The Prodigal Judge (Vaughan Kester, 1911)

In antebellum North Carolina, General Quintard lives a reclusive life on his plantation. When he dies, he has no known heirs. A young boy lived with him, Hannibal Wayne Hazard, and it’s widely suspected that he was some relation, but none knows who the boy is certainly. When Bob Yancy offers to take care of Hannibal, no one offers any objection.

Yancy lives happily with Hannibal, raising him as his own son, until a man appears with a court order for custody of the boy. The town views it with suspicion, but whatever the underlying reason, Yancy has no intention of giving up his “nevvy”. The two flee the state for Tennessee, where they hope to find Betty Malroy, a wealthy woman who took an interest in Hannibal during her brief visit to town.

Along the way, Yancy is accosted at a tavern by Captain Murrell. The boy, believing Yancy to be killed, escapes on his own and finds his way to Judge Slocum Price. The Judge insists that he’s seen better days, and there must be some truth in that, since his present state couldn’t get much worse. He and his dear friend Solomon Mahaffy currently live for little else besides corn whiskey. Still, the Judge has a highly cultivated sense of honor and duty, and so the two set out with Hannibal to find Betty. Along the way, the Judge comes to care a great deal for Hannibal, particularly when he learns that his last name is Hazard.

In Tennessee, Betty, who had be away at school up north, assumes ownership of her plantation, Belle Plain. This greatly disturbs Tom Ware, her half-brother, who, were it not for Betty, stands to inherit the valuable estate. Tom is involved with Murrell, who heads a criminal organization called the Clan that kidnaps slaves from the upper south to resell in the deep south. Murrell, however, has been plotting a new scheme that involves instigating a slave rebellion which will inevitably end in failure, but will greatly increase the value of Murrell’s slaves. Tom has no faith in this scheme, but is willing to work with Murrell because Murrell also wants Betty; if Betty disappears, then Belle Plain is Tom’s.

The Judge reaches Tennessee, but by that point has grown too attached to Hannibal to let him go. He decides to settle in town, aided by Betty, and resume his law practice. When researching a land title at the town office, he stumbles across the name Colonel Fentress, which evidently means a great deal to him. He buys a pair of dueling pistols and begins target shooting.

Betty is kidnapped, and along with her Hannibal, who had been visiting at the plantation. They’re taken across the river and hidden in the overseer’s cabin. The Judge vows to recover both. It’s at this point that Yancy also reappears. He was badly injured and out of his wits for several days, but not killed. The Judge calls on Colonel Fentress, who he knows is in reality David Gatewood, and who years ago robbed him of $30,000 and his wife and daughter. The daughter married into the Hazard family and had a son. This son, through his grandmother, was General Quintard’s only heir. Fentress, the Judge asserts, was behind his abduction because he wanted to claim the Quintard estate, but the Judge now acknowledges that Hannibal is his grandson and he wants him back. Fentress denies everything. The Judge challenges him to a duel, which Fentress accepts, but he conspires to have the Judge detained during the appointed time. Mahaffy takes his friend’s place and is shot dead.

Murrell scheme begins to unravel as his trusted associate, Hues, turns out to be an undercover agent and arrests him. Betty and Hannibal are rescued, but the Clan is a powerful organization and it’s not at all certain if Murrell can be held. Many of the authorities in town flee, but the Judge fearlessly takes possession of the case and charges Yancy with holding Murrell — and to kill him if he tries to escape. Fentress, who by now is a known conspirator with Murrell, appears with an order for his release. The Judge (who, drunk or not, is an actual federal judge) counters by charging Murrell with felony counterfeiting and rearresting him. Fentress reaches for his gun, but the Judge pulls out his own and shoots him in the shoulder. Fentress and the rest of Murrell’s supporters flee. Fentress is found dead some time later, evidently robbed by Tom, who was escaping justice with him. Murrell is found guilty and dies in prison. Hannibal inherits the Quintard estate. The Judge claims Fentress’s property as his own, hiring Yancy as his overseer. The two raise Hannibal together. Mahaffy is burred beneath the Judge’s window. He tells Yancy that he wants to be buried beside him when his time comes.

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False Scent (J.S. Fletcher, 1925)

Stevenege, the celebrated detective, is on vacation in the small English town of Alanschester. His aim is to relax, but he isn’t there 24 hours before he stumbles across the body of a man evidently murdered in the woods just outside of the village. Further, the set of siege coins (there’s a story there, but never mind, all that matters is that they’re valuable antiques) held by the local museum has been stolen. It appears that the dead man stole the coins and was then killed for them. Suspicions fall on Whatmore, the curator of the museum. He’s arrested but quickly and easily escapes, assisted by someone for reasons unknown.

It’s starting to look like a setup to Stevenege — like the whole town’s in on it. A shiftier bunch he’s never met, with several who seem to know much more than they’re letting on. But then Stevenege gets some help… a lot of help, actually. Too many cooks, the old saw goes, but this novel’s spoiled by too many detectives. At one point, there’s no fewer than six professionals and amateurs weighing in, including a mystery author.

After being tipped-off, Stevenege recaptures Whatmore, but is now convinced that he’s only a patsy. Whatmore makes a full confession, which doesn’t amount to much since he had nothing to do with either crime, but it leads to following the evidence trail to a new location and culprit… one that the reader probably suspected all along because it was blindingly obvious and hoped would be subverted with a clever twist at the end, but no. I’ll stand by J.S. Fletcher being a competent enough writer, but the man had no talent at all for detective fiction.

Officer 666 (Barton W. Currie & Augustin McHugh, 1912)

Whitney Barnes, son of the great mustard magnate, has been given the ultimatum that he must marry and produce grandchildren for his dear old father before the year’s over or he’s out on his ass. His friend, Travers Gladwin, has unexpectedly returned from a tour of Egypt and is back in town incognito because he’s discovered that his former butler has been stealing from him and he expects to catch him red handed.

Helen Burton, of the Omaha Burtons, is also in town at the behest of her mother, who has arranged a marriage for her with Jabez Hogg, a man with little appeal besides his millions. Helen has another idea, however: she plans to elope with Travers Gladwin. She and her cousin Sadie appear at the Gladwin mansion, but the man who greets her at the door is not at all who she was expecting. It turns out that her Gladwin is an imposter in cahoots with the former butler and is using Helen as a cover to steal several valuable paintings from the mansion.

It’s love at first sight for Gladwin (the real one) and Helen, as well for Barnes and Sadie, but the rub is how to avert the robbery while simultaneously avoiding a scandal. They enlist the help of a dimwitted cop named Michael Phelan (viz., bribed him with $500), but his help proves to be a burden and he nearly brings the whole enterprise down on their heads. At last, Gladwin decides to let the thief go (he really was gentlemanly thief after all — in it for the art, you know), all the interested parties decide to drop their respective charges, and both he and Helen and Barnes and Sadie are married the next day.

The Lightning Conductor (C.N. Williamson & A.M. Williamson, 1903)

An epistolary novel about an American girl taking a road trip across Europe and an English gentleman who, having fallen in love with her, poses as a chauffeur and drives her around England, France, Spain, and Italy. Part of the reason the girl, Molly, has taken the trip is to escape from Jimmy Payne, a swaggering braggart who imagines he’s engaged to her. They cross paths (not accidentally) along the way and Jimmy comes to suspect that “Brown”, the chauffeur, is not who he claims to be — he thinks he’s murdered his master, the Hon. Jack Winston, and has assumed his identity. He alerts both Molly’s father and Jack’s mother and the four of them meet in Sicily where the secret comes out and Jimmy is much disappointed.

The Fortunes of Garin (Mary Johnston, 1915)

In medieval France, a squire named Garin rescues a shepherdess from Jaufre, a knight who, one might say, was threatening her maiden virtue. Montmaure, Jaufre’s father, is a great overlord and Garin is forced to flee to escape reprisal. He joins the crusade and spends eight years at war in Syria, where he becomes a troubadour-knight and wins renown for his valor and poetry. Meanwhile, Jaufre desires to marry Audiart, the Princess of Roche-à-Frêne, but she refuses him because, unknown to him, she was that shepherdess he attacked. He lays siege to the town, assisted greatly by Richard, the Duke of Aquitaine.

When Garin returns, the lands around Roche-à-Frêne have been laid to waste, and while the town itself remains strongly defended, Jaufre’s blockade threatens to starve them into capitulation. Garin joins Audiart, who recognizes him as the squire who once rescued her. She devises a plan wherein she will again become a shepherdess, Garin will become her jongleur brother, and the two will sneak across the enemy lines to meet with Richard and convince him to withdraw his troops. He does. Without Aquitaine’s help, Montmaure is unable to maintain the siege and Roche-à-Frêne is saved. Audiart asks Garin to marry her.