Mr. Barnes of New York (Archibald Clavering Gunter, 1887)

Mr. Barnes of New York is in Ajaccio just in time to see a duel between an anonymous Englishman and Antonio, a Corsican. Antonio, unfortunately, doesn’t make it. His sister, Marina, swears a vendetta against the nameless naval officer. Barnes has fallen in love with Enid Anstruther, who’s in France to meet her brother Edwin, lately in the navy in Egypt but now ready to settle down at home in England. He and Marina fall in love. On their wedding night, her guardian, Count Danella, tells her that it was Edwin who killed Antonio.

He didn’t — it was another guy — but there’s quite a bit of confusion in the bridal chamber for a bit. Marina swoons. Tomasso attempts to kill Edwin but stabs Danella to death. Barnes commandeers a ship (his vast wealth come in handy at times) and gets everyone off Corsica and on the way to boring, non-murderous England.

No inscriptions.

Murder for Christmas (Agatha Christie, 1939)

An old man without long to live calls all his family together for one last Christmas, which is surprising given how much they hate one another. Old Simeon even hates Alfred, who’s always had a dog-like devotion to his father. Most of his other children have been estranged for decades. Simeon uses the opportunity to remind them that they’re all disappointments and he hopes that at least one of his illegitimate offspring isn’t a failure. That night, Simeon’s throat is cut. His door was locked from the inside and the windows were bolted so that they couldn’t be opened more than a few inches. No one unaccounted for entered or left the house. Who did it?

The clues dropped are rather strong — those by Simeon himself about other children he might have being suggestive, and those about son Harry, family friend Stephen, and police superintendent Sugden all looking alike downright giving the mystery away. I suppose the red herrings resulting from the diamond heist might muddle things, but I figured all along that was just a diversion and had nothing to do with the reason for the murder. I found it odd and rather telling that Sugden didn’t suggest that when rattling off possibilities for why the diamonds weren’t in the safe.

Also, Poirot’s screaming was inaudible from a few doors down but a carnival noisemaker could be heard all the way downstairs?

No inscriptions.

A Thousand Years a Minute (Carl H. Claudy, 1933)

Dr. Lazar’s liver is failing and he doesn’t have time to test his time machine. He writes to Alan and Ted, lately known for their adventures beyond the moon (I swear, half of this book is an advertisement for Mystery Men of Mars), to come take up his mantle. Alan’s the smart wealthy one and Ted’s poor but really strong, you are now fully acquainted with their characters. From the present day of 1933 they go back one million years, to the time of dinosaurs and cavemen. They befriend one of the latter, named Icky Ikki. There’s another tribe, though, who aren’t so nice. They worship a saber-toothed tiger that they’ve got trapped in a pit and periodically throw captives to. They capture Alan, incidentally. Ted, with the help of Ikki and a lot of guns, rescues Alan and they escape to the present just in time to visit The Land of No Shadows, in book stores now.

Inscriptions: Stamped “Richard A. Johnson” on the upper-right corner of the flyleaf.

The Desert Lake Mystery (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1936)

Adam, tyrannical mayor of Oakman County, Nevada, has just learned that his ex-wife had a daughter after their divorce and has kept it hidden from him. He invites Betty-Jean to his camp on Memaloose Lake along with several other guests, notably his adopted son Kent, who he obviously intends to marry this Betty-Jean to consolidate his multi-million-dollar fortune. Unfortunately, also among the guests are Rosemary and her crippled brother Twill, respectively engaged to Kent and Betty-Jean. Old Judge Shivley, who raised Betty-Jean, is also at the camp with his son, Clyde, who is probably involved in a Hollywood scandal magazine and might dabble in a bit of blackmailing.

It’s blisteringly hot and most spirits are already pushed to the breaking point when a thunderstorm bursts. Almost everyone was in the club house playing bridge — including Betty-Jean, who completely forgot about the complicate dessert she was going to make for dinner — when Rosemary hysterically cries that she’s killed her brother. A search is made, evidence of a shooting is found, but Twill’s body isn’t. At the Shivley cabin, though, Clyde is found shot to death and his father is missing, leaving behind all his clothes.

There are a lot of murder mysteries were you’re faced with the simple problem that dead bodies can’t just up and walk away. They were either hidden by somebody else, weren’t actually killed, or where never even there. There’s a good bit of all three going on here.

No inscriptions.

Rollo on the Rhine (Jacob Abbot, 1858)

Twelve year old Rollo travels down the Rhine with his uncle George. This directly follows Rollo in Switzerland, which I have and should probably have read first, and continues the adventures of Rollo and Jane in Europe that started with Rollo on the Atlantic. Jane isn’t in evidence in this story, though. She’s referred to once and Rollo writes her a letter (about observing drunken students stumbling down the road and injuring themselves), but where she is, I don’t know.

To a modern reader, the greatest interest lies in that the Germany described simply doesn’t exist anymore. For one, they’re not traveling in Germany, they’re traveling in a myriad German-speaking petty duchies and principalities. Two, all the sites of interest they visit were destroyed in WWII with the exception of Cologne Cathedral. Three, even the Cologne Cathedral they visit isn’t there anymore — they saw it after it was left unfinished and stood a virtual ruin for 400 years. Work had just resumed and it would be another twenty or thirty years after this book was written before it was completed.

Inscriptions: stamped “Roy A. Evans.” on the front flyleaf.

Fair Harbor (Joseph C. Lincoln, 1922)

Injured in a train accident, Captain Kendrick is laid up in Bayport, a small town in Cape Cod. While he recovers, he’s appointed “outside manager” of Fair Harbor, a home for the widows of sea captains. It was Lobelia Seymour’s house until she married Egbert Phillips and moved to Italy. She’s dead now and Egbert is back in town flat broke, having quite exhausted her considerable fortune. A big part of Kendrick’s job is to safeguard Elizabeth’s money from him. Elizabeth is the daughter of Fair Harbor’s matron, a southerner who imagines herself an aristocrat far above these yokel Yankees, but she’s really rather dumb and has fallen entirely under Egbert spell. After draining her of $2,000 of her $5,000 capital, Egbert skips town with a richer widow. Elizabeth, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Kendrick, and after he’s healthy enough to ship-out again, she ships-out with him.

Inscriptions: on the front flyleaf, “Everett, from Mother, Xmas 1927”.

In the Fog (Richard Harding Davis, 1901)

Five men are at the Grill, the most exclusive club in England. One is a M.P. who supports a naval expansion bill. Another man — the one with the black pearl stud — does not. The vote is to be held today. The M.P.’s one weakness is the penny dreadful — the gorier the better. When reading one, he quite forgets everything else. He finishes his last book and is about out the door when the three other men start to tell a tale of their own.

Lord Chetney. thought lost in Africa, has just returned and resumed his affair with Russian princess Zichy. That isn’t great news for his younger brother Andrew, who now no longer stands to inherit and is massively in debt. Sears, an American naval attache, lost in the fog, stumbles into Zichy’s townhouse and finds both her and Chetney stabbed to death. Andrew is at once suspected, but the detective has his doubts. A search of the waste paper basket reveals a torn-up letter. Piecing it together reveals the name… Sears.

The M.P. is entranced. During the talk, Pearl Stud has been watching the lights in Parliament. When they finally go out, it’s revealed that the whole thing was fiction. In fact, Lord Chetney, the murdered man, was one of the story tellers. The M.P. has it over on Pearl Stud, though: the vote was already held earlier in the day — he was stalling for nothing.

No inscriptions.