Rollo in Switzerland (Jacob Abbot, 1858)

Uncle George intends on going on a three week tour of Switzerland and asks Rollo to join him, which he happily does. Sister Jane stays with the parents in Paris while father still recuperates from his injury. (What is this injury and how much longer is it going to last?) They travel upon the lakes, atop the glaciers, and across mountain passes. A good portion of the book is devoted to Jungfrau — which they don’t climb, of course, but they do make a two-day outing of climbing one of the foothills to get a spectacular view of it. They get to see and hear and avalanche on the great mountain. In the end, they make their way to the Rhine to book passage back to Paris and Rollo’s parents.

Inscription: With the same stamp most of my Rollo books are stamped with, “Roy A. Evans”, on the front flyleaf. Above it, with a smaller but more decorative stamp, it says “Roy Evans, Alfred, Maine”.

Seventeen (Booth Tarkington, 1915)

William Sylvanus Baxter has attained the great age of seventeen and now considers himself quite an adult. He takes it as a major affront when his family, friends, or strangers don’t — never mind how passing or imaginary the slight against his adulthood may be. He is very, very self-conscious and like as not to assume everything anyone says or does is about him.

Baxter, as he would like to be called now that he’s put Silly Bill behind him, has found true and everlasting love. Young Miss Lola Pratt is visiting the Prachers and she is simply the noblest creature on the earth. She carries a tiny perfumed and often barely conscious dog with her called Flopit that she continually speaks in baby talk to. Indeed, she continually speaks in baby talk in general to everybody. Baxter builds castles in the sky for when they marry, which will be right away, of course — why, did you hear of the boy in Iowa who started shaving at 13 and in three years had a full beard and he married and they said it was the best thing that could have happened.

Trouble is, every other boy around Baxter’s age has also fallen head over heals for Miss Pratt. Baxter is only barely cognizant of them, given how true and everlasting his love is compared to their boyish infatuations. Mr. Pracher knows. Mr. Pracher knows and is being driven slowly insane by Miss Pratt’s baby prattle and the gaggle of boys that fill his house from early morning to late at night.

The book is really a series on incidents too numerous to recite in which Baxter continually defeats himself through his own self-consciousness. Cringe humor, which I don’t normally go in for, but I had fun with this one. Worried that the ending was going to turn out trite, but no, it veered hard into creepy territory instead. Hurray?

Inscription: “To George, from his friends in 214” on the front flyleaf. Don’t know what that is. The hand looks male and decidedly adult.

Face Cards (Carolyn Wells, 1925)

Stephen Clearman, the King of Clubs — so called because of his innumerable club memberships — has just completed renovating his house. It’s a risky move because the house is cursed: anyone who modifies it in any way will die. Stephen thinks he’s outwitted the curse, though. He’s traveled extensively in Africa researching magic and building his collection of protective mud masks. He spends an hour a day wearing a mask and… I don’t know, reciting incantations or something, it’s left pretty vague. Standing to inherit, should he die, are his daughter Lulie, his sister Phoebe, and his wife Carlotta, called the Queen of Diamonds because of her love for the stones. Carlotta assists Stephen in his fight by scouring the attic for pages from his great-great-whatever-whatever ancestor’s diary relating to the curse. I guess it’s got a lot of sub-clauses — it’s left pretty vague, too.

And what would you know, Stephen does die during his alone time with his masks. The mode of death isn’t obvious and his room was locked from the inside. Lulie, meanwhile, has vanished without a trace. When the police detective fails, a private detective is called in and it isn’t Fleming Stone this time — it’s Tony Barron, who I think only appears in this one novel, but Carolyn Wells wrote a million of these things and I might be mistaken.

There’s the usual reveal at the end where the detective sums up the crime, but the book actually has a few reveals starting at about the half-way point. Granted, none of them were exactly stretches to solve. How the door was locked from the inside (or rather, how butler West made it seem as though it was) was very plain if for no other reason than the oddly detailed stage direction in the door opening scene that screamed something untoward was afoot. That Carlotta was the mastermind of the murder also took very, very little deductive skill. I’d had her picked out before the murder even occurred — she’d plainly been the author of the forged diary pages and there was no other reason for their existing. No, the real question was how the various sub-mysteries tied together, and a big part of that was whether West was really involved or just Carlotta’s patsy.

No inscriptions.

Half-Mast Murder (Milward Kennedy, 1930)

A political author is found killed in the summer house. Before the alarm is even raised, our three protagonists are tumbling over themselves to be the first to discover the body, almost as if they already know it’s there and are just waiting for the signal.

That they all suspect one of themselves guilty and are rushing to conceal evidence is obvious. Though a great deal of the book is spent on unraveling the faked and disturbed clues, it’s also pretty obvious that none of them are actually the murderer, either. Who really killed him works in the sense that it fits into the timeline but is very disappointing in that it’s entirely unmotivated. They killed him because otherwise there’d be no book.

Inscriptions: In pen on the front flyleaf, “Doris Hopper” then “Doris Thelma Hopper”. Below that, in pencil, “Doris Hopper”. In pen on the facing end paper, “D. Hopper”.

Cimarron (Edna Ferber, 1929)

The Venables are fiercely proud of their Southern roots, though having lost their plantation in the war, they’ve built a make-believe Old South in Wichita, Kansas. Sabra Venable, rather than picking one of the other Southern gentleman in the area, marries Yancy Cravat. Yancy is a restless soul. These last five years in Wichita are the longest he’s ever stayed in one place. Oklahoma, once reserved for the Indians, is being opened to white settlers. He convinces Sabra to make the “run”.

They arrive in Osage, named for the Osage Reservation adjoining the town, if “town” it can be termed. There are few even semi-permanent structures on the baked red clay plain. Yancy sets up the printing press they dragged with them from Kansas and establishes the Oklahoma Wigwam. In his editorials — which are all Yancy has a mind for, Sabra handles the business of running a newspaper — he takes a controversial stance in favor of Indian rights. They certainly stir controversy at home: the Venables will never consider those filthy savages as human.

When Osage grows a little less wild and the tents are replaced with wood and brick houses, the itch for change gets to Yancy. He wants to throw it all up, go on another run, and make a go at being a rancher in a still untamed country. Sabra, this time, will have none of it. She and her two children, Cimarron and Donna, are staying right where they are. And so Yancy leaves on his own. Under Sabra’s sole management, the newspaper expands and money flows in. Every several years, Yancy will all at once drop in like he had never gone. He had been a rancher, a Rough Rider, and who knows what else.

The children are grown now. Sabra sent Donna east to a New York finishing school. She comes back with a vaguely British accent and her eyes on landing the richest man in town, never mind that he’s already married. One year and one divorce later and she succeeds. Cimarron went in on a geology degree but dropped out when oil was discovered in Oklahoma. Sabra employed an Indian servant, Ruby Big Elk, that she paid as little attention to as she possibly could. She missed it when she and Cim got married.

Time flies by. It’s been about thirty years. Osage is a city now. The Wigwam is still a powerhouse, though Sabra isn’t so hands-on with it anymore. She’s a congresswoman for Oklahoma and a serious contender for governor, working on a platform for Indian rights. Yancy has been gone so long this time that she’s admitted to herself that he’s dead. On a campaign in an oil-field boom town, there’s an accident at one of the wells. A gray-haired old man has averted a disaster but killed himself in the process. Sabra rushes to the scene just in time hear Yancy breathe his last.

The Coast of Intrigue (Whitman Chambers, 1928)

Atwell partners with Cunningham on a platinum dredging venture in South America. Up the river is Hackwood, a mahogany logger who attempts to sabotage them. Hackwood is in cahoots with Juartez, the governor, who’s preparing a coup to overthrow President Quilla. Dolores de Rico, a wealthy woman of mysterious parentage (shh — she’s Quilla’s daughter) helps Atwell to thwart Hackwood.

Inscriptions: I thought there weren’t any, but after removing the dust cover, I found “T. Hutton, Holly St.” written on the front end paper.

The Golden Spur (J.S. Fletcher, 1901)

Cosmo has just been evicted, has pawned everything but the clothes on his back, and is stoically facing homelessness when his old friend Nancy appears to offer him a job. Princess Amirel has fled from her small principality of Amavia to marry an Irishman, Sir Desmond. Adalbert, the prince, is after her. She’s been arranged to marry Graf von Hofberg, who’s less interested in her than he is in her jewels — namely, the Amavia amethyst. Cosmo is employed as a watchdog until Sir Desmond gets back home from South Africa. He’s not very good at that as the jewels are stolen. The book is vaguely a mystery novel: who took them? The artist fellow who’s trailing Cosmo, of course. It’s perfectly, blindingly obvious, but it isn’t treated as such.

Inscriptions: There’s a sticker on the inside front cover that’s black on dark red and almost wholly illegible, but does in fact read “C. Mace & Son, Booksellers, Leeds”.

The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (Ann Radcliffe, 1797)

Vivaldi falls madly in love with Ellena when he sees her and her aunt walk home from church one day, but Ellena is just some orphan with only a small villa in Naples, while Vivaldi is the only son of the Marchese, who cares more for his family’s honor than for anything else, and the Marchesa, who more than that even cares for money. The Marchese forbids it, and the Marchesa goes a bit farther. Schedoni, a monk and her confessor, plots with the Marchesa to have Ellena murdered. She’s abducted and taken across the country to the monk’s usual murder site, but just as he draws the stiletto, he see’s a miniature portrait of himself around her neck and realizes she’s his daughter.

Vivaldi, meanwhile, has arrested by the Inquisition on charges trumped up by Schedoni. It looks bleak, but then a strange friend appears in the form of a monk who might also be a ghost — Vivaldi is half of that opinion until he appears to the others at the tribunal. He delivers a strange tale of intrigue: Schedoni murdered his brother, the Count di Bruno, so that he could marry his wife, but believing her to be unfaithful to him, killed her in a jealous rage. At the confessional, he told of his crime to the monk Anslado — who, turns out, was the very man he suspected she was unfaithful with. Spalatro, Schedoni’s accomplice, on his deathbed confessed this to Nicola di Zampari — Vivaldi’s ghostly monk.

I’ve left out numerous subplots, one of them introducing a nun called Olivia, who it turns out is actually Countess Olivia, Ellena’s mother (who’s less dead than Schedoni believed). She and Schedoni did have a daughter, but she died in infancy. Ellena’s father was the murdered Count di Bruno. Schedoni never learns his error, though, as he poisons himself (and Nicola) in prison rather than face execution. Vivaldi is freed. With Ellena now known to be of noble blood, the Marchese consents to her and his son’s marriage. The Marchesa previously died in a subplot I omitted.

No inscriptions.