The Case of the Substitute Face (Erle Stanely Gardner, 1938)

Aboard a ship from Honolulu to San Fransisco, a man is seen thrown overboard in an apparent murder. His wife is suspected of the crime. Perry Mason defends her, and in doing so, gets to the bottom of what happened that night, which the wife says began with the puzzling disappearance of her daughter’s photo.

Quite easy, overall. The motivation doesn’t become clear until later, but I had the “murder” itself figured out within the first ten chapters. In fact, I had a strong suspicion that Carl Moar and Roger Cartman were one and the same even before Moar’s staged death was committed, and once you realize that Moar wasn’t dead but in hiding, then the theft of the picture becomes obvious.

Inscription: “Given to the U-7 grade room NOV. 27 1956 By Linwood Gilbert”, in pencil on the inside front cover. “Grade room” is in cursive, the rest is in print.

Sister Sue (Eleanor H. Porter, 1920)

Sue is a talented pianist and shows great promise for a career in music, but she puts all that aside to care for her family after Mother dies and Father has a nervous breakdown that leaves him with the mentality of a child. After scraping by for six years to provide for her younger brother and sister, who of course show not the slightest appreciation for her sacrifice, she at last finds herself free. Sue returns to her music teacher, but in the waiting room meets her idol — a famous, unnamed female pianist — who has just received a letter from her childhood friend. The friend, like Sue, also had aspirations and also gave them up. She writes to congratulate the pianist for her success, but the pianist tells Sue that her friend is far worthier of praise than herself.

Inscription: Discarded from the Livermore Falls, Maine public library in August, 1939. Scribbled in the top margin of the first page is “Look on Page 54”. Turn there, and you’ll be told to look on another page, and so on and so on until you reach page 310, where the reader is rewarded with “ha-ha-ha-ha SUCKER -> TO HELL WITH YOU!”. Delightful, 1930s teenager.

The Riddle of the Straits (Harry Edmonds, 1931)

During a great storm, Bill Parslow’s lorry breaks down by a canal and he thinks he’ll stowaway on a barge for a free, dry ride to the city. It’s this chance act that leads him to playing a central role in the outbreak of… well, the Second World War. (Bear in mind, this was written before the actual Second World War began and is set in the then-future year of 1935.)

The barge is smuggling machine guns out of England and, via a roundabout route, to a small island in the Indian Ocean. The British Empire is already on the brink of collapse and India is clamoring for independence. Russia intends to exploit this and to play on the growing animosity between the Hindus and Muslims to establish India as a satellite Soviet republic, thus claiming an expansive warm-water coastline from which to further expand the Soviet Union in accordance with the New Five Year Plan.

What follows is at once complicated and very simple. Thanks to Bill, Russia’s plot is discovered in time to preemptively destroy their Indian Ocean base. However, Britain’s increased scrutiny of India includes close inspection and turning away of merchant vessels, which riles American arms manufactures, who have been selling arms to Indian insurgents. A series of mistakes, which are frankly too convoluted to explain here, lead to an American warship that had been escorting a merchant convoy to open fire on a British cruiser, leading to war being declared between the US and UK.

As far as the narrative goes, the USSR takes a backseat now to the bloody naval war that plays out in the Atlantic. The US and UK are fairly evenly matched and both sustain great damage. The British get the upper hand in the end, but the US maintain a blockade that effectively cuts-off all imports to the island. When pushed to the point of starvation, they suddenly remember the Channel Tunnel — that embarrassingly expensive white elephant just completed that year — and food comes pouring in through France.

I’ve left out Japan and the Falklands, but suffice to say, they’re involved, too. Hitler gets a mention, quite in passing. Edmonds evidently didn’t think much of him; Stalin is the real danger in his estimation. Curiously (in hindsight, anyway), Mussolini is something of a moderating force. He brokers the peace treaty that brings the war to an end. Unfortunately, while the others were fighting over nothing, the USSR annexes the Arabian peninsula and so the threat of Soviet expansion goes unthwarted.

Inscriptions: None, but there is a small pink index card between pages 166 and 167.

Ethelyn’s Mistake (Mary J. Holmes, 1869)

Ethelyn is in love with her cousin Frank and he with her. She’s of the Boston Bigelows and is quite refined and accustomed to leisure, although she personally has no money to speak of.  It’s for this reason that Frank’s mother objects to their marriage — Frank is a dandy with extravagant tastes; he must marry into wealth. Instead, she’s set up with Richard Markham — a judge, a member of congress, and good contender for governor of Iowa. Ethelyn doesn’t care for Richard at all — he’s entirely too boorish and uncouth for her — but marries him anyway out of spite and her dreams of wintering in Washington and the society she’ll mingle with there. Besides, Iowa is hardly the wild west anymore, surely Richard’s people are as genteel as her own.

No. No, they are not. Particularly not Richard’s mother, who’s of the pioneer generation and despite their present condition still lives fifty years ago in the hardscrabble past. She is as unwilling to meet Ethelyn’s point of view as Ethelyn is to hers. Richard, completely blind to his mother’s eccentricities, defers to her always. When Mother declares that it would be unseemly for Ethelyn to accompany him to Washington (largely because she was expecting to fire their maid and have Ethelyn do the housework), then there goes the single remaining reason for the marriage.

Ethelyn takes it badly and becomes quite ill, miscarrying their firstborn. Richard is at last persuaded that his mother is not a good influence on Ethelyn and agrees to establish a new and more modern household in the city. Ethelyn thrives there and actually begins to grow fond of Richard, but Mother disapproves of… well, of everything, and continues to tug at her son. Richard becomes jealous of his once-rival Frank and confronts Ethelyn, accusing her of having an affair. This goes beyond all of Richard’s slights. It’s an insult Ethelyn can’t overlook or forgive. Ethelyn leaves Richard. Richard goes east, hoping that Ethelyn had simply returned to her family, but she isn’t there. He does meet her aunt (Frank’s mother), who lays into him ruthlessly, pointing out all of his faults and telling him just why Ethelyn abandoned him, all of which Richard takes to heart.

Five years pass. Richard has reformed and would now be quite at home in the best of Boston society. He’s left his mother’s crude farmhouse and built a mansion befitting that of a governor, where stands a suite of lavishly outfitted rooms that have never been occupied. The rumor spreads that he’s planning to divorce his long absent wife and the suite is for another woman, and this rumor at last reaches Ethelyn. She’s kept herself quite busy and is now a wealthy woman (to the consternation of her aunt, as Frank’s wife’s fortunes have failed). Time has eroded her animus and she’s ready to take Richard back but now fears that he doesn’t want her. When he’s away, she visits the house, claiming to be some distant relation. On sight of what the maid calls the bridal room, she falls into a fit.

It’s touch and go for some days as Ethelyn lies insensible. When at last she recovers, Richard is there. The suite was waiting for her, he assures her. All are reconciled, even Ethelyn and Richard’s mother, who at last admits that perhaps she may be too set in her ways and didn’t exactly try to understand her daughter-in-law.

Inscription: “Annie Platt, from Mary, 9/’12”, on the front flyleaf.

Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (Samuel Richardson, 1740)

Pamela is the 15 year old handmaid of Lady B–. When her beloved mistress dies, she becomes the servant of Lady B–’s son, Mr. B–. Mr. B– takes what you might call an ungentlemanly interest in Pamela. Not to put too fine a point on it, he tries to rape her. Repeatedly. Pamela is well liked and respected by the other servants, whose intercessions on her behalf cost them their jobs. Lady Davers, Mr. B–’s sister, also disapproves of her brother’s conduct, although less for Pamela’s sake than for her own pride, as Mr. B– condescending to a servant would disgrace the family.

Having thwarted all of Mr. B–’s attempts, Pamela is at last dismissed and sent home to her parents, only this too is a ruse. She’s actually taken to another of Mr. B–’s estates and kept prisoner under the close watch of Mrs. Jewkes. The attempted rapes continue and grow more violent. Pamela contemplates suicide. The local minister secretly tries to free her but his plan is discovered and Mr. B– has him jailed.

Seeing that the matter can’t be forced, Mr. B– instead tries to buy Pamela, offering her a sizable estate and yearly allowance in exchange for being his mistress, but Pamela rejects this even more vociferously. So greatly is he offended at this slight to his largesse that he declares he’s finished with Pamela and sends her home for real. After she’s gone, he realizes that he really, truly loves Pamela. He recalls her and they marry. Pamela is eternally grateful to her most good and generous master. Even more so when she learns of how lately repentant he is of that affair he had with Sally Godfrey and the resulting “niece” that he still won’t own.

Pamela is generally termed an epistolary novel, but that conceit is dropped fairly early on. Most of the book takes the form of a diary, and even then, it’s only a diary because Pamela once in a while reminds you that that’s what her first person narration is supposed to be. A couple times, Richardson abandons even this and drops into omniscient third person.

No inscriptions.