The Tapestry Room Murder (Carolyn Wells, 1928)

At a house party, Gaylord hopes that Diana will finally accept his marriage proposal, although she favors Ted. Marita is in love with Gaylord herself, or at least in love with his money. Cale, Gaylord’s secretary, is in love with Marita. During the “dark time” — a two minute period each night when the town switches from one power plant to another — Gaylord is stabbed to death. He was in a small room he called his tapestry room with Marita at his side, Diana in front of him, and Ted standing in the doorway. His only known relative, a second cousin named Moffatt, is called in. It’s believed Gaylord made a will and left nearly all his estate to Diana, but that will is conspicuously absent now and Moffatt is tentatively the heir. Fleming Stone, the celebrated detective, tries to unravel the mystery the police have failed to crack. His only clues are the sound of a ticking clock and the smell of mothballs.

Reminiscent of The Crime in the Crypt, where an event has been so carefully detailed and corroborated at every turn that it can’t possibly be natural — it had to have been staged. Here, most of the guests have weak alibis, and those in the room none at all, but one man can give an almost second by second account of where he was while the murder took place.

Inscriptions: from the Colonial Lending Library, and later from the Back Mountain Memorial Library. On page 198, there’s a bit of long division. Someone has divided 118.75 by 15 and correctly arrived at 7.91 and 2/3s.

Beverly of Graustark (George Barr McCutcheon, 1904)

Beverly Calhoun, southern belle, is in Graustark visiting her friend, Princess Yetive. Neighboring Dawsbergen has just had a coup and Prince Dantan is in hiding — Gabriel having taking the throne. On the road from St. Petersberg, Beverly is abandoned by her escorts and falls in with a gang of rather polite vagabonds, lead by a man called Baldos. They mistake her for the princess and she finds it prudent to play along.

Once in the capital city of Edelweiss, Baldos is made a royal guard, with Beverly still maintaining that she’s Yetive and falling increasingly in love with the stranger. Count Marlanx is suspicious that Baldos is a spy. Further, he wants to make Beverly his sixth wife. When his attempts at murder and blackmail fail, he’s exiled from Graustark. Revealing herself for who she really is, Beverly professes her love to Baldos, who it turns out was secretly Prince Danton. What’s more, Gabriel has been apprehended and Danton is restored to the throne.

Inscription: on the flyleaf, “To my husband, Christmas, 1908”.

The Franchise Affair (Josephine Tey, 1948)

Robert Blair, a small town solicitor, is called to represent Marion Sharpe and her mother. The two have been accused of kidnapping and beating a fifteen year old girl, Betty Kane. Kane looks like an innocent schoolgirl — like “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” — and the Sharpes are commonly thought to be witches, but Robert at once doubts Kane’s story. He enlists the help of his friend Kevin Macdermott, a criminal defense attorney, and Alec Ramsden, a private investigator.

I found this in this mystery section of the local used bookshop, but it’s really not. I’d call it more of a crime thriller. Kane, it turns out, spent the month in Copenhagen with a man she’d picked up in a coffee shop. His wife found out and beat her senseless. The Sharpes are acquitted.

No inscriptions.

Stories of My Home Folks (C.A. Stephens, 1926)

If Haps and Mishaps is adjacent to the Old Squire series, Stories of My Home Folks is the prequel. Only the first chapter is original content, you might say, although I don’t think any of the rest had been published before.

C.A. Stephens begins by describing when he first started writing for The Youth Companion, a Boston-based family-friendly literary magazine. He traveled extensively to write location stories and spoke to many readers to find out what resonated with them. While the adults understood the concept of fiction and enjoyed it, the kids mostly didn’t, and when they learned that the stories weren’t true, they soured on them. His editor pondered on this. Real-life stories are often mundane or only of interest to those that were there, but someone with a strong hand for writing fiction might spin a tale based on reality in a way that’s still interesting to read. Knowing Stephens’s background growing up on his grandfather’s farm in Maine, he suggested he try to write something based on that.

The remainder of the book is just that — several proof of concept short stories that would serve as the prototype for the Old Squire series that would come out decades later. The content is similar — and, indeed, some stories overlaps with those in the series proper — but a great deal less polished than the Old Squire books.

Inscription: “Cordial greetings to all my kind friends of The Youth Companion C.A. Stephens” on the front flyleaf.

Leave It to Psmith (P.G. Wodenhouse, 1923)

Mr. Keeble’s stepdaughter is in need of £3000, but Lady Constance refuses and it’s she that holds the purse strings. A plot is hatched between Keeble and his nephew Freddie to steal Conny’s diamonds. Conny will buy more, she’ll get her originals back, then Phyllis takes the cash. Freddie soon realizes he’s in over his head and answers an ad in the newspaper from Psmith (the P is silent), who says he’s game for anything legal or not.

Conny is a faddish sort and her current fascination is with poets. It’s a coup to get trendy Canadian poet McTodd to come to the house, but when he drops out, Psmith simply fills in. Of course, there’s another poet there, Miss Peavey, but it turns out she’s a fraud too and is also angling for the diamonds. Conny doesn’t have the best taste.

Inscription: Frances Sumter (or something like that), 1927.

The Case of Jennie Brice (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1913)

Mrs. Pitman’s boarding house is flooded out and the downstairs residents must pack into the upper rooms. Among them are Ladley and his wife Jennie Brice, an actress. The first night of the flood, Jennie vanishes and the evidence against Ladley starts to mount. Is it a publicity stunt, or is a publicity stunt a great mask for a murderer to hide behind?

Inscription: “Papa, from Lizzie” on the front flyleaf.

Home Talent (Louise Closser Hale, 1926)

An aspiring Midwestern actress finally catches a break and gets a role on Broadway. In truth, Sharlie got the part because the producers had put up quite too much with Isotta Kublay and they needed a redheaded replacement in a hurry. The star of the show is Alexis Orso, a major name in show business despite being completely and utterly helpless without his long-suffering wife Alice. Kublay seeks revenge by framing an affair between Sharlie and Alexis.

Inscriptions: stamped in numerous places that it’s from the Dexter Town Library, Dexter, Maine.

The Ghost’s High Noon (Carolyn Wells, 1930)

A woman travels to Spain and falls in love at first sight. They’re married, but he dies of phosphorus poisoning. Back in the US, she remarries, but this husband, too, dies of phosphorus poisoning. The less chivalrous American courts won’t let her off simply for being a woman so it’s up to detective Fleming Stone to uncover the real murderer.

Not one of Wells’s better stories in that it hangs on clues the reader isn’t given until the reveal, but I’d guessed the murderer anyway. Figuring both men had to be killed by the same person, that person would necessarily be Spanish, and there is only one other Spanish character.

Inscription: Leon Leon Knapp on the front flyleaf. How unfortunate that his last name wasn’t also Leon.

The House Without a Key (Earl Derr Biggers, 1925)

The Winterslips are an old and respected Boston family. Well, most of them are. Some have a case of the wanderlust and some aren’t entirely paragons of ethics. Dan certainly wasn’t. He’s found murdered in his Hawaiian home. Can Charlie Chan discover the culprit?

There aren’t many clues in this one. Indeed, a number of characters point that out. All the same, I’d had it figured out fairly quickly. Exactly three people knew John Quincy was in San Francisco and what his task was. One of them’s dead, the other has an alibi, and the third’s alibi falls apart when we learn he’s a champion swimmer. Doesn’t help that he’s the only one with any real motive, either.

Inscription: Charles S. Brown on the front endpaper.