The Able McLaughlins (Margaret Wilson, 1923)

Christie McNair is raped by her cousin Peter Keith and is left pregnant. Wully McLaughlin, her boyfriend before the war, convinces her to marry him and insists that the child is his, taking the blame on himself for the child being conceived out of wedlock. Peter disappears and is missing for a number of years, driving his mother to the brink of insanity — he was always her golden child. The McLaughlins are threatened when Peter is spotted nearby. Wully would kill him but finds him already near death in a livery stable. He would as soon leave him there, but Christie insists that would be wrong and that they must take him — alive, dying, or dead — to his mother.

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The Desert Moon Mystery (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1927)

Twins Gabriella and Daniella Canneziano appear rather inexplicably at the Desert Moon, an isolated ranch in the Nevada highlands. They are the guests of their uncle, the Desert Moon’s owner Sam Stanley, although they’re not really related — they’re the children from the second marriage of Sam’s ex-wife. He hasn’t seen them since they were very young and doesn’t know why they’re here now, except that their mother has been dead for a decade and their father has recently been sent to prison. Sam’s not the type to pry, though. Also at the ranch are Mary, who’s been the cook for 25 years; Chad and Hubert, who are nebulously employed charity cases; and Mrs. Ricker. Mrs. Ricker cares for Martha, who’s severely retarded. Martha and John are Sam’s adopted, adult children.

John and Danny very quickly fall in love and are engaged to be married. Mary is suspicious of the Cannezianos and spies on them, discovering that they are searching the ranch for something, something that will get them revenge on someone. Chad and Hubert both fall for Gaby. Mary overhears Mrs. Ricker threaten to kill both Hubert and Gaby if he doesn’t stop perusing her. Martha, who’s been known to be violent at times, has a crush on Chad and is intensely jealous of Gaby.

Two months into their stay, Gaby is murdered on the attic stairs and Chad shoots himself immediately after she’s discovered. Not long after, Martha dies of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. Crime analyst Lynn MacDonald is called in to find the murderer.

This is very much in the Rinehart had-I-but-known school of mystery, much more so than the other Strahan books I’ve read. There are two components to the solution, both of which I identified and solved before the reveal, namely who are Martha’s biological parents and which of the Canneziano twins is which. Everything else hinges on that.

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Red Horse Hill (Sidney McCall, 1909)

Maris’s husband Martin abandons her and takes their daughter, Felicia. She spends years trying to find them, but they’ve vanished. At last she’s informed that he’s dead. She has a breakdown. In the hospital, she makes the acquaintance of Dwight Alden. They are soon married. Alden is a cotton mill owner in a small southern town. The mills are notorious for their flagrant child labor abuses. One young girl is caught in the machinery and has her arm mangled. It’s Felicia — Martin, now Willis, is still alive and has sold her to the mill for liquor money. Maris takes Felicia and flees to her hometown. She and Martin were legally divorced and that’s good enough for Dwight, but Maris won’t stay in his house while Martin is still alive, which isn’t long — he’d already drank himself half to death and he wasn’t slowing down.

Inscription: signed “Florence M. Lessig” on the front flyleaf. She wrote it out in pencil first then went over it in pen.

A Great Year of Our Lives at the Old Squire’s (C.A. Stephens, 1912)

The second volume of the Old Squire series chronicling a boy and his several cousins orphaned by the Civil War and taken in by their grandfather. Unlike the others where every chapter was more or less a stand-alone story, more than half of this book is about a single incident. Tibbetts is the town grocer but the store is just a front — he’s actually a rum-runner. He’s at odds with the Old Squire, who’s all for temperance. Tibbetts connives by buying voters to take control of the school district and slash its funding. Joel Pierson, the much beloved teacher, is replaced by Sam Lurvey, a good for nothing son of one of Tibbetts’s cronies. Tibbetts is eventually caught tampering with the mail and to avoid prison agrees to restore the school’s funding and re-hire Joel.

Inscription: “Milton Harman, Columbus, Ohio, Dec 2, 1921” on the front flyleaf.

At the Sign of the Jack o’ Lantern (Myrtle Reed, 1905)

Dorothy and Harlan Carr, newlyweds, have just inherited Harlan’s uncle’s estate. He can’t imagine why, as he’d never even met Ebenezer Judson before. With a place to live and nearly $400 in savings, Harlan quits his reporter job to follow his dream of becoming a novelist. It’s a massive, rambling place, with an uncountable number of beds and cribs, but it should provide a quiet place for Harlan to write his book.

Then the guests begin to arrive. Ebenezer — or, more correctly, his wife Rebecca, who died while they were still newlyweds themselves — had an unending number of relatives, however distant or fictional the connections might be. The guests began inviting themselves after Rebecca’s death, usually staying from spring to autumn, more or less pointedly asserting their claim on Ebenezer and the expectation that they’ll be remembered in his will. Ebenezer’s death has done nothing to stem the flow.

To be fair, none of them knew Ebenezer was dead. None of them are exactly grieving, either. That they weren’t explicitly mentioned in the will comes as no surprise; that wasn’t Ebenezer’s way. They expect to find their recompense hidden somewhere only they’d find. Eventually, they do find the box buried in the orchard containing $2.68, to be divided such that everyone gets more or less eight cents a piece.

After the hopefully final departure of the guests, Harlan’s book is finished, and even if it’s no good (it’s terrible — we get frequent excerpts as he writes), the Carrs are set. They learn that, in addition to the estate itself, they also take Ebenezer’s 2,000 acre farm and $10,000 in ready cash. Of his many, many relations, Ebenezer wrote, Harlan was the best one.

Inscriptions: Signed L.E. Peary in what l looks to be felt-tipped marker in an elaborate script on the flyleaf. L.E. Peary is also penciled on the end paper in a more conventional hand that I could actually read.

The Vindication (Harriet T. Comstock, 1916)

Remo is a little village hidden in the hills of Quebec, but hardly one you might call idyllic. Several years ago, a party posing as a family book a room at the inn. The man soon leaves, but the woman and the young child that plainly isn’t hers stay behind. They’re regularly sent large sums of money — large, at least, in the eyes of De Lesser, the innkeeper — but then both the woman and child become deathly ill.

De Lesser took Sue from the Indian Reservation outside of town. She became his housekeeper, barkeeper, cook, maid, and general slave. She also became pregnant with his child, but he sent it back to the Reservation before she’d even seen it. The woman was being cared for by Sue and at least partly took Sue into her confidence. She was not the child’s mother, she was a hired nurse; nor had the man been the child’s father. She gives her addresses to write to and code names to use when either she or the baby dies.

De Lesser and Sue hold a brief conference before the doctor is called for. If the woman dies, then she dies, but if the baby dies, then the mysterious funds that arrive every month will stop. A substitution is made. The dying infant is left at the Reservation and Sue’s baby takes its place. The woman does not recover. Word is sent that she’s dead but that the child still lives. Funding for Lorraine continues for years upon years and she’s brought up with the vague belief that one day some rich parents will reclaim her.

Chester, the other child, didn’t die either, but comes very near to it. Dr. Manford Hill, who took the village practice, wants very much to have a family, but the conventional means of going about that don’t seem likely in Remo. He convinces Sue to allow him to adopt Chet. The boy flourishes under Man’s care, proving in his mind that blood means nothing, character is defined by environment. It isn’t very long that Man finds Sue accosting Chet for money. It seems the payments have stopped, and without them, De Lesser is going to sell Lorraine to “the half-breed Vic” recently out of prison and back on the Reservation.

Lorraine comes to live with the Hills. Meanwhile, a couple are searching the countryside. Philip Mordaunt and his wife Alice have learned the terrible secret Philip’s younger brother Martin confessed to only after his death. The Mordaunts ran a successful law firm and Martin sought to consolidate his inheritance by removing Philip and Alice’s offspring from the picture. He was the man who had left the baby and nurse at Remo, and paid for their silence for more than twenty years. The Mordaunts find their lost child, but to Lorraine’s surprise, it isn’t her. She never knew that Sue actually was her mother.

Chet agreed, after graduating college, to spend a year with the Mordaunts in the city. He will know both sides then. Philip is confident that the Mordaunt heritage will win out and that the appeals of wealth and society will turn his head. Alice is less so. The end of the year finds Chet back in Remo to go into practice with Man, and madly in love with Lorraine.

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The Foreigner (Ralph Connor, 1909)

Fleeing from persecution in Czarist Russia are Michael Kalmar, his wife, his two children, and his trusted friend Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt, however, has betrayed them and they’re shot at by border guards. Kalmar’s wife is killed. He marries a thick-headed woman named Paulina purely to see his children safely landed in Canada while he seeks revenge.

Winnipeg is not really a city as yet. It’s on the very pale of civilization. The part of town occupied by the Slavs — those who the British pioneers collectively call Galicians, regardless of origin — is just beyond it. The conditions are a nightmare. Kalmar supplied Paulina with money to buy a house, but she’s in a foreign land and understands no one. An agent takes her, Rosenblatt. The house is bought, but it quickly becomes a boarding house where Paulina and the children must work for free, and where for a little more, a guest might spend the night with Paulina. All the further funds Kalmar sends go directly into Rosenblatt’s pocket.

When Kalmar escapes from Siberia and traces Rosenblatt to Winnipeg, he attempts assassinating him without success. He’s jailed but escapes from his prison cell and vanishes once more. It was decided, though, that daughter Irma will go to school, where she should learn English, dress in western clothes, and begin integrating into Canadian society. Son Kalman, at the mercy of Rosenblatt and the vile influence of Winnipeg at home, is sent out into the country to a ranch run by Jack French.

The railroad is coming and soon the land will become a province of Canada. Kalman has discovered a coal mine which could mean his fortune, but Rosenblatt attempts to claim jump it. When that fails, he tries to seal Kalman and Jack in the mine and blow it up. Just then, Kalmar returns and sets fire to Rosenblatt. Before he dies, he fatally shoots Kalmar. The blood debt is over to Kalman’s relief, as he could not have carried it forward since he’s become a Presbyterian and has adapted to Canadian civil rule.

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