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The same thing that intrigued me about this book was the first thing that educated me about its time period -- the title. I knew the story was a mystery but, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what "Lower Ten" would be.  I soon discovered that "lower ten" refers to a particular berth on a railroad Pullman car.

The narrator and protagonist of The Man in Lower Ten, an attorney by the name of Lawrence Blakeley, had a ticket for that berth on a return trip to Pittsburg from Washington, D.C.  Fortunately for him, he ended up in the wrong berth and the man actually asleep in lower ten was murdered.  ow Blakeley ended up in that situation and solving that murder is the focus of this 1909 novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Like me, you may also wonder about the spelling of Pittsburgh.  That's something else I learned as a result of this book.  From 1891 to 1911, what we know as Pittsburgh was officially known as "Pittsburg." 

The Man in Lower Ten was one of the first successes for Rinehart, who was both a prolific and a successful author.  According to the New York Times article on her death in 1958, she averaged a book a year for 40 years and the year her last book was published, it was estimated her books had sold more than 10 million copies in regular editions and translations.

Her first two books, originally sold as magazine serials, were still in print more than 40 years after they were published.  The Man in Lower Ten was one of those two.  It was her first bestseller, finishing fourth on Publisher's Weekly's list of bestselling hardcover books that year.  (As an aside, in 1929 two of her sons would be among the founders of the publishing company Farrar & Rinehart and she would leave her publisher, Doubleday, for that firm.)

Today, The Man in Lower Ten would be considered a relatively standard, run-of-the-mill mystery.  It not only has the requisite love interest, it has two friends falling for the same woman.  There are several suspects and what seems to be, but actually isn't, a highly tangled mystery.  Blakeley frequently gives us hints of what's to come in his story.  There's even a horrendous train wreck and a haunted house-type feeling during the course of the investigation.  With all this, it's easy to see why it would appeal to a broad range of readers.

In just a few places, the book also reflects racial attitudes of the times.  There are lines such as "somebody has said that Pullman porters are black so they won't show the dirt" and "He reached for the darky's pulse".  That, however, should not serve to condemn the book as much as reflect exactly what it does -- that every time period reflects its cultural milieu and to ignore or overlook indications of prevailing thought is a step toward not understanding the particular era.


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