The Man Who Fell Through the Earth

The Man Who Fell Through the Earth: A Classic Mystery Novel by Carolyn Wells

The Man Who Fell Through the Earth by Carolyn Wells

Introduction

Carolyn Wells was an American author and poet who wrote over 170 books in various genres, such as children’s literature, humor, and mystery. She was especially known for her detective fiction, featuring characters such as Fleming Stone, Pennington Wise, and Zizi. One of her most popular and intriguing mystery novels is The Man Who Fell Through the Earth, which was published in 1919. The novel is a classic example of the “locked room” mystery, where a crime or disappearance occurs in a seemingly impossible situation. The novel follows the investigation of the disappearance of a lawyer named Winthrop Latham, who vanishes from his office in a skyscraper without a trace. The novel is full of twists and turns, clues and red herrings, suspects and motives, and a surprising revelation at the end. In this article, we will summarize the plot of the novel, analyze its main characters and themes, and provide some interesting facts and trivia about it.

Carolyn WellsCarolyn Wells

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Winthrop Latham, a successful lawyer who works in the Larkin Building, a 30-story skyscraper in New York City. He is engaged to Anne Meredith, a beautiful and wealthy heiress who lives in an apartment across the street from the building. One day, he invites Anne to his office for lunch, but she declines, saying that she has a headache. He then decides to go to his office alone and tells his secretary, Miss Frayne, to order some food for him.

However, when Miss Frayne goes to his office after an hour, she finds it empty and locked from the inside. She calls for help and the building manager, Mr. Larkin, arrives with a locksmith. They break into the office and find no sign of Latham or any evidence of foul play. They also check the windows, which are locked and unbroken, and the fire escape, which is inaccessible from the office. They conclude that Latham must have left through the door while Miss Frayne was away, but they cannot explain how he locked it from the inside.

Meanwhile, Anne becomes worried when she does not hear from Latham and calls his office. She learns that he has disappeared and rushes to the building with her cousin and guardian, Robert Pembroke. They meet with Mr. Larkin and Miss Frayne, who tell them what happened. They also meet with Detective March, who has been assigned to the case by the police. March questions everyone in the building who might have seen or heard anything related to Latham’s disappearance. He learns that Latham had several enemies and rivals in his profession and personal life, such as:

  • Arthur Reeves: A lawyer who works in the same building as Latham and who had a bitter feud with him over a case.
  • John Carstairs: A client of Latham who was unhappy with his services and threatened to sue him.
  • Philip Crawford: A former friend of Latham who had a falling out with him over Anne’s affections.
  • Mrs. Dallas: A widow who claimed that Latham had seduced her and promised to marry her.
  • Mr. Dallas: The son of Mrs. Dallas who blamed Latham for his mother’s death.

March also learns that Latham had received several anonymous letters warning him to stay away from Anne or face dire consequences. He suspects that one of these people might have kidnapped or killed Latham and staged his disappearance as a mystery.

However, March’s investigation is complicated by the appearance of another detective named Pennington Wise, who claims to have been hired by Anne to find Latham. Wise is accompanied by his assistant Zizi, a young and vivacious woman who has a knack for observation and deduction. Wise challenges March’s theories and suggests that there might be another explanation for Latham’s disappearance. He also reveals that he has found some clues that March has overlooked or dismissed, such as:

  • A piece of paper with some numbers written on it that was found in Latham’s office.
  • A strange device that was attached to Latham’s telephone.
  • A mysterious man who was seen entering and leaving the building around the time of Latham’s disappearance.
  • A secret passage that connects Latham’s office with another room in the building.

Wise also discovers that Latham had been involved in some shady dealings with a gang of criminals led by a man named Big Bill Bunner. He learns that Latham had been blackmailing Bunner for some information that could expose his crimes. He also learns that Bunner had hired a hitman named Slim Jim to kill Latham.

Wise follows these leads and confronts Bunner and Slim Jim in their hideout. He manages to capture them and bring them to the police. He also finds out that Latham is still alive and that he had faked his disappearance with the help of Bunner and Slim Jim. He explains that Latham had planned to elope with Anne and escape from his enemies and creditors. He had used the device on his phone to record a message that would make it seem like he was in his office. He had also used the secret passage to leave his office and meet with Bunner and Slim Jim, who had helped him get out of the building. He had then taken a train to Chicago, where he had arranged to meet with Anne.

However, Wise also reveals that Latham’s plan had backfired, as Anne had changed her mind and decided not to run away with him. She had realized that she did not love him and that he was not the man she thought he was. She had also learned that he had lied to her about his past and his finances. She had decided to break off their engagement and stay with Pembroke, who had confessed his love for her.

Wise then contacts Latham and tells him what has happened. He advises him to return to New York and face the consequences of his actions. He also tells him that he has solved the mystery of his disappearance and exposed his scheme. Latham agrees to come back and surrender himself to the police.

The novel ends with Wise and Zizi leaving the case and returning to their home. They are congratulated by March, who admits that they are better detectives than him. They are also thanked by Anne and Pembroke, who are happy and in love. They also receive a letter from Latham, who apologizes for his behavior and wishes them well.

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Characters

  • Winthrop Latham: The protagonist of the novel, who is a lawyer who disappears from his office in a skyscraper.
  • Anne Meredith: The fiancée of Latham, who is a beautiful and wealthy heiress who lives across the street from the building.
  • Robert Pembroke: The cousin and guardian of Anne, who is a lawyer who works in the same building as Latham.
  • Pennington Wise: The secondary protagonist of the novel, who is a detective who is hired by Anne to find Latham.
  • Zizi: The assistant of Wise, who is a young and vivacious woman who helps him solve the case.
  • Detective March: The police detective who is assigned to the case by the authorities.
  • Mr. Larkin: The manager of the building where Latham works.
  • Miss Frayne: The secretary of Latham, who is loyal and devoted to him.
  • Arthur Reeves: A lawyer who works in the same building as Latham and who has a feud with him over a case.
  • John Carstairs: A client of Latham who is unhappy with his services and threatens to sue him.
  • Philip Crawford: A former friend of Latham who has a falling out with him over Anne’s affections.
  • Mrs. Dallas: A widow who claims that Latham seduced her and promised to marry her.
  • Mr. Dallas: The son of Mrs. Dallas who blames Latham for his mother’s death.
  • Big Bill Bunner: The leader of a gang of criminals who is blackmailed by Latham for some information.
  • Slim Jim: A hitman who is hired by Bunner to kill Latham.

Themes

  • Mystery: The novel is a classic example of the mystery genre, where a crime or disappearance occurs in a seemingly impossible situation. The novel challenges the reader to solve the puzzle along with the detectives, using clues and logic. The novel also follows the conventions of the genre, such as having multiple suspects, red herrings, false leads, twists, and revelations.
  • Romance: The novel also incorporates some elements of romance, as it depicts the relationship between Anne and Pembroke. The novel shows how they fall in love with each other, despite their initial indifference or hostility. The novel also contrasts their love with Latham’s deception and betrayal, showing how true love prevails over false love.
  • Morality: The novel also explores some moral themes, such as honesty, loyalty, justice, and repentance. The novel shows how Latham’s dishonesty, disloyalty, injustice, and unrepentance lead to his downfall and misery. The novel also shows how Anne’s honesty, loyalty, justice, and repentance lead to her happiness and peace.

Facts and Trivia

  • The Man Who Fell Through the Earth is one of Carolyn Wells’ most famous mystery novels, along with The Clue (1909) and The Gold Bag (1911).
  • The novel was adapted into a silent film in 1920, directed by John Emerson and starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Norma Shearer, Wallace Beery, and Lewis Stone.
  • The novel was also adapted into a radio drama in 1937, broadcasted by CBS Radio Mystery Theater.
  • The novel was also adapted into a comic book in 1949, published by Avon Comics and illustrated by Everett Raymond Kinstler.
  • The novel was inspired by a real-life incident that occurred in 1915, when a lawyer named Frank L. Holt disappeared from his office in the Woolworth Building, a skyscraper in New York City. Holt was later found to be a German spy who had attempted to assassinate J.P. Morgan Jr., a financier who supported the Allies in World War I.
  • The novel is considered to be one of the earliest examples of the “locked room” mystery, a subgenre of mystery fiction that involves a crime or disappearance that occurs in a seemingly impossible situation. The term was coined by John Dickson Carr, a writer who specialized in this type of mystery. Some of the other famous examples of the “locked room” mystery are The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, and The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr.

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