R.J.’s Mother and Some Other People (Margaret Deland, 1904)

An assortment of short-stories with little commonality between them beyond an almost absurd heavy-handedness in their moralizing and their use of foreshadowing being as subtle as a brick to the face. I think the worst of the bunch was “The Black Drop”, where the very title gives away how this tale — a New Englander transplanted to the Midwest who prides himself on his social progressiveness and gets engaged to an orphaned white woman (I must stress that she’s white, because the author certainly does) but comes to doubt Lily’s (yes, she’s actually named Lily) parentage and suspect that her unusually light-skinned “Mammy” might actually be her mother — will end. The two better written stories are the first and the last, “R.J.’s Mother” and “The White Feather”. Still, you certainly figure out that R.J.’s mother is unmarried and that Phillip’s new book actually is garbage long before the author intends you to.

No inscriptions.

Calderon, the Courtier (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1850)

In 17th century Spain, Don Rodrigo Calderon is the favorite courtier of the Infant — a profligate of unparalleled proportions. Calderon is attached to the House of Lerma. A young soldier from the same house, Martin Fonseca, appears in the capitol after several years in Portugal. He’s in love with an orphaned singer, Beatriz Coello, who in his absence entered a convent. He asks Calderon’s help in freeing her so that they may marry. Calderon, though hardly known for compassion, agrees. The Infant, however, also has his eye on the girl. Beatriz is whisked away to the arranged hiding place, but Fonseca isn’t there to meet her — he’s been arrested on trumped up charges. Calderon is to hold her until the Infant arrives, but when he sees her, he realizes she’s his long-lost daughter.

Meanwhile, a conspiracy is at play in the court. With the Grand Inquisitor ‘s death, Calderon’s rivals plan to oust the courtier by installing an Inquisitor sympathetic to their cause. Fonseca is freed and rushes to the house, where Calderon has just fought off the Infant and is attempting to escape with Beatriz, but Fonseca — having been filled with the most damning reports of Calderon — thinks something quite different is happening and pulls his sword on the courtier. Beatriz jumps in front of her father and Fonseca accidentally kills her. Calderon is arrested by the Inquisitor and is tortured and put to death.

Inscriptions: a plate on the inside front cover says it was donated by John Manch to the Manch College of Music, November 23rd, 1926.

The Album (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1933)

The Crescent is a small gated community of old money families, or at least what had been old money before the market crash. Life there exists in virtual stasis, each day following the exact same script it’s followed for as long as Lou Hall can remember, until one day old Mrs. Lancaster is found hacked to death with an axe. The “why” of the murder seems clear enough, as Mrs. Lancaster had grown paranoid of banks and began hoarding gold in a chest under her bed — the chest that now contains nothing but lead dress weights. It’s the “who” that’s the puzzler. The families of Crescent, despite being more or less interconnected, are a reserved and secretive lot. Lou’s lived next door to the Lancasters her whole life and barely knows them. The police, as well as private criminologist Herbert Dean, have their work cut out for them in unraveling this murder and the series of seemingly inexplicable murders that follow it.

In classic had-I-but-known style, the story hinges on a single fact that links all the disparate plot points together and at once explains everything. If only the Crescent’s “Great Secret” has been known sooner, the tragedy might have been averted. As far as mystery novels go, had-I-but-knowns are more difficult than who-dun-its, in that solving them isn’t about simple deduction — it requires rather a lot more lateral thinking. The Album‘s reveal seems to come out of the blue when you first reach it but makes perfect sense in hindsight.

Inscription: Stamped in red ink on the back endpaper, “The Eatonia Tea Room & —Sh—”. The stamp was unevenly inked and the second half is too faint to read but it probably says “Gift Shop”.