Metropolis (Thea von Harbou, 1925)

I feel like I don’t need to go too in-depth with the plot here. This is the book on which the 1927 film Metropolis was based, and for the most part, the film is a faithful adaptation. In a future city, where the masters live in dazzling luxury above ground and the workers toil at dangerous machinery underground, a saintly woman attempts to find a “heart” that with at last unite the “brains” with the “hands”, while a robot who has taken her likeness spreads discord and threatens to destroy workers and masters alike.

There are some differences between the novel and the film, however. In the film, there are all manner of electronic and mechanical wonders, but it’s all grounded in science. In the book, there’s some straight-up magic at play. Rotwang, the creator of the Machine Man, is here more of a sorcerer than a scientist and he draws a great deal from Jewish mysticism. Indeed, the Machine Man is an awful lot like a golem. Religion in general is much more at the forefront. There are religious metaphors in the film, yes, but they’re metaphors. Even in the fever-dream sequence when Freder hallucinates that the Thin Man has transformed into a monk warning that the apocalypse is at hand and sees Death release the Seven Deadly Sins and descend upon the city with his scythe, it’s never suggested that this should be taken literally. In the book, religion is no metaphor.

Josaphat’s role is considerably larger than in the film, with a new subplot that’s a  transparent Doubting Thomas allegory. Joh Frederson also has a mother who chastises him a couple times for playing God. There’s also a disturbing amount of hand-wringing over racial mixing in the book that was completely excised for the film.

I don’t know how much of this is von Harbou and how much is the uncredited translator, but the writing is odd. It takes a sort of mock-Biblical tone with lots of repetition and set phrases, but the punctuation seems to have been lifted from a twelve-year-old’s diary. I can’t recall the last time I saw so many ellipses and exclamation marks in a single sentence.

No inscriptions, although the price tag reveals that it sold for 2 shillings and 6 pence.

The Luminous Face (Carolyn Wells, 1921)

At their club, five men idly muse over the motives one might have for killing somebody. Monroe pulls out the old detective story canard that the only three motives are love, hate, or money. Pollard disagrees. A man might kill a man simply because he dislikes him. Take Gleason, for instance. Pollard’s only ever met him two or three times, and yet he intends to kill him.

Later that night, Gleason is found dead. Curious that it was the very night that his engagement to Phyllis Lindsay was to be announced, that she stands to inherit half his estate, that her brother Louis was in $20,000 deep to some loan sharks, that Barry made no secret of his love for Phyllis and his hostility toward Gleason, that Gleason had been having a fling with the erstwhile actress Ivy Hayes and had met her even that night, that Hayes witnessed an argument between Gleason and Louis and/or Phyllis not an hour before the murder, and that Phyllis was spotted in a car with a strange man driving away from the scene. And, of course, that Pollard publicly announced his intention to kill Gleason.

I’m going to spoil the ending now: It was Pollard, you fool. There’s a reveal that fleshes out the animosity between Pollard and Gleason and explains away Pollard’s seemingly air-tight alibi, but the take-away is that sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one.

Inscription: It was withdrawn from the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield, Mass. library on June 10th, 1936, but that’s not very interesting. What’s interesting is a doodle in the bottom margin of page 199 of a woman who looks rather like Bebe Daniels, but I’m inclined to think it’s some reader’s impression of the Ivy Hayes character.

Flowing Gold (Rex Beach, 1922)

In the war, Calvin Gray was dishonorably discharged on the false accusations of a fellow officer. The other man, Henry Nelson, is now the vice-president of a bank in Texas. Gray arrives in town and sets about first enriching himself in the oil boom, then using his funds to stage a hostile takeover of the bank and ruin Nelson.

Gray isn’t only driven by spite. He becomes close friends of the Briskows, a family of nouveau-riche “nesters” — quite rustic in character but trying to find a guide to help them enter society. Many are willing to take their money, but Gray seems to be the only one who doesn’t laugh when their backs are turned. Allie, the Briskow daughter, falls in love with Gray.

No inscriptions.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie, 1920)

A recently married older woman meets a violent death by strychnine poisoning. The woman being rather wealthy, suspicion lights on her new husband, who it seems quite everyone takes for a flagrant gold-digger. Particularly suspicious is John, her stepson, who’s hard-up for cash and who was dependent on his stepmother’s support. Prior to her marriage, he had also been heir to the estate. Then there’s niece Cynthia, who works as a dispenser at the local hospital’s pharmacy; Dr. Bauerstein, a poisons expert who John’s wife Mary appears to be having an affair with; and we can’t forget John’s brother Lawrence, who, in the face of all evidence, maintains that his stepmother died of natural causes. It’s a puzzling case that only Hercule Poirot can unravel.

Inscription: E.M. Qunicky, on the inside front cover.

Now here’s a curious real-life mystery: Between pages 16 and 17 is a scrap of paper clipped or very neatly torn from the corner of a computer printout. On the print side, there are two columns of numbers that might be accounting of some sort. Whatever it is, the footer tells us it’s “Continued on next page.” It’s a dot-matrix printout that I would wager heavily came from a Commodore MPS 801 printer. I should know, because I had one myself. On top of this, there are several haphazardly scrawled numbers. From left to right, these are: 25, 22 (the initial two being almost illegible, a clearer 2 has been written beneath it); and 27 (this has been circled). Sideways along the right margin are what I’m sure are the last four digits of a phone number and “channel 25” — the number written over several times and underlined thrice. On the reverse side, there’s a full name and phone number. I recognized the latter as coming from a town not far from here. I looked it up in the phone book and, sure enough, it matched the name. The book is rather outdated, which is just as well, as I later discovered that the number’s owner died a few years ago at the age of 102.

Mrs. Red Pepper (Grace S. Richmond, 1913)

This is a sequel to Red Pepper Burns, which I have to say I didn’t much like, but this book was considerably better. It follows one coherent story rather than a long series of barely connected events.

Dr. John Leaver, an old friend and colleague of Dr. Red Burns, has overworked himself and experiences a burn-out he’s sure he’ll never recover from. Red knows better and helps him back on his feet. Meanwhile, Charlotte Ruston finds her way to town. She was from old money, but that money’s now long gone and she hopes to establish herself as a photographer to support her grandmother. Charlotte and John had been engaged in the past, but after his burn-out, John thought the marriage impossible, and after Charlotte’s going broke, she thought likewise. The romance rekindles, particularly after Granny’s death, and  by the end, the two are wed.

Inscription: Two or three names were penciled in on the front flyfleaf, but they’ve been erased well. The name at the top of the page I’m reasonably sure is Diane Fenweld. In the center, I think there are two overlapping signatures. One of them is Gail R-something. The other, I can make out a J and what might be an L, but nothing else.