The Desired Woman (Will N. Harben, 1913)

Mostyn is an investment banker in Atlanta — one not known for being terribly scrupulous, either in his financial or personal dealings. After an illness, he takes a vacation to a farm in the country to recover. There, he falls in love with a young school teacher, Dolly Drake, and fully intends to marry her, but on his return to the city, he’s persuaded to instead marry wealthy socialite Irene Mitchell. He doesn’t love Irene, nor does she love him — her beau is Andrew Buckton, but Buckton is much too poor in her father’s estimation. They have a child together, little Dick, but it does nothing to improve their relationship, and indeed, Dick’s mother has next to no interaction with him. Eventually, Irene abandons them and runs away with Buckton. Dick has appendicitis that is ignored too long. By the time a doctor is called, peritonitis has set in and the boy dies. Irene was already addicted to morphine. When she learns of her son’s death, she overdoses and kills herself. Mostyn returns to Dolly, who forcefully rejects him. He flees to start a new life in California.

Inscription: Stamped “L.H. Buck” on the front endpaper and flyleaf.


Timber Wolf (Jackson Gregory, 1923)

Bruce “Timber Wolf” Standing is a man of few but undyingly loyal friends. He is a force to be reckoned with in Big Pine, a mining boom town in the southwest. The place is tapped-out, but Mexicali Joe — one of those few friends — discovers a huge find somewhere up in the surrounding mountains. This makes him a target for gold seekers all over the country, including at least two sworn enemies of Timber Wolf: Babe Deveril, his one-time partner; and Jim Taggart, the sheriff. Also after the gold is Lynette Brooke, a young woman with prospecting in her veins.

Lynette is thought to have killed Timber Wolf and Babe is thought to have killed Taggart. The two flee into the countryside, following Joe in search of his strike. Babe falls in love with Lynette. Neither Timber Wolf nor Taggart were actually killed and both, individually, set out in pursuit of the fugitives. Timber Wolf captures Lynette and falls in love with her as well. Strangely, Lynette begins falling for him as well.

No inscriptions.

Captain Scraggs (Peter B. Kyne, 1911)

I usually write these summaries within a few hours of finishing the book, but it’s been almost a week since I read Captain Scraggs. The delay I suppose just comes down to me not wanting to think about it anymore.

I’m not certain why Scraggs, who is sometimes a captain, is in the title. He’s one of the three recurring characters, along with Gibney and McGuffey, but I wouldn’t say the most prominent or important. There isn’t a plot, only a series of incidents. The book gets more disjointed as it goes along; by the time it reaches the gunrunning conspiracy, it’s abandoned all semblance of continuity. The tone is… uncertain. There are parts that I’m sure are meant to be comedic, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy. It reads like Kyne is attempting satire, but satire needs to be satirizing something, and there’s just nothing there.

Inscriptions: signed H.E. Guptill or maybe Gubtill on the front flyleaf.

The Window at the White Cat (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1910)

Allan Fleming, state treasurer, goes into hiding. By all accounts, he was a thoroughly corrupt man and he had many enemies. After more than a week’s absence, his daughter Margery visits a lawyer in the hope that he’ll find him. Fleming is found at the White Cat, an exclusive political clubhouse — or rather, his body is found, with a bullet lodged in his skull. The police rule it a suicide. Margery’s fiance Wardrop was Fleming’s private secretary and he knows it was murder. Wardrop is in neck-deep in his boss’s underhanded dealings. Shortly before the shooting, he was robbed of more than a hundred thousand dollars and several incriminating documents. Meanwhile, Fleming’s elderly sister-in-law disappears without a trace. There are few clues but a number that no one seems to recognize but that seems to crop up at every turn: 1122.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “If you wish to sew my hair, look on page 59 + 401 – Gladys Shaw”. I haven’t the faintest notion what that means. There’s nothing remarkable on page 59 and there is no page 401. I don’t get you, Gladys.

From Now On (Frank L. Packard, 1919)

An underling of a crooked bookkeeper thinks he’s set for life when he manages double-cross his employer and make off with a hundred thousand dollars in cash, but the theft only lands him five years in prison. On his release, he’s hounded by the police, who expect him to lead them to where the money is hidden; by his gangland compatriots, who expect the same; and by the mafia, who he foolishly accepted a favor from without realizing that it came at a price. In the end, after much bloodshed and death, he comes to realize that the money simply wasn’t worth it.

No inscriptions.

The Red Lamp (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1925)

On his uncle Horace’s death, mild-mannered English professor William Porter inherits his sea-side estate. Daughter Edith is excited at taking up residence there, but Jane, his wife, abhors the notion. The place is reputedly haunted and she’s had another of her premonitions. They instead decide to rent out the house. A tenant is soon found — a stranger, Mr. Bethel, evidently an author. One side of Bethel’s body is paralyzed and he brings with him an assistant, a shifty-eyed boy named Gordon.

That summer, the village is beset with mystery. A flock of sheep is killed ritualistically. A chalk sigil of a circle enclosing a triangle is left at the scene. The sheep killings are soon followed by human disappearances, and again, the sigil. The villagers are mostly simple folk and they suspect a diabolical presence emanating somehow from the house and the strange, faint red light seen glowing from within it. Porter, while never going quite so far as to call it all bosh, has never lent much credence to the paranormal before — but it isn’t long before he, too, sees little other explanation. The police detective called in from the city, meanwhile, seems firmly convinced that it’s Porter himself who’s the cause of all the mischief.

A very good had-I-but-known mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed. There are parts of the puzzle that I don’t think any attentive reader would fail to solve before the reveal, but the linchpin that ties them altogether came as a surprise that, in hindsight, works perfectly but I never saw coming.

Inscriptions: on the front end paper, “This book belongs to Victor R. Whitcomb, Newburgh, Me.” Prior to Victor, it was part of the Danforth Lending Library in Bangor. Going by the check-out stamps on the back, it was discarded sometime after January 26th, 1929.

The Winter Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine, 1939)

The only son of a declining family returns home with his weird friends for an ice skating party, a man falls to his death in an apparent accident, an emerald collector finds his emeralds stolen, a jewel thief is killed, and the village doctor suddenly decides to elope with the housekeeper. Can detective Philo Vance unravel the mystery?

This was S.S. Van Dine’s last book. The preface insists that it was finished before he died but I doubt it. It’s very rough — hardly more than an outline — and very short — I’d blush to even call it a novella.

Inscription: signed Deb Salisbury on the first page.