The Window (Alice Grant Rosman, 1928)

Mrs. Willingdon is about to dedicate an antique stained glass window in the village church to her beloved son Terry, a fallen hero of the Great War. Or perhaps he was a deserter who knocked-up a nineteen year old then disappeared into the diamond mines of Africa. Either way. Pat Eden adopted the little boy, Michael. She and Terry had been in love before the war but his mother had selected Dorris, the dim-witted daughter of Sir Duffield, for his bride. The Colonel is unaware of the boy but Mrs. Willingdon knows about this horrible slander against Terry’s sainted memory and wants to somehow get rid of Pat. Maybe the bishop could do it.

Christopher Royle is back in England having unexpectedly inherited his ancestral home, Windyhill. Before taking residence, he stops in Dorne, falls madly in love with Pat, and becomes a father to Michael. The Colonel, an infirm old man largely confined to the house, has heard rumors. This Royle fellow grievously insulted his wife somehow and it has something to do with Pat. He goes to investigate and, on seeing Michael, at once knows he’s his grandchild. He disappears and his body is found later at the bottom of the chalk mine.

Inscription: From the Skowhegan Free Public Library, last checked out by Gladys Greene on March 30th, 1968.


The Visiting Villain (Carolyn Wells, 1934)

Bruce Dunbar is an eccentric old multi-millionaire. He has no immediate family, but his nephew and three nieces dine with him every Saturday night. He would call himself a jolly prankster while the cousins are more likely to call him a malicious bastard. His delight is mentally tormenting them and pitting them against one another. He’s also very fond of wills, rarely going more than a year without writing a new one.

The nearest thing Bruce has to a child is Streamline, his cobra, who he absolutely dotes on. One morning, just after a Saturday dinner, Bruce is found dead in his bed. It was cobra venom that killed him, the autopsy shows, but he wasn’t bitten. Fleming Stone, the celebrated detective, at once notes that the puncture wounds are too small and too close together. Someone injected the venom into him.

Another surprise, on the 25th of last July, Bruce quickly visited several different lawyers and had several different wills made, each naming a different cousin as the sole heir. All were signed within minutes of one another and finding the last one will be a pickle.

Dividing it into its two parts, the murder mystery was written well enough and the clues dropped do narrow down the suspects to two people. My first suspicion was actually that it wasn’t a murder at all: Bruce’s health had been failing — I thought he killed himself and arranged the wills stunt as one final jab at his family. As to the wills portion of the mystery, the solution of that is a pure deus ex machina.

Inscriptions: a name was written on the flyleaf, but it’s been obliterated by permanent marker.

The Blood Ship (Norman Springer, 1922)

A writer takes passage on Captain Shreve’s ship because he’s heard that he once knew the late”King” Waldon. He wants to write a book on the man who, with his wife alone, sailed in an open boat to Samoa to lead the life of a trader. The writer thinks very highly of his ability to capture a full person or place with the scantest information. Indeed, he praises himself in such a constant stream, it isn’t clear he cares to hear anyone else. It’s only stemmed when a coal hulk nears that catches Shreve’s eye. The writer can’t see anything in the broken down thing, but Shreve is ready to spin a tale.

The hulk was once a clipper ship, the Golden Bough. Shreve, then nineteen, had just been made an able seaman and wanted to sign with the toughest ship afloat and there was no bloodier ship than the Golden Bough. The rest of the crew had to be shanghaied. Only one other man signed up willing, Newman. Captain Swope seems to have seen a ghost when he lays eyes on Newman. He stays in his cabin and forbids his wife Mary from going among the men and tending to their wounds. There are wounds: the mates keep the crew cowed into submission by brutal, sometimes fatal beatings.

To cut a long story short, Swope had framed Newman (or Roy Waldon, to use his real name) with infidelity to break apart him and Mary. He then married Mary for her father’s money. Swope then killed Beulah — the supposed other woman — and Mary’s father, framing Newman for both crimes. Newman has escaped from prison with revenge in mind, but Mary convinces him to maintain the peace. A mutiny would mean his death and much of the crew’s and nothing would change. Swope, however, wants a mutiny. It would give him a perfect excuse to kill Newman, Mary, and one of the mates who has grown too dangerous.

Newman, Shreve, and Holy Joe — a shanghaied preacher — keep the peace as long as they can. Conditions, at last, leave no other option, and with Newman in chains in the hold, there’s no one to hold the crew back. Shreve, Mary, and Wong — the cook — have secretly been cutting into the hold and rescue Newman. Newman appears on deck just as the crew is advancing on the cabin and commands them to stop. Swope, his plot unraveling, attempts to shoot Mary in full view of everyone. Newman lifts Swope and throws him to the deck, snapping his spine. Lynch, the mate marked for death, assumes command of the ship. Holy Joe marries Newman and Mary on the deck. Lynch has launched the dinghy and filled it with supplies. With his help, Newman and Mary depart, with directions for reaching nearby Samoa. When the ship arrives in Hong Kong, there was no mutiny and the two are simply unaccounted for.

We never return to the writer, but I like to think he wasn’t paying attention, seeing no romance in a dingy old coal hulk.

No inscriptions.

The Meriwether Mystery (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1932)

Tony is found dead in at the Meriwether boarding house. It looks for all the world like a suicide, except there’s no gun and the phone’s been cut. Vicky, niece of the fabulously wealthy Cadwallader “Candy” Van Garter, is one of the residents. She theoretically runs an antique shop and tea room in town, but the business is really a hobby. She had just that day been stood up for a date with Tony and raged most violently. Personally, Candy fears she killed him and tries to invent some way to take the blame himself. Vicky, meanwhile, is convinced Candy did it.

Of the several other occupants are Helene Bailey, the landlady, and Dot, her ostensibly seventeen year old daughter; Sarah Parnham, a teacher, and her much younger and mildly retarded stepmother, Evadne; Oswald, storekeeper whose real passion is astrology; Paul Keasy, radio host; and the late Tony Charvan, who had a fifteen minute slot on the radio but no other obvious source of income.

Can crime analyst Lynn MacDonald discover the murder?

I rather like most of the Strahan mysteries I’ve read, but this is a lesser entry. You can certainly get ahead of it in places — the chronology of Tony’s night falls apart when you realize his segments are pre-recorded, and that’s hinted at pretty much off the bat — and the going to the movies alibi is a great deal too pat to not be planned — but I don’t think it’s solvable. Frankly, even in-story, it’s a wild guess on MacDonald’s part based on precious little evidence.

Inscriptions: between pages 198 and 199 is clipping from The Evening Bulletin, of Providence, dated May 12, 1954. It’s a recipe for marshmallow fudge.

Daring Wings (Graham M. Dean, 1931)

Tim is a newspaper reporter and an aviator. The end.

All right, there’s a villain called The Sky Hawk who has a death ray or a chemical weapon or maybe both who’s been robbing airmail shipments containing large sums of money, but he only appears two, maybe three times in the novel and there’s zero effort expended on finding him. The vast majority of the story is reporting on the recently explosion in the popularity of airmail — there’s apparently enough interest there to sustain a daily column.

Inscriptions: on the flyleaf, “Harold L Hunter, from ‘Dad’, Oct. 14, 1931”

The Calling of Dan Matthews (Harold Bell Wright, 1909)

Backwoods boy grows up and decides he want to be a preacher. Goes to school, graduates, and get a job at Memorial Church in Corinth — a town somewhere in the Ozarks. It quickly becomes apparent that a preacher’s job isn’t to serve God, it’s to serve the committees that run the church.

Deborah and Denny are both Catholics and have no church in Corinth. Denny is crippled and supports them by gardening. Deborah’s husband was killed by Grace Connor’s father, and although a good girl herself, the town has shunned her. Denied the last job she could get, she tries to kill herself. Hope Farwell, a nurse who has absolutely no use for organized religion, cares for her. Dan rather foolishly thought it was his place to minister to these least fortunate of the community. The elders of the church did not agree — particularly not the one that stole Deborah’s mortgage payment and tried to have her evicted — and he finds himself out of a job.

He doesn’t abandon his ministry, but sees no need for churches to get involved in it. He gets into the mining business and marries Hope.

Inscription: “Burton H. Soule, from Mother” on the front flyleaf.

The Threshold (Marjorie Benton Cooke, 1918)

Having grown up in a factory town in a household of factory workers, Joan strives to get into college and do something to improve the laboring class’s lot. After graduating and in need of work, an employment agency sets her up as a sort of governess for seventeen years old Dick Norton, nephew of Gregory Farwell, owner of the Farwell cotton mill. Joan is up-front about who she is and what she intends to do, but Dick clicks with her at once and Farwell takes her anyway.

It’s not that Farwell is an evil capitalist — he’s an absentee one. He has no knowledge of his mill or his employees and desires none. His superintendents can care for that. He would rather cloister himself in Farwell Hall and forget the outside world exists. Joan, who is also to be Dick’s tutor, promises not to indoctrinate him, but she hopes that when he finally opens his eyes, he’ll come to socialism on his own.

That doesn’t take very long. Dick is a bright boy and a quick learner — no one knew simply because he’d been idle all his life. If the mill is to be his when he turns 21, he reasons he should know something about it and he takes an entry-level carding job. After not many weeks he and his new pal Patsy Rafferty, who grew up in the mill, decide to organize a labor union. Scabs are brought in and the militia called to break through the strikers. Dick sees them firing on unarmed protestors, including Patsy’s young brother. Wild with rage, he burns down the mill.

As Joan warned Gregory, if he didn’t go to the mill, the mill would come to him. Dick is indicted for arson, but Gregory manages to have the charges dropped. He also allows Dick free reign in the rebuilding effort. He, Joan, and Patsy intend to make a model, co-operative mill town and begin laying the foundations for it, employing all those now out of work for its construction. It might bankrupt Dick, but he thinks it’s a risk worth taking. Gregory, who’s come to love this governess who’s upset his entire world, asks Joan to marry him. She agrees so long as he understands that she may be gone weeks or months at a time organizing the downtrodden in towns across the nation.

No inscriptions.