. And it leads to a conclusion so at variance with all the most firmly established laws of nature that it seems almost impossible to accept.” Sarah, can you talk about like how this book how this case is wrapped up? As I read The Notting Hill Mystery, I kept wondering what the investigator is putting in his report.
Sarah Harrison 26:19
It seems like the baron was going along with his day-to-day life hypnotizing people for health. Now, a man frequently hypnotizing a lady seems inappropriate, so he has this intermediary. He somehow hypnotizes her, and it passes on to Mrs. Anderton. So then if he finds out that she’s this long-lost, kidnapped sister. And how he finds that out with such ease, when it’s a mystery to the rest of England, is beyond me.
Carolyn Daughters 27:11
Including to her.
Sarah Harrison 27:12
Yeah. That’s one of the things I wanted to bring up, too. We can get to that. Anyway, he puts two and two together and concocts this plan to murder everyone and get their money. It seemed really obvious. But the writer puts that toward you at the end, and the evidence does rest on this question: “is hypnotism real?” Oddly what it doesn’t rest on is, can one twin make another twin super sick? Like everyone buys that. So the deal is, whatever happens to Rosalie, Mrs. Anderton feels even more strongly. They call it this sympathy between the twins. I mean, twins are mysterious. Do you know any?
Carolyn Daughters 28:07
Well, yes. My boyfriend Michael has two sets of twins.
Sarah Harrison 28:11
Oh, yeah. Do they have any mysteriousness about them?
Carolyn Daughters 28:15
I don’t know. I’ll have to ask them.
Sarah Harrison 28:17
Are you a twin, listener? Any mysterious stories? I mean, you always see twins have this next level of connection, but for everyone to be like, yeah, the second one gets even more sick than the first one whenever the first one gets sick. That seems really easy for everyone to agree to in the book, but nobody would would believe in hypnotism even when they were being hypnotized.
Carolyn Daughters 28:44
So this is essentially what the baron is doing — Rosalie is the long-lost twin sister of Mrs. Anderton, and the baron is manipulating Rosalie every two weeks to become violently ill. And when Rosalie is violently ill, that illness transfers to Mrs. Anderton, who is in a different home sometimes a different town. Sometimes in The Notting Hill Mystery, sometimes not. But she’s getting sick every two weeks because he’s manipulating his wife, Rosalie, to become very sick. His goal is to get Rosalie just sick enough that Mrs. Anderton gets just sick enough that eventually Mrs. Anderton will die. But Rosalie will not because he needs a progression of death. He needs Mrs. Anderton to die first, then he needs Mrs. Anderton’s husband to die next. Then he needs his own wife, the long-lost twin sister, to die third. It’s this progression that will enable him to inherit the money. On the chance that the order is off and the wrong person dies in the wrong order, he has taken out two life insurance policies on his wife. If she dies prematurely, he’ll still get a small fortune or maybe a a large fortune. Actually, I think it is a large fortune.
Sarah Harrison 30:10
This was weird, too. Maybe this is what feels dated or unbelievable. But Rosalie doesn’t even seem to know she’s the kidnapped sister. Mrs. Anderton doesn’t know she’s the kidnapped sister. Rosalie doesn’t have a birth certificate. She doesn’t go by the right name. She goes by the name the gypsies gave her when they kidnapped her. He somehow puts two and two together. How on earth would he collect on that policy and be like, yes, that’s definitely her, this woman with no name that nobody knows about. That’s her. Give me the 25,000 pounds.
Carolyn Daughters 30:48
I think he had some paperwork somewhere confirming birth.
Sarah Harrison 30:53
He read the will. Again, the italics could be the reason I don’t recall.
Carolyn Daughters 31:03
Readers, if you’re looking to keep key information from people in writing, just use italics. Pages of it.
Sarah Harrison 31:12
It’s really painful.
Carolyn Daughters 31:13
And people will be like, I’m sure this is nothing, no big deal. And they’ll just go flip, flip, flip. And go at the end.
Sarah Harrison 31:20
The gypsies wouldn’t have had a birth certificate. You could never make that connection. There’s no documentation. I mean, yes, it makes sense. It adds up. But I don’t think you could prove that to an insurance investigator.
Carolyn Daughters 31:37
No. That gets to a question that I have about this book that confused me. Some details seem immaterial to the story or to the case being built. Why was Rosalie kidnapped in the first place?
Sarah Harrison 31:56
Cause gypsies are like that.
Carolyn Daughters 31:58
But they why did they take her? They took her but left her sister. How did the baron ever meet Rosalie? Was it truly by chance? He went to the circus one day and said, by jove, I need to purchase this woman.
Sarah Harrison 32:16
That’s another thing I want to talk about.
Carolyn Daughters 32:18
Sarah Harrison 32:19
She was a tightrope walker. At the end, we learn she looked in his eyes and it screwed up her act. His eyes are a big deal in this book. People don’t know what color they are. They can’t bear to look at them. They’re extremely magnetic. She looked in his eyes and she fell off the tightrope or something.
Carolyn Daughters 32:39
Yeah. So he knew that he had this …
Sarah Harrison 32:42
… connection between them …
Yes, a mesmeric connection.
Yeah, and it is really clear that mesmerism doesn’t work on everyone. It didn’t work on Mr. Anderton at all. But it worked on his wife really strongly.
Carolyn Daughters 32:57
Rosalie is sold twice in this book, once for five pounds to a guy who runs a circus. The second time for 50 pounds to the baron. Slavery was made illegal in England and 1807. What’s up with this?
Sarah Harrison 33:20
I was thinking the same thing. And it connected in my mind to The Moonstone. I know we haven’t discussed it yet. Just a little foreshadowing for you, readers. Where it’s like, oh, I stole something. That means it’s mine. Like, wouldn’t anyone say like, this girl was sold at about the same time another one went missing. But nobody says a thing. Like, yeah, I bought her. And then I sold her.
Carolyn Daughters 33:55
Apparently buying and selling people is a thing.
Sarah Harrison 34:01
Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I don’t know how it works. When slavery is legal and then it’s made made illegal. How does that phase out? And what was it like when it was legal?
Carolyn Daughters 34:13
Yeah, I had all these open-ended questions. Some of these details were not in the story. Because ostensibly the investigator is putting together this case, and stuff that doesn’t need to be in the case isn’t in it. Whereas in a more contemporary novel, we might flesh out the characters in a way where we answer them. And when they don’t answer these kinds of questions in movies or TV shows or books, we get annoyed as readers and watchers.
Sarah Harrison 34:45
I was reading The Notting Hill Mystery, and the whole time, I was like, wait, you’re not looking very hard. A whole girl went missing. Actually, I felt really bad for these two sisters from the very beginning. It’s like they’re writing letters to their great aunt or something, and she never actually shows up to look at them at all. Her health isn’t the best, and she’s really busy. And so they’re orphaned, and just go give them to somebody else.
Carolyn Daughters 35:16
Similiar to the uncle in The Woman in White
Sarah Harrison 35:20
Kind of an uninterested guardian. These poor girls are just given to this poor person of good character to be their guardian. And one gets stolen. They’re like, well, you know, I’m sure it’s not her fault. Nobody’s looking very hard. And they’re like, we searched and searched and then went home. So let’s never mention her again.
Carolyn Daughters 35:46
That’s a great point. She is not mentioned again. There’s a lot of secrecy in this book, which is essential to the plot. Mrs. Anderton never talks about her missing sister. No one else mentions it. “Oh, we don’t want to upset her. We don’t want to mention her.” Every two weeks, Mrs. Anderton experiences this leaden taste in her mouth, and she doesn’t tell anyone.
Sarah Harrison 36:16
Yeah. The leaden taste the first time cued them onto the antimony poisoning. Which cued them onto suspecting her husband. So she didn’t mention it again so he wouldn’t be bothered. I thought about that, too, and that was one of my themes I pulled out. Not only in The Notting Hill Mystery, but in several of the Victorian books we’ve read, including The Moonstone and The Woman and White, is when things are unpleasant, we do not talk about them. The reason Rosalie wasn’t mentioned is because it might upset Mrs. Anderton. So they just don’t bring it up. It could bring up some unpleasantness for her.
We’ll get to this more next time, but one of the characters in The Moonstone is terminally ill. And the prescription is “don’t think any serious thoughts. Only read frivolous novels. Distract yourself.” That’s the prescription from that doctor? But you see this over and over again. I don’t know. How much do you feel like this carries over into modern life? Or does it? I mean, the way one might not bring up unpleasantness.
Carolyn Daughters 37:37
Yeah. Have you ever tried to shield others from information that you think is too hard for them to hear? Or to bear? Or have people ever tried that with you?
Sarah Harrison 37:47
I’m really bad at this. I’m notoriously bad at it. I’m what’s called a bluter. I blurt things, and people say “why did you say that?” I didn’t know this was unpleasant for you. Sorry.
Carolyn Daughters 38:03
Do you really not know it’s unpleasant? Or do you just blurt it?
Sarah Harrison 38:09
Those things are almost synonymous.
Carolyn Daughters 38:12
Afterwards, did you think like, ooh, that would be uncomfortable for them.
Sarah Harrison 38:16
Occasionally. I’m like, Sarah, what? But a lot of times, I don’t know. I really don’t. Many, many times, I think I’m saying what’s obvious to everyone in the room. And then I find out that what I said was not appropriate. But I have noticed from being a blurter that many people will say, “Sarah, that’s rude! That’s not nice.” And sometimes I see it, and sometimes I need them to explain it for me. But I do know it’s a thing to not say certain things. And it doesn’t matter if it’s malicious or not. You just don’t speak about it.
Carolyn Daughters 39:12
Yes. Well, there’s a show called Vera on BBC. The entire mystery series of Vera — and if you’ve not seen it, you will you will love it. If you’re listening to this podcast, you will love Vera — the entire premise of it is people not telling other people key things. In every single episode, you could have a drinking game. Like, aha, they hid that info! Oh, they didn’t share that. It’s crazy. Every single person lies to the police. They lie to their partners. They all lie.
Sarah Harrison 39:54
Is it believable?
Carolyn Daughters 39:58
It’s extremely well done. But after a while, you’re like, Okay, wouldn’t it be really cool and interesting if someone actually told the truth? But everybody’s shielding. They hold back information they think wasn’t important to share. “Well, I didn’t want my wife to find that out.” “Well, I didn’t think that you needed that information because I thought it would distract you from finding the real killer.” Everybody’s got this motive for wanting to control a situation through the information they do or do not share. And I think this is integral to the mystery form. Because if we’re told every single thing by every character, then we basically know everything, and there’s no real mystery there.
Sarah Harrison 40:45
And to bring up not saying stuff, that really got to me with Rosalie. She said so little that people didn’t even think she spoke English. She speaks perfect English. She’s English. It doesn’t sound like she’s hardly left England. She’s terrified of her husband, but she never says to anyone, “I’m a slave. Help me.”
Carolyn Daughters 41:15
Maybe he has her mesmerized.
Sarah Harrison 41:19
She even marries him. That’s never explained at all.
Carolyn Daughters 41:23
She’s so under his control, I guess, he said, “I’m going to mesmerize you into marrying me.” But he could not mesmerize her into showing less disdain for him.
Sarah Harrison 41:34
Yes! He couldn’t mesmerize her into loving him.
Carolyn Daughters 41:38
If you’re gonna do it, go whole hog.
Sarah Harrison 41:40
She looks terrified to every stranger she meets.
Carolyn Daughters 41:46
There’s this housemaid in the story named Sarah. (Sorry, Sarah.) And, she confesses to poisoning Rosalie to avoid being blamed for tasting marmalade.
Sarah Harrison 41:58
She stuck her finger in some marmalade, folks. Which this was funny because the baron was trying to get her to steal stuff forever. He was leaving stuff out. He was leaving it open. And she was not doing it. She was turning her life around. She wasn’t gonna steal anything. In fact, she’s like, it just seemed like things were being planted. It was so odd, but I never stole. And then they left this marmalade open and he jumped in right if she stuck her finger in it and threatened her.
Carolyn Daughters 42:34
Yeah. And she was so grateful he gave her another chance. All she had to do was admit to poisoning his wife, and she could get a decent recommendation for her next job.
Sarah Harrison 42:47
Well, that was a tricky thing. This took me a minute to get because of the drugs being used. We don’t use them, or we don’t use them in that way. But this particular thing seemed to be called a “medic.” I was thinking some kind of aperitif. Like something that some people take for digestion that might be in their medicine cabinet.
Carolyn Daughters 43:13
A medic, I think, is going to clear out your system.
Sarah Harrison 43:16
And when they were playing it as a trick, I figured, Oh, she was trying to give her diarrhea as a trick. That’s the ploy. But she had an allergic reaction, which nobody could have anticipated. But it was a little ridiculous. He says, “Well, I’ll let you go on the marmalade if you admit to administering drugs to my wife.”
Carolyn Daughters 43:41
I had a hard time with that one. When I was reading The Notting Hill Mystery, that one stopped me in my tracks. And she was completely behind the baron. So it seemed like there are a few people who called the baron into question.
Sarah Harrison 43:52
Carolyn Daughters 43:53
A lot of the women, especially working-class women, were all about the baron. “Oh, what a loving husband. What an amazing man! Oh, so kind. His wife, well, she always seemed scared of him. I didn’t really like her.”
Sarah Harrison 44:07
I really waffled about that. I wanted to see what you thought. We read Dickens, where you see a lot of working-class women get beat up by their husbands. Maybe that was a prevalent form of interaction. In The Notting Hill Mystery, the baron was definitely was flattering all of them. You could see the the flattery: “I never touched that and let nurses do their job,” and the nurses are like “That’s right let me do my job.” But he’s employing flattery. He’s like treating them with gentlemanly manners. Maybe they have poor home lives and they look at this behavior with envy. They wonder what’s going on with this dumb lady? Yeah, she know that prize she’s got. He bought her, after all. The other part of me just found it unbelievable. Come on, you’re a lady. You know what it’s like to be afraid of your husband. Do you think you’re seeing the whole story here? Yeah. Might you think something else is going on?
Carolyn Daughters 45:17
We have a male author. And a male investigator. There’s not really a protagonist. If there is maybe it’s the baron. But we have a guy leading the charge on this investigation, Ralph Henderson. Several of these women seemed confused. But I wondered if this was more of the hand of the author. I think that’s part of it, too, in this particular book: what suits the book? I have to leave some of these mysteries unanswered, because we’re going to go down rabbit holes, and the author may not have cared about these particular directions. He needed these women to be behind the baron because he needed people to understand how mesmerizing he was as a presence, even when he wasn’t hypnotizing people.
I don’t know. To me, it was very odd. I had a lot of a lot of open questions in The Notting Hill Mystery. One thing I appreciated in this book that I didn’t get in Wilkie Collins The Woman in White or in The Moonstone — these characters often didn’t remember every single word. They didn’t remember every single thing. What was I doing? Where was I on that day? That perfect recall in Wilkie Collins books. The characters are like, “For four hours, we discussed this, and I’m going to tell you every word that came out of everybody’s mouth in the exact order. And I’m going to tell you everything about the scene and what people did.” To me, that’s hard to believe. I see that also, though, on Law and Order, where the detectives come, and they’re ask, “here were you two months ago Thursday?” And they’re like, “On that day at two o’clock, I left work, and I picked up my daughter …” I’m like, I don’t know what I did yesterday at two o’clock.
Sarah Harrison 47:18
I’m always wondering, “Did that happen this week or last? I think this week?”
Carolyn Daughters 47:26
For me, it’s like, “Oh, my God, that happened today. Like that was this morning.”
Sarah Harrison 47:31
Then I got really nervous. I was like, did I pay my nanny the wrong amount? Maybe it was last week? I actually need to go back and check now.
Carolyn Daughters 47:39
Whereas like in Wilkie Collins books, there’s perfect recall.
Sarah Harrison 47:45
Well, there were a couple of characters in The Woman in White towards the end when he was trying to establish the dates. They didn’t know, and that created this tension in the novel because he really needed to establish these dates.
Carolyn Daughters 48:23
Maybe I would have to be in the room with the baron to see how mesmerizing he was as a presence. But from this distanced reporting and account, I was like, how does he have this power over people? Let me just say what you and I were hinting at before, Sarah. This case, from beginning to end, is predicated on our ability to believe that there is a twin connection so deep that the illness of one can cause the illness of another. And that a baron can use hypnosis to basically kill somebody. To have, for example, his wife, drink acid. Do you think readers in the 19th century would have read this and said, “Wow, yep, I’m on board”? And what about readers today?
Sarah Harrison 49:26
I almost wonder if at the time it was more like sci fi. I’ve never been hypnotized. But it’s still a thing where certain people are more susceptible to it, and maybe it helps with smoking or this or that. It has found its niche. Whereas at the time, it sounds like it was new, it was emerging, people found it really mysterious. The same with twins. We know there’s some interesting connections there, but also they’ve found their niche, whereas at the time maybe people found these things might be possible. We haven’t probed the limits of these sorts of relationships and powers. I noticed also that they talked about mesmeric fluid. When I was in physics class, talking about how particles and waves travel, it was thought for a very, very long time that you need a medium for things to travel through. And so it was thought that the universe was not a vacuum. It was filled with ether. And that’s how things travel, they traveled through the ether. Maybe that’s the thought process here — that there must be something traveling on waves through a medium, the ether. It’s the mesmeric fluid, and you just can’t see it. They spent years trying to prove that there was ether.
Carolyn Daughters 50:59
Sarah Harrison 50:59
Oh, yeah. before finally they said, “I guess there isn’t.” We really can’t detect the thing. But they just thought they had to have it.
Carolyn Daughters 51:09
So with The Notting Hill Mystery, it helps to suspend disbelief in certain places in order to follow the story. You start the book saying, “Okay, I know this guy did it.” It’s not a whodunit. It’s howdunit. We know it’s the baron from the first pages. If we start the book and say hypnosis is not real, and this whole sense of twin connection is not real, I think you’d have a hard time following the book with any engagement.
Sarah Harrison 51:49
Carolyn Daughters 51:53
I think that willing suspension of disbelief would help. These were two topics that at the time when this book was published, 1865, these would have been very interesting topics of the day. The author is capturing like, the sorts of conversations people are having and putting them in this book. It’s a potentially difficult sell. I wanted to see the hypnosis. I wanted to see what happens when he hypnotizes his wife, who then in turn is the medium who hypnotizes Mrs. Anderton. I wanted to see all of this.
Sarah Harrison 52:38
Yeah. It’s making me think of other sci fi books that I’ve read. The Ender series is an example where it really depends a lot on traveling at the speed of light and on quantum theory. At some future date, you might be like, we know so much more about that. Now, that just looks like silly and ridiculous. I can’t suspend disbelief. I wonder if at the time readers wondered, “maybe that’s possible?”
Carolyn Daughters 53:15
Ralph Henderson does not believe in all of this mesmerism and twin connections necessarily. He calls it into question over and over and over again. And I think that helps build a stronger case, because he’s not sold on it to start. He’s not trying to prove that these things exist. He’s “just the facts, ma’am.” He’s just trying to capture information. When his case basically points to mesmerism as a key to three murders, I think the reader might be more inclined to believe it. Also a couple of the witnesses, Dr. Marsden and Mrs. Ellis, who’s a sick nurse who is mesmerized by the baron, don’t believe in mesmerism. In fact, they scoff at it. And yet the story they tell strongly suggests mesmerism.
Sarah Harrison 54:12
I wanted to bring up the nurse, too. In The Moonstone, certain characters feel themselves above reason for different reasons. In The Notting Hilly Mystery, the sick nurse says, “I never fall asleep in 20 years of nursing, and I don’t believe in hypnotism.” And then he made her fall asleep like five times, times at will. And then she kept falling asleep every single time Rosalie got sick. And she’s like, “It didn’t happen. I don’t know what happened, but it’s not hypnotism.” Is that believable? Do we do that?
Carolyn Daughters 55:14
What if something’s so outside your belief system that you just refuse to believe it. So you’re going to look for some other culprit. Maybe I’m not sleeping very well at night. Maybe I’m sick. Maybe …
Sarah Harrison 55:27
She’s drinking caffeine to stay awake …
Carolyn Daughters 55:33
If something is just completely outside the realm. You see these movies where the space alien arrives, and the person confronts the space alien, and there’s a degree of shock. Either they pass out from shock, or they’re like, “oh, my gosh, you’re a space alien!” For me, I’m pretty sure I’d pass out. The space alien would fan me, I would wake up, and I’d pass out again. This would just keep going on and on. Because it’s so outside my realm.
Sarah Harrison 56:05
What’s so outside your realm that you just wouldn’t believe it? If you saw it an alien?
Carolyn Daughters 56:13
No, I would not say, “oh, hey, cool. Alien, what’s your name?”
Sarah Harrison 56:19
You wouldn’t be cool with it. But would you try pull off his alien costume?
Carolyn Daughters 56:24
Oh, no. I would be passed out. You can’t pull off somebody’s alien costume if you’re passed out.
Sarah Harrison 56:28
You’d believe it was an alien?
Carolyn Daughters 56:31
I would believe something outside of my belief system or my understanding of the world is happening. And my little heart couldn’t take it.
Sarah Harrison 56:41
You would fail to process it. What are the things that seeing is not believing?
Carolyn Daughters 56:55
That’s one example. There was some movie in the 1980s were a nuclear holocaust occurred. [The Day After, 1983] It was on regular TV, ABC or CBS or something. I was young and watching this show. That night, I woke up in the middle of the night, probably having nightmares about watching the show, and I looked out the window, and the streetlights were out. Basically, the electricity was out in my neighborhood. It was a hot summer night and something happened. But for some period of time, child me stared out the window thinking, “okay, it happened. It’s done. We’re done.” I didn’t run to my parents’ room. I didn’t try to find evidence to the contrary. I just stared out the window like, Oh, my God. The world is over.
Sarah Harrison 57:49
So you believed it? You did believe it?
Carolyn Daughters 57:52
I think I did, yeah.
Sarah Harrison 57:55
This may be a terrible example. But one of the things that popped into my head is sometimes when people abuse children. I know that’s one thing people struggle with believing about family members and loved ones. No, you’re, you’re lying. That did not happen.
Carolyn Daughters 58:13
Either in the moment, like a child could report something. Or an adult person says, “20 years ago, my second cousin or my uncle or our neighbor did this thing.” And people are like, wait a minute now. Because they don’t have context for believing it. They they think they know a person, and that person could not have done that thing.
Sarah Harrison 58:41
Yeah, with this book, I wondered if everyone really had that much faith in their evaluation of the baron’s character that they will just ignore that his wife is afraid of him? Maybe we do have that amount of faith in how we evaluate other people.
Carolyn Daughters 58:59
There’s this really charming guy and this really cold, practically silent woman. Keep in mind, some characters don’t even know she speaks English. We make a first impression of people. We’re like, “That’s who he is. That’s who she is.” And it fits into some sort of structure in our brains of how relationships work. And we think we got it. And then we move on. And so other information contradicts that initial assessment, but that initial assessment is so branded on our brains, I think.
Sarah Harrison 59:38
Yeah. I’m working through some of this as I read the book, and I think “not believable.” But then if you just think that we do these things as a human trait. I think it does make it a little bit more believable.
Carolyn Daughters 59:54
The Notting Hill Mystery ends with this 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?” I thought that was really interesting because this insurance investigator put a crazy amount of effort into building this case. And what does he have at the end? He has basically, for all intents and purposes, proven mesmerism. He has basically proved that baron killed three people. But who’s going to believe that the baron used mesmerism to kill people? So what is this case that was built?
Sarah Harrison 1:00:49
Well, that’s interesting. I liked the cop character. That was one of my favorite characters. Edward Reading. He ignores that whole aspect, and he’s like, “Well, that was interesting. I’ve seen plants before, and that sure sounded like a plant. So I investigated further, and the baron is left handed so [the note] wouldn’t have even fallen on that side of the bed. It would have fallen on the other side of the bed.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:22
There’s this note that is mysteriously found when the baron goes back into the room.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:27
The label of the poison.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:29
And even though the room had been cleaned, and people were pretty sure nothing was on the floor, the baron goes in and finds it. But the police sergeant sergeant is not buying it.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:40
He casts suspicion on the baron pretty clearly. He’s like, “Oh, your glove was right by the note? Whereas everyone else in the book seems to have no concept of human character or behavior, he seems to have a really good one. He reminded me a little bit of Inspector Bucket [from Bleak House].
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:01
And in The Moonstone we’re going to see Inspector Cuff. I think these three guys, Sergeant Reading from The Notting Hill Mystery, Inspector Bucket from Bleak House, and Inspector Cuff from The Moonstone — they’re all of one school.
Sarah Harrison 1:02:19
Yeah. They get human character and human nature. The baron does these obvious ploys. He plants suspicion in a really obvious way. But the inspector doesn’t buy any of it. He sees right through it. The burden of proof is really interesting here. Because you might say, well, that’s highly suspicious. He says he’s going in to Mr. Anderton’s room to let him know that he’ll probably get off the hook, and please, no one disturb him all night. Meanwhile, Anderton leaves a note, basically without hope. So somebody told him that he was going to be convicted, and he decided to commit suicide and happened to get his hands on poisons that the baron left there. Accidentally. We know it’s an accident because he sent someone looking for it. It’s pretty flimsy without the mesmerism.
Carolyn Daughters 1:03:26
Agreed. And it takes someone like the insurance inspector or Sergeant Reading to really see what’s happening, to cut through all of the machinations. The baron is a master manipulator. He can make a lot of people do whatever he wants them to do.
Sarah Harrison 1:03:48
Yes. I don’t know if that’s enough proof to convict him of murder, but it’s certainly more proof than that Rosalie is Mrs. Anderton’s sister and should receive the 25,000 pounds. There’s zero proof of that. I guess I don’t know how proof worked in Victorian times.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:11
I was wondering that too. I also thought that with The Woman in White, where we have these two half-sisters. Laura and Anne Cathrick. How do you prove it? They aren’t running DNA tests prove they’re sisters? Do they have any papers of their birth? Maybe they do, and we find them, and we can see they were born on the same day in the same town. I don’t know. I think it’s really interesting. I would think there’s tons of open-ended questions. We even discussed this a little bit when we were reading the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Purloined Letter” — also a podcast episode for everybody listening.
Sarah Harrison 1:05:08
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:09
And at one point, the police inspector writes a check to Dupin, the amateur detective, and I wondered how that check stood up in a in a bank? I thought a lot of it felt open ended. I don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 1:05:35
Yeah, I remember when, like Hartright married Laura [in The Woman in White], and I was like, who did he marry? Did he use her name? Did everyone know she escaped the asylum? She’s supposed to be dead. You married a dead person. Do they not check these things?
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:53
And so, readers, that is The Woman in White, which we focused on last month. And we have two podcast episodes on The Woman in White. And it’s such an interesting book. Sarah, tell us what we’re reading next.
Sarah Harrison 1:06:13
Next we’re gonna be reading The Moonstone unless Carolyn comes at me with some of their chronologically appropriate book.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06:22
It’s our second Wilkie Collins novel.
Sarah Harrison 1:06:26
It’s really good so far, I have to say. Iff you listened to The Woman in White podcast episodes, you heard me struggle a little bit with how the entire plot hinges on women being incompetent at stuff. But so far I haven’t had the same struggle with The Moonstone. And I’ve really been enjoying it.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06:45
I enjoyed The Moonstone. It’s a very different book than The Woman in White. There is a jewel stolen in India by a British officer. And there’s a curse on this stone. And we see what happens as the stone transfers hand to hand and we try to locate the stone. Where is this thing, and who stole it? So we try to track it and trace it. And it’s a pretty interesting story. My take on The Woman in White was a little different than than Sarah’s, though I see where she’s coming from. I just I loved Marian Halcombe so much. I had never seen that character before in Victorian literature. So I thought it was really interesting.
Sarah Harrison 1:07:36
Yeah, and I think that’s totally appropriate. That’s why we’re doing these podcasts. You’re looking at the development of the form. It’s very cool. I just want to reiterate our thanks to our listener of the month, Thea.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07:51
Thank you for being our our listener of the month, Thea.
Sarah Harrison 1:07:55
Thank you, listener, for listening.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07:59
Yes. From all over the globe.
Sarah Harrison 1:08:04
Thank you, worldwide audience.
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:07
Worldwide, throughout various places in the U.S and Switzerland. Next, Canada and Mexico. Wherever you are, be sure to subscribe to our podcast!
Sarah Harrison 1:08:17
Canada, we’re coming for you.
Lord Peter Wimsey: Whose Body?
May 20, 2023
Introducing the irrepressible Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur detective extraordinaire. In this 1923 novel, Dorothy Sayers features a gentleman sleuth who will appear in many books to come. Sarah and Carolyn enjoyed this book immensely. (To be fair, Carolyn wasn't a fan, but Wimsey won her over by the end.) Tell us what YOU think!Listen →
The Mysterious Affair at Styles - Poirot and Hastings
April 13, 2023
Special guest Jill Carstens returns to continue discussing Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, where we meet Hercule Poirot for the first time. He’s a methodical marvel who’s nonplussed by the affairs, awkward proposals, loveless marriages, and privileged egotism of the various suspects. Poirot is delightful, much like Sarah, Carolyn, and Jill.Listen →
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
April 9, 2023
Sarah, Carolyn, and special guest Jill Carstens would like to spend some time at Styles Court. Strolls around the grounds, hours spent reading each day, afternoon tea, evening libations … An outlier among a cast of selfish characters, Hercule Poirot is sympathetic, smart, and, of course, THE foremost master of detection.Listen →