A London Story (George Buchanan, 1935)

Two brothers are both employed by Lord Flowerfield at Drancers department store in London, but John and Nicholas could not be less alike. John is, to use the newly imported Americanism, a go-getter. He’s loud, brash, and assertive, focused entirely on advancing himself and increasing his income. He allows no fault in others and admits of no fault in himself. Nicholas, meanwhile, finds the whole commercial world to be nothing but a hollow facade propped up by old men of inherited wealth and titles with no convictions beyond a terror of a changing social order.

Nicholas is fired, and at the height of the Great Depression, his prospects for finding another job are close to nil. He becomes dejected by the scorn he faces. He’s the product of his generation, they say: a lazy good-for-nothing, expecting of everything and deserving of nothing; he could find a job if only he chose to. After months of failure, he’s reached the point of giving up. With his last few pounds, he rents a car and speeds away with suicidal abandon.

In the hospital, after the crash, Nicholas is met with Phillida, who takes a keen interest in his well-being. Phillida briefly dated John and before the wreck had only the slightest acquaintance with his brother. She and John had parted ways largely because she wasn’t impressed by his bluster and that’s all he was looking for. He found it in Beryl. Beryl found in him a money machine.

The friendship between Nicholas and Phillida grows into love and the two wed. John marries Beryl. As they were in worklife, the brothers could not be less alike in homelife, either. Nicholas has found a job — not a very good one and not one he enjoys, but it’s something. He and Phillida are very happy in their little two-room apartment. Beryl does well enough in the lap of luxury, but John is miserable. He never deceived himself that Beryl loved him, but her cold and impersonal treatment proves to be more cutting than he could imagine. He’s distracted, he loses control. All his go-getter attributes slip away, he finds himself on Flowerfield’s bad side, and is soon without a job.

Inscription: A small plate is pasted on the outside front cover that reads “Camden Public Library, 14 Days”. That would be Camden, Maine. No other markings.

Smoke of the .45 (Harry Sinclair Drago, 1923)

A western mystery. A stranger rides into a small Nevada town, takes a room at the hotel, and later that night is discovered dead. It was framed as a suicide, but Johnny Dice suspects murder and sets out to bring the guilty to justice. It turns out that nineteen years before, the man was a mining partner of two of the town’s most prominent residents. When they struck pay dirt, the pair decided they’d rather not split the fortune three-ways and left the man for dead in the desert. Until then, they thought the matter was settled, but when the past came back to haunt them, they saw only one way to prevent exposure.

Inscription: Robert E. Shroule, signed on the front flyleaf.

A Spinner in the Sun (Myrtle Reed, 1906)

A woman saved her fiance’s life when his lab experiment went wrong and the beaker he’d been working over exploded. She pushed him away and took the blast herself and was badly burned. The man abandoned her without a word, married someone else, and had a child. For twenty-five years, Evelina’s held the grudge. She meets Piper Tom, ostensibly an itinerant dry goods salesman but really something more. He’s seen many a small town, he says, with preachers whose only notion of religion is hellfire and whose congregations know nothing of acceptance, and it’s his mission to spread forgiveness. In the end, Dexter, haunted by his cowardly abandonment and ashamed of losing his son’s trust, kills himself with an overdose of laudanum. Evelina at last is able to let go of her anger. She and Tom marry.

I’ve elided over large parts of the story. I can’t say that I have a strong stomach for horror, and this book is shockingly gruesome in parts. The vivisection, especially, I don’t care to elaborate on.

No inscriptions.

Castle Gay (John Buchan, 1930)

Craw is a shy and reclusive (you might even say borderline-agoraphobic) newspaper man, but for all his timidity in person, he’s a firebrand with his pen. His papers are the most widely read in Britain and his opinions exert no small influence over the public. It’s this which attracts the Evallonian royalists to him. A republic since the war, the small eastern European country of Evallonia is embroiled in conflict and in the middle of a possible regime change, and Prince John wants Craw’s help to sway the League of Nations in his favor. The republicans, meanwhile, want to catch the Prince with his pants down — grovelling to the foreign press in an effort to overthrow the legitimate government.

Confronting either is a terrifying prospect for Craw, and not without danger, for the republicans are a ruthless bunch. Castle Gay, Craw’s Scottish retreat, is virtually besieged by the Evallonians and by rival reporters, eager to interview the influential recluse. It’s a sticky situation, but not beyond Jaikie. Jaikie is a local Scottish boy who’s at home on break from Cambridge and quite accidentally finds himself Craw’s guardian. Jaikie and his friends remove the Evallonians with minimal scandal, and Craw breaks through his shell and discovers the confidence to confront his opponents in person as well as on the page.

No inscriptions.