Mary Ella Roberts Rinehart (née Roberts) was an American mystery novelist, sometimes called the American Agatha Christie.
Rinehart was the daughter of an unsuccessful inventor. Her father committed suicide when she was 19. She was educated and trained as a nurse and married a physician she met during her education.
During the stockmarket crash of 1903, the Rinehart family lost all their savings. To supplement their income, Rinehart began to write short stories and then novels. She produced and published forty-five short stories that year.
Rinehart is considered the inventor of the “had I but known” plot device, and also the “the butler did it” plotline. She was a very successful author, and many of her stories had a lasting impact on the mystery genre.
During World War I, she worked as a war correspondent on the Belgian front. Afterwards, she was also a part of Literary Society of Washington. Her success as an author was so great that she helped her sons found the publishing house Farrar & Rinehart, serving as its director. She ensured their success by transferring her own publications to their press.
In 1947, Rinehart published an interview entitled ‘I Had Cancer’ about her struggle with breast cancer and radial mastectomy. This was at a time when breast cancer was not discussed in public. Encouraging women to get breast examinations was her goal.
In the same year, she was attacked with a knife by her chef at her vacation home. She was unharmed and the motivation for the attack was unknown.
Near the end of her life, she earned an honorary doctorate in literature from George Washington University.
Rinehart passed away in 1956 in her New York City apartment.