Feathers Left Around (Carolyn Wells, 1922)

A man with a rather irrational hatred of divorce holds a house party with his fiancee, Pauline. They invite a popular mystery author. He turns up dead — cyanide poisoning — but it wasn’t suicide. The doors and windows were locked from the inside.

Private detective Fleming Stone doesn’t appear until the book is nearly over to solve the riddle. For 75% of the book, if not more, the investigation is lead by the single least competent police detective imaginable. When the dead author’s watch it found missing, the man didn’t even consider searching the house for it.

Pauline was the author’s first wife. He was done in with a poisoned toothpick. The door was locked because he locked it. It was all rather obvious.

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Peril at End House (Agatha Christie, 1932)

Poirot, retired from the detective game, is vacationing on the Cornish coast when he makes the acquaintance of a woman named Nick who, curiously, seems always to just avoid being murdered. A bullet just misses her while she talks to Poirot.

I had my suspicions early on and was fairly convinced that Freddie was being setup to take the fall, but it wasn’t until the chocolate boxes that it all became clear.

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The Ladies’ Juggernaut (Archibald Clavering Gunter, 1895)

A nouveau riche heiress is on a rest cure in Florida when she makes the acquaintance of an English drug seller. The two fall in love, but the heiress’s cousin plays a little trick on her, leading her to believe the man is engaged to another woman.

At home, it’s decided to purchase a titled husband for her to soothe her wounds. It’s all the rage among the smart set. The man turns out to be the English drug seller, who’s a viscount or something. The heiress, of course, won’t have him, but her 50 year old spinster aunt is quite willing.

Shock! Heiress discovers everything bad she’s heard about the Englishman has been a lie and he’s been nothing but faithful to her. It will take some ingenuity to fool her aunt into marrying a different man so she can have the viscount for herself.

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The Case of the Fugitive Nurse (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1954)

A woman arrives at Perry Mason’s office with tax troubles. Specifically, her husband — a very successful doctor — has embezzled about $100,000 and has it in the safe in the apartment he meets his mistress in. The doctor, though, turns up dead — his plane crashed, body burned beyond recognition — and it looks like his wife poisoned him. Can Perry Mason clear his client?

The heart of the matter — that the body wasn’t that of the doctor and the real doctor has started a new life with his mistress — I had figured out from the very start. Now, who the body is of who did the poisoning, that was a murky situation, but it’s a sideshow to the main event.

Death in the Air (Agatha Christie, 1935)

Aboard the plane from Paris to Croydon are eleven passengers, two stewards, and one maid.

Jane Grey, a manicurist, won one of the lesser prizes in the lottery and used her winnings to visit Le Pinet and try her hand at roulette. The Countess of Horbury is very familiar with the casino floor herself — much, much too familiar than Lord Horbury’s pocket book will support. The Hon. Venetia Kerr, who’s nothing but country life and horse-sense, would have made Horbury a better match, as they both know, but there’s no way the Countess would grant a divorce. On the male side are the Duponts, father and son archeologists, too engrossed in an argument about the dating of near-eastern pottery to notice much. Clancey is busy in his own mind, as well — he’s a murder mystery author plotting a new book. Ryder is making moon eyes at Jane, sitting opposite him, and doing little else. Medical doctor Bryant cleans his beloved flute, while dental doctor Gale laments that nobody pays any attention to dentists. Finally, Hercule Poirot sits bundled up almost to his eyes, and two rows back, Madame Griselle, that infamous Parisian money-lender and blackmailer, sloops forward over her coffee cup, dead from a snake venom dart apparently launched at her neck from a South American blowpipe.

One of the recurring questions is how nobody on the plane saw such a farcical proceeding of somebody getting up, loading a blowpipe with a feathered dart, taking aim at Griselle, and blowing. What distraction could have been so great to cover that? Of course, that’s just what the murderer wants everyone to waste their time on — that’s why they planted the blowpipe. The poison was simply injected directly into the blackmailer’s vein by someone who could get close enough to do it without attracting attention. I didn’t need all that many clues to spot the culprit. The way the character is written and the way they behave instantly from the moment the crime is discovered and until the reveal marks them as the murderer. For that matter, just reading the brief character introductions above, you’ve probably spotted who did it, too.

The Boomerang Clue (Agatha Christie, 1934)

With Christie, you’ve got Poirot stories on the one hand and Miss Marple stories on the other hand, but a tiny, vestigial third hand clutches a little collection of one-offs that probably make up my favorite of Christie’s murder mysteries.

Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent and Bobby, the younger son of the village vicar, were playmates as children and remain close friends. It’s a quiet place where nothing really happens, until one day and unidentified man falls from a cliff to his death. It’s deemed an accident, but the more Bobby and Frankie look into it, the more convinced they become that it was murder and that the “sister” who claimed the body was actually part of a drug smuggling ring.

It’s an involved plot with impersonations and forgeries, and kidnappings and murders that I couldn’t possibly summarize in a few lines, but in the end, though the culprit gets away, Frankie and Bobby come out on top.

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The Mansion of Mystery (Chester K. Steele, 1911)

For a 1910s murder mystery, that’s perhaps the most generic title imaginable. It’s appropriate for a novel that’s just a series of cliches strung together.

Private detective Adam Adams is called to the Langmore mansion to clear Margaret of her parents’ murder. The coroner is gunning for her conviction because… she was in the house at the time? I mean, she was one of the people there. Her parents were killed by indeterminate means — no one is overly fussed about finding out. Adams thinks it’s an undetectable poison from the mysterious Orient. During the investigation, he stumbles onto a gang of counterfeiters headquartered in an old mill that they keep people away from by making them think it’s haunted. Adams says disguises are old hat but he still finds occasion to wear a dozen. His “negro” costume doesn’t protect him from being captured, however, and he’s imprisoned in the secret underground tunnels beneath the mill, but he wins the confidence of Number 4 and thus escapes with the knowledge of the real murderer. It was the most obvious suspect.

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The Mystery of Devil’s Hand (Ted Copp, 1941)

After delivering Mrs. Crave to her Honduran coffee plantation, Steve Knight is forced to crash land his plane on a beach. The plane was tampered with, he discovers, but more pressing are the Indians now shooting at him from the jungle. Peruvian Indians. That’s significant but I think Copp forgot to write why. Such a big deal is made about them being South American and such a mystery is made of their presence in Central America for half the book, and then that plot line is just dropped without a word.

Anyway, he’s rescued by Pedro Hennessey (he’s Hispanic-Irish), a beachcomber since the death of his uncle Alfredo and the seizure of his plantation, Mano del Diablo, by certain foreign interests. They’re Nazis. The book never, never says that, but their leader is named Von Rein and he’s a big fan of slave labor. Maybe Copp was afraid Hitler would sue for defamation if he did more than insinuate.

Anyway, Steve and Pedro meet up with a Romani gypsy (which are apparently common in the jungles of Honduras) named Venga Savricas and the three storm the compound, intent on rescuing Alfredo (who they now have reason to believe isn’t dead) and destroying whatever dastardly work is being carried out there by Von Rein. That’s done largely with a sledgehammer. They’ve got, like, a stealth fighter, a bomber, and a submarine, but yeah, sledgehammer.

Mrs. Crave was Von Rein in disguise, did I mention that?

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The Case of the Amorous Aunt (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1963)

Lorraine Elmore, frustrated late middle aged single in a small Massachusetts town, enters into a long distance relationship with Montrose Dewitt, a dashing and mysterious man with an eye patch. She is soon headed out to California to marry him. On her heals is her niece, Linda Calhoun, who is sure this Dewitt fellow means no good: Lorraine, in addition to being single, is also rather wealthy. With Linda is her fiance, George Latty, who’s a mooch. He has zero income of his own and currently lives on an allowance from Linda. He much depends on inheriting Lorraine’s wealth.

At the motel on their way to a quickie wedding, Montrose is found dead and their roll — about $50,000 — is gone. Lorraine’s story doesn’t line up with the physical evidence in the slightest. George is acting awfully guilty.

This wasn’t especially hard to solve. Montrose is a conman — that’s evident. Lorraine did see him bludgeoned to death out in the desert, but that was an act. It was part of the plot to get her out of the way to get the money. He had to have had an accomplice. Who? First thought was George, but he didn’t fit. Enter Montrose’s roommate who swears he had two eyes but yet met Montrose with Lorraine and made no comment on the eye patch. Roommate simply got a bit greedy and decided he’d get a 100% share if Montrose really died. The motel rooms were torn apart because, unfortunately for them, George had overheard and snatched the money from its hiding place himself while they were out.

No inscriptions.

The Black Arrow (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1888)

An historical fiction set during the end of the War of the Roses. Young Dick Shelton and Joanna Sedley fall in love, but Joanna is kidnapped by the villainous Sir Daniel. Dick falls in with a gang of bandits out to revenge themselves against Sir Daniel. One thing leads to another and Dick is knighted doing battle for the Duke of Gloucester — the future Richard III — attempting to rescue Joanna, who’s about to be married against her will. The bandits’ black arrow finally finds Sir Daniel and Joanna is saved.

Inscriptions: On the front endpaper, stamped “City of Waterville School Department, No. 7, Date of Purchase 9/6/” and the rest is a smudge. It was published in 1926, but it could well have been in use decades after that.