The Case of the Long-Legged Models (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1957)

I’m pretty sure I’ve read this once aeons ago. I couldn’t remember anything specific about it, but I was getting feelings of deja vu, especially in the courtroom. Of course, that might just be because Perry Mason started getting super formulaic near the end — I might have just read an identical story with the names changed.

A syndicate is trying to buy out a small motel casino in Las Vegas and build a large resort. Three shareholders have sold but the other two are holding out for a better price. The racketeer trying to buy them out finds himself shot to death. Notable for most of the novel being immaterial to the case, which resolves itself rather suddenly when a witness for the prosecution inexplicably breaks down on the stand and confesses to the crime.

No inscriptions.

The State Versus Elinor Norton (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1934)

Elinor, on trial for the murder of Blair Leighton, awaits the verdict of the jury.

Like most Rinehart romances, a large aspect of the story is the great social upheaval of the world war and the death of Victorian sensibilities. The book takes the form of a memoir/reconstruction of events by Carroll Warner, who’d been in love with Elinor since they were children.

Caroline had Elinor very late in life and never had the slightest affection for her. Whether in their New York mansion, their Palm Springs one, or the one in Newport, Elinor’s life is a very lonely one. Her only true friend is Carroll Warner, whose family was hardly poor — they were their Newport neighbors — but in Caroline’s view existed so far beneath her station as to be invisible.

Lloyd Norton is selected for Elinor’s husband. Elinor is too cowed by her mother to care much, and the marriage is about as perfunctory to Norton as well. War breaks out and Norton goes over. He comes back a mental wreck. Norton is violently jealous of his wife and grows increasingly unstable, though Caroline refuses to see it. At last, they decide a change of lifestyle might do Norton good and they buy a ranch in Montana. “They” meaning Norton and Blair Leighton.

If Norton had any actual cause to suspect his wife’s fidelity, it’s Blair Leighton. She had few interactions with him but often saw him riding while her husband was at war and experienced the first crush of her life. Blair is an Englishman of indeterminate means in the country for indeterminate reasons. Those who know him best know him to be an adventuring womanizer.

The ranch is a crude series of shacks on a vast, lifeless plain, but Norton does actually seem to improve given work to occupy his time. Blair buys in with him, but it quickly becomes clear that his income is quite limited and he expects to leach off Norton. After a combination of inexperience, over expansion, and a disastrous winter, Norton’s own capitol is quite depleted and the ranch limps along solely on Elinor’s allowance from her mother. It’s then that Norton and Blair’s friendship begins to breakdown and Norton’s neuroses return.

On a hunting expedition one winter, the two find themselves snowed in. Only Blair returns. It’s widely if quietly thought that the close quarters broke them both, a fight ensued, and Blair killed him. Regardless, Elinor is convinced it was as Blair said — an accident — and further, gleefully accepts his marriage proposal. But after months of waiting, Blair has still made no move to marry. He has, however, relentlessly hounded Elinor for more money, whether it be by selling her jewelry or by appealing to her mother. It turns out that the windfall that Blair expects — Elinor’s inheritance once Caroline finally dies — will never come. The estate manager writes backs that Caroline is virtually penniless — she’s simply been too ill, stubborn, and trapped in the past to realize it. Everything has already been sold to pay her debts except the Newport house, which is willed elsewhere. Blair for once drops his mask and Elinor realizes what he is — that he was only ever using her for her money and never intended to marry her.

The sheriff arrives and confiscates Blair’s gun. It’s clear he’s suspected of murdering Norton and he needs to flee quick. He ransacks the house looking for Elinor’s pearls — the only thing she’d refused to sell — but doesn’t find them. Elinor has them in her safety deposit box. Late that night, he returns to the ranch, obviously drunk, and begins climbing the steep stairs to Elinor’s room. When he reaches the top, Elinor shoots him with Norton’s old service pistol.

Carroll knows the story, but very little of this is brought out at trial and the defense isn’t confident. The taciturn ranchers that make up the jury, however, are more penetrating than they imagined. Belated, perhaps, but they find that Elinor’s shooting was nothing but self-defense. Elinor moves back east and marries Carroll.

No inscriptions.

The Case of the Silent Partner (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1940)

Harry Peavis, flower mogul, wants to acquire the Faulkners’ small chain of florist shops. The obvious way to accomplish this is through Bob Lawley, the gambling husband of the elder Faulkner sister. At a nightclub in town, the Golden Horn, there’s also an underground casino run by Lynk. Lawley will risk the stocks, Lynk will win, and Peavis will buy them. It all goes to plan until Lynk is shot to death and Lawley disappears.

Too easy, The glue on the package being at least four days old cinches the case at once and leaves only one possible suspect. Even ignoring it, the drugged candies are suspect, given that they were drugged with a sedative rather than a poison, and that the dose ingested was enough to knock you good and out for a few days, but well short of being fatal. It reeks of a manufactured alibi.

No inscriptions.

All At Sea (Carolyn Wells, 1927)

I’ve got a broken shoulder and am typing one-handed, so this will be brief:

At an Atlantic City resort, a wealthy Chicago business man is found dead in the water — stabbed by someone near him beneath the waterline.

His curious collection of dolls, particularly the dark-haired one he told the chambermaid was his favorite, was obviously the key to the murder and went a long way to providing a motive, but didn’t name the knife-man. On that end, while I’m not sure if there were any reals clues, there was certainly a strong enough vibe that it didn’t surprise me at all.

Inscriptions: It’s from a library and it must gave been popular. This book literally fell apart as I was reading it. I was holding up loose leaves for the last forty pages or so. “Two Cents Per Day Pay Collection” is all that’s written on the check-out pocket.

The Window (Alice Grant Rosman, 1928)

Mrs. Willingdon is about to dedicate an antique stained glass window in the village church to her beloved son Terry, a fallen hero of the Great War. Or perhaps he was a deserter who knocked-up a nineteen year old then disappeared into the diamond mines of Africa. Either way. Pat Eden adopted the little boy, Michael. She and Terry had been in love before the war but his mother had selected Dorris, the dim-witted daughter of Sir Duffield, for his bride. The Colonel is unaware of the boy but Mrs. Willingdon knows about this horrible slander against Terry’s sainted memory and wants to somehow get rid of Pat. Maybe the bishop could do it.

Christopher Royle is back in England having unexpectedly inherited his ancestral home, Windyhill. Before taking residence, he stops in Dorne, falls madly in love with Pat, and becomes a father to Michael. The Colonel, an infirm old man largely confined to the house, has heard rumors. This Royle fellow grievously insulted his wife somehow and it has something to do with Pat. He goes to investigate and, on seeing Michael, at once knows he’s his grandchild. He disappears and his body is found later at the bottom of the chalk mine.

Inscription: From the Skowhegan Free Public Library, last checked out by Gladys Greene on March 30th, 1968.

The Visiting Villain (Carolyn Wells, 1934)

Bruce Dunbar is an eccentric old multi-millionaire. He has no immediate family, but his nephew and three nieces dine with him every Saturday night. He would call himself a jolly prankster while the cousins are more likely to call him a malicious bastard. His delight is mentally tormenting them and pitting them against one another. He’s also very fond of wills, rarely going more than a year without writing a new one.

The nearest thing Bruce has to a child is Streamline, his cobra, who he absolutely dotes on. One morning, just after a Saturday dinner, Bruce is found dead in his bed. It was cobra venom that killed him, the autopsy shows, but he wasn’t bitten. Fleming Stone, the celebrated detective, at once notes that the puncture wounds are too small and too close together. Someone injected the venom into him.

Another surprise, on the 25th of last July, Bruce quickly visited several different lawyers and had several different wills made, each naming a different cousin as the sole heir. All were signed within minutes of one another and finding the last one will be a pickle.

Dividing it into its two parts, the murder mystery was written well enough and the clues dropped do narrow down the suspects to two people. My first suspicion was actually that it wasn’t a murder at all: Bruce’s health had been failing — I thought he killed himself and arranged the wills stunt as one final jab at his family. As to the wills portion of the mystery, the solution of that is a pure deus ex machina.

Inscriptions: a name was written on the flyleaf, but it’s been obliterated by permanent marker.

The Blood Ship (Norman Springer, 1922)

A writer takes passage on Captain Shreve’s ship because he’s heard that he once knew the late”King” Waldon. He wants to write a book on the man who, with his wife alone, sailed in an open boat to Samoa to lead the life of a trader. The writer thinks very highly of his ability to capture a full person or place with the scantest information. Indeed, he praises himself in such a constant stream, it isn’t clear he cares to hear anyone else. It’s only stemmed when a coal hulk nears that catches Shreve’s eye. The writer can’t see anything in the broken down thing, but Shreve is ready to spin a tale.

The hulk was once a clipper ship, the Golden Bough. Shreve, then nineteen, had just been made an able seaman and wanted to sign with the toughest ship afloat and there was no bloodier ship than the Golden Bough. The rest of the crew had to be shanghaied. Only one other man signed up willing, Newman. Captain Swope seems to have seen a ghost when he lays eyes on Newman. He stays in his cabin and forbids his wife Mary from going among the men and tending to their wounds. There are wounds: the mates keep the crew cowed into submission by brutal, sometimes fatal beatings.

To cut a long story short, Swope had framed Newman (or Roy Waldon, to use his real name) with infidelity to break apart him and Mary. He then married Mary for her father’s money. Swope then killed Beulah — the supposed other woman — and Mary’s father, framing Newman for both crimes. Newman has escaped from prison with revenge in mind, but Mary convinces him to maintain the peace. A mutiny would mean his death and much of the crew’s and nothing would change. Swope, however, wants a mutiny. It would give him a perfect excuse to kill Newman, Mary, and one of the mates who has grown too dangerous.

Newman, Shreve, and Holy Joe — a shanghaied preacher — keep the peace as long as they can. Conditions, at last, leave no other option, and with Newman in chains in the hold, there’s no one to hold the crew back. Shreve, Mary, and Wong — the cook — have secretly been cutting into the hold and rescue Newman. Newman appears on deck just as the crew is advancing on the cabin and commands them to stop. Swope, his plot unraveling, attempts to shoot Mary in full view of everyone. Newman lifts Swope and throws him to the deck, snapping his spine. Lynch, the mate marked for death, assumes command of the ship. Holy Joe marries Newman and Mary on the deck. Lynch has launched the dinghy and filled it with supplies. With his help, Newman and Mary depart, with directions for reaching nearby Samoa. When the ship arrives in Hong Kong, there was no mutiny and the two are simply unaccounted for.

We never return to the writer, but I like to think he wasn’t paying attention, seeing no romance in a dingy old coal hulk.

No inscriptions.

The Meriwether Mystery (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1932)

Tony is found dead in at the Meriwether boarding house. It looks for all the world like a suicide, except there’s no gun and the phone’s been cut. Vicky, niece of the fabulously wealthy Cadwallader “Candy” Van Garter, is one of the residents. She theoretically runs an antique shop and tea room in town, but the business is really a hobby. She had just that day been stood up for a date with Tony and raged most violently. Personally, Candy fears she killed him and tries to invent some way to take the blame himself. Vicky, meanwhile, is convinced Candy did it.

Of the several other occupants are Helene Bailey, the landlady, and Dot, her ostensibly seventeen year old daughter; Sarah Parnham, a teacher, and her much younger and mildly retarded stepmother, Evadne; Oswald, storekeeper whose real passion is astrology; Paul Keasy, radio host; and the late Tony Charvan, who had a fifteen minute slot on the radio but no other obvious source of income.

Can crime analyst Lynn MacDonald discover the murder?

I rather like most of the Strahan mysteries I’ve read, but this is a lesser entry. You can certainly get ahead of it in places — the chronology of Tony’s night falls apart when you realize his segments are pre-recorded, and that’s hinted at pretty much off the bat — and the going to the movies alibi is a great deal too pat to not be planned — but I don’t think it’s solvable. Frankly, even in-story, it’s a wild guess on MacDonald’s part based on precious little evidence.

Inscriptions: between pages 198 and 199 is clipping from The Evening Bulletin, of Providence, dated May 12, 1954. It’s a recipe for marshmallow fudge.

Daring Wings (Graham M. Dean, 1931)

Tim is a newspaper reporter and an aviator. The end.

All right, there’s a villain called The Sky Hawk who has a death ray or a chemical weapon or maybe both who’s been robbing airmail shipments containing large sums of money, but he only appears two, maybe three times in the novel and there’s zero effort expended on finding him. The vast majority of the story is reporting on the recently explosion in the popularity of airmail — there’s apparently enough interest there to sustain a daily column.

Inscriptions: on the flyleaf, “Harold L Hunter, from ‘Dad’, Oct. 14, 1931”