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.

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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.