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The Horizontal Man

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Member Reviews

Vintage Crime.
Whodunnit set in a campus of a New England university with a plethora of suspects and a smattering of clues and red herrings. Chapters are non existent here and sections collide, it’s an interesting format. Detection itself is also minimal and the tale itself turns psychological suspense quite quickly. Vintage crime of the interesting and unusual variety.

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Eustis’ Horizontal Man was her award-winning debut novel, originally published in 1946. Famed as one of the earliest psychological studies in murder mystery format, it’s at its best when it goes inside the mind of young Molly, a lovestruck Freshman at a small women’s college where the girls all swooned over a poetry professor, a heart-breaking wolf whose demise comes very quickly in the novel with a fireplace poker. Molly over dramatizes everything and is whisked off to the infirmary where in short order she confesses to a reporter who snuck in to interview her. Unfortunately, much of the book is clunky and dull and it’s a chore to slog through.

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An excellent murder mystery excited to read more in this series of reprinted books vintage thrillers that still come alive.Really enjoyed his thriller.#netgalley#livraryofAmerica

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I was unfamiliar with the work of Helen Eustis, but the opportunity to review a digital advance copy of this reprinted 1946 Edgar-winning novel from a contemporary of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, etc., sounded too promising to pass up. On top of that, there’s the academic setting—so irresistible for mystery lovers. Many golden age mysteries have the delightful retro charm of old-school manners and repartee, so it’s easy to ignore how old-fashioned some of the customs are and just enjoy the mystery for what it is. In this novel, all the right elements are present, but I had a hard time getting past how dated it all seemed. The multiple viewpoints and undercurrent of psychological disturbance are actually quite modern, but the characters take so long get to the point and stop going on and on about trivial matters that I found it too easy to be distracted from the mystery.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy.

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Some books just don’t need to be rereleased, and this was unfortunately one of those books.

Eustis writes well and knows her way around a clever phrase, but the plot (perhaps novel upon its original publication) now feels stale and overused.

Because this is allegedly a satire (could’ve fooled me), I was expecting more or at least better humor, and perhaps an indication of self awareness on the part of the text that simply wasn’t there.

Additionally, the digital formatting of this book was an absolute nightmare to deal with. It forces you to scroll down as though reading a long web article rather than page through, which is unwieldy and frustrating. Move the hand that’s holding your device at all and the screen bounces to a new page, causing you to lose your place. I dearly wish publishers would cease releasing digital books in this format.

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An excellent mystery by a new to me author. I appreciated the storytelling, the solid mystery and the fleshed out characters.
I will keep an eye on other books by this collection because this one was excellent.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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A really interesting campus satire / murder mystery / Freudian examination of the American psyche. The multiple points of view in the novel showcase the deep inner worlds of all the characters, and the academic satire was funny. And it was great to see how my perception of each character shifted as I got to live inside of their head - Eustis writes great characters with varied voices, motivations, and styles. But (not surprisingly for a book that's nearly 75 years old) the gender roles have really dated and the core psychological mechanisms are really outdated.

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"The Horizontal Man"-the title comes courtesy of WH Auden- was first published in 1946, and was the second recipient of the Mystery Writers of America award for best first novel by an American writer. This new volume comes with a Foreword by Charles Finch and some useful notes and biographical information.

It is easy to understand why it won the award. To the readers of the time, its experimental format-there are no chapters, just scenes which collide into each other-, its heavy use of psychoanalytic and psychological tropes, its apparent nods to the "liberated" woman and its "openness" on homosexuality, would have marked it out as notably different to the ordinary run of contemporary crime novels.

However, it has not stood the test of time and, in my view, could not ever find its way into any "Best of..." list. It is tedious. The perpetrator was obvious about 25% of the way through, and I waited in vain for the "twist" which would prove me wrong. The material could have stretched to a fairly taut short story, in the right hands, but here one just wished for the merciful release of the reveal.

There is no detection, just page upon page of undergraduate psychology. Nor could I detect the satire said to exist in the story. There are also attitudes and opinions which many will find objectionable and distasteful. It is, however, of great interest and significance in the history of mystery writing and for that reason should be on the aficionado's list as a must read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital review copy.

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"Helen Eustis began writing at eleven and has kept it up to the present day except for a brief period of schizophrenia when she tried to devote herself to housewifery rather more extensively than was compatible with her abilities in that field." (from the author bio to the original edition of this book, per the forward by Charles Finch.)

It was a wild ride reading this book, which is such a product of its time. I really appreciate that the Library of America is publishing more works by female noir authors from the 40s. We have Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy Chandler in the canon, and a few others, but surely there were more female authors who went unrecognized during this time. Eustis is one of them and I was happy to discover her.

This book was funny, but VERY much a book from the 1940s It's about a murder at a women's college, and let's just say a women's college and all its attendant stereotypes in the 40s is a little bit of a shock to the system to a feminist of today. At the same time the author displays wit and spunkiness and some hints of the feminism that was to come in later years. This is a psychological mystery exploring Freudian themes (I cringed at the mentions of "hysteria") with some fun ideas and witty dialogue. Other subplots and scenes probably would have been funner in the time it was published than they were today. (e.g. some scenes relating to the "big brute of a woman," Freda) The story got a little wordy and off on a few too many tangents but it was a fun plot and the writing was good. Some elements of it reminded me of Psycho, but it seems this book came first, which is very interesting. I'd give it a 3.5 for writing and round it up for the good ideas and the importance of reading other female writers of the time.

Thanks to Library of America and NetGalley for making an advance copy of this available to me to read!

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The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis
Original Publication Date: 1946
Publication Date: July 14, 2020

Description from NetGalley...
“A philandering professor on the faculty of an Ivy League school is found murdered, setting off ripple effects of anxiety, suspicion, and panic in this Edgar Award-winning classic from 1946.

The Horizontal Man was Helen Eustis's only crime novel, and she won an Edgar Award for it, combining a wildly disparate set of elements into an enduringly fascinating work. In its way it is a classical whodunit that stands comparison with old-school practitioners such as Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. This mystery transpires in the rarefied precincts of the English department of a venerable New England college, one very much of the restless postwar moment, echoing with references to Freud and Kafka. Eustis finds comedy high and low in a cavalcade of characters bursting at the seams with repressed sexual longings and simmering malice. Beyond the satire, she stirs up--with a narrative whose multiple viewpoints give the book a striking modernistic edge--a troubling sense of the mental chaos lurking just beneath the civilized surfaces of her academic setting.”

Thank you to @NetGalley @libraryofamerica for the digital ARC in return for my honest review.

My thoughts...
When you read this, remember that it was written in the 1940s because it reads like the extreme end of the psychopathic and with melodramatic characters. Now that you’re prepared, it’s a psychological crime novel, a crime of passion, where Eustis includes personal experiences (I read her bio beforehand, i.e. her real philandering husband who was a professor). This book has won awards because of how she explored schizophrenia, took it to the world of dark psychology and most likely, it’s a new approach to crime fiction during its’ time. It was an intriguing read, where it seemed ever character had mental or emotional issues that you welcome the more rational of characters. I did figure out the killer before the end, but it did not spoil the ending for me. This is one of those books Library of America is publishing that are works by women crime writers of the 40s and 50s.

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I'm glad the Library of America is publishing these works by women crime writers of the 40s and 50s. Lost classics that would probably never have read. This was another book in the series, with an guilty party that I did not see coming. Great buildup, with characters you care about.

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