The Ramrodders (Holman Day, 1910)

“Duke” Thelismer Thornton is a long-serving Republican state representative from Fort Canibas. The book carefully avoids ever mentioning the state, but it’s plainly Maine. It references several real towns and prominent political figures of the past like James Blaine, and it’s about the controversial “Maine law” — i.e., prohibition of alcohol, which Maine passed several years before it became a national platform. The fictional Fort Canibas is an amalgam of several predominately French-speaking towns in northern Maine, but mostly Fort Kent. Anyway, after decades of service (and enriching himself not at a little from it), the Duke is ready to retire and want to see his grandson, Harlan, elected in his place. His choice for governor is General Waymouth. He had already been governor once, but now in his old age, has withdrawn from public life, disgusted at the farce of it all.

After some persuasion, the Duke gets Waymouth to throw in his hat and select Harlan as his personal aide. But Waymouth, it seems, is no longer willing to play the game. He won’t publicly denounce alcohol while privately collecting kickbacks from rum-runners and protection money from speakeasies. To the horror of the Duke and the rest of the Republican political machine, Waymouth intends to run an honest campaign. They can’t revoke his candidacy because he threatens to run as an independent, so even if he did lose, the Republican party would split and give the election to the Democrats.

Waymouth is elected and prohibition is enforced. And… it does not go well. It turns out that even the “ramrodders” (the prohibition lobbyists) were more enamored by the idea than they were the practice. Waymouth isn’t disappointed. He had no personal objection to the use of alcohol. He merely wanted to see that the laws as they stood were enforced, and if the people didn’t like those laws, they should get rid of them; and if the people found their representatives corrupt and profiting off the selective enforcement of the law, they should get rid of them, too.

Inscription: on the flyleaf, “Annie R. Smith, 1910, filed under Maine Politics”. Annie must have run an organized library. Lovely shape, too. I’ve got a few Holman Day books that are all pretty beat up, except this one. Well taken care of.

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The Alster Case (Rufus Gillmore, 1914)

Swan is an attorney at Avery, Avery, and Avery. It’s a dead-end job with no chance of advancement, but he’s stuck there having to provide for his mother and younger siblings. He’s assigned to rewrite Cornelia Alster’s will. Alster is a difficult client. A very wealthy woman — she can, at times, be a most generous benefactor, but at the slightest offense will renounce you to the end of days. Hence the frequent will alterations.

The next day, Cornelia Alster is found dead. It may have been suicide, but private detective Trask is inclined to think not. Perhaps it has something to do with the simultaneous disappearance of Keith, the butler. The will names Swan the executor of the estate. Beatrice and Linda, Alster’s two adopted daughters, at once begin to act strangely — telling obvious lies, secretly corresponding with someone, advancing large sums of money from Swan that immediately vanishes. At last, Linda herself vanishes and Beatrice is convinced she’s been kidnapped by Keith, who she believes is her biological brother.

Can even the celebrated Trask find LInda and solve the mystery?

I read this quick — pretty much in two sittings — so I didn’t have much time to think about the solution myself, but one line very near the start jumped out at me: when Swan gets off the phone and quits the firm, he says it’s to manage the Alster estate because he’s just heard that his client was “murdered”. Not “found dead” but “murdered”. The nature of Alster’s death is not at all certain at the time. Is this a Roger Ackroyd situation, I asked myself? Yes, it is.

Inscription: A typewritten plate is pasted on the inside front cover reading “#22 THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF HERBERT J BROCK”. Herb has also signed several seemingly random pages.

Daughter of Fu Manchu (Sax Rohmer, 1930)

An English Egyptologist excavating a tomb and his associates are caught up in the machinations of Fah Lo Suee’s plot to take over the world. Fah Lo Suee is the leader of the until-now-dormant order of Si Fan and the daughter of Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu himself was thought to be dead, but was in fact merely retired. The previous enemy of the West now intervenes to rescue the English leads, stop his daughter, and prevent the world war she’s about to launch.

No inscriptions.

The Desired Woman (Will N. Harben, 1913)

Mostyn is an investment banker in Atlanta — one not known for being terribly scrupulous, either in his financial or personal dealings. After an illness, he takes a vacation to a farm in the country to recover. There, he falls in love with a young school teacher, Dolly Drake, and fully intends to marry her, but on his return to the city, he’s persuaded to instead marry wealthy socialite Irene Mitchell. He doesn’t love Irene, nor does she love him — her beau is Andrew Buckton, but Buckton is much too poor in her father’s estimation. They have a child together, little Dick, but it does nothing to improve their relationship, and indeed, Dick’s mother has next to no interaction with him. Eventually, Irene abandons them and runs away with Buckton. Dick has appendicitis that is ignored too long. By the time a doctor is called, peritonitis has set in and the boy dies. Irene was already addicted to morphine. When she learns of her son’s death, she overdoses and kills herself. Mostyn returns to Dolly, who forcefully rejects him. He flees to start a new life in California.

Inscription: Stamped “L.H. Buck” on the front endpaper and flyleaf.

Timber Wolf (Jackson Gregory, 1923)

Bruce “Timber Wolf” Standing is a man of few but undyingly loyal friends. He is a force to be reckoned with in Big Pine, a mining boom town in the southwest. The place is tapped-out, but Mexicali Joe — one of those few friends — discovers a huge find somewhere up in the surrounding mountains. This makes him a target for gold seekers all over the country, including at least two sworn enemies of Timber Wolf: Babe Deveril, his one-time partner; and Jim Taggart, the sheriff. Also after the gold is Lynette Brooke, a young woman with prospecting in her veins.

Lynette is thought to have killed Timber Wolf and Babe is thought to have killed Taggart. The two flee into the countryside, following Joe in search of his strike. Babe falls in love with Lynette. Neither Timber Wolf nor Taggart were actually killed and both, individually, set out in pursuit of the fugitives. Timber Wolf captures Lynette and falls in love with her as well. Strangely, Lynette begins falling for him as well.

No inscriptions.

Captain Scraggs (Peter B. Kyne, 1911)

I usually write these summaries within a few hours of finishing the book, but it’s been almost a week since I read Captain Scraggs. The delay I suppose just comes down to me not wanting to think about it anymore.

I’m not certain why Scraggs, who is sometimes a captain, is in the title. He’s one of the three recurring characters, along with Gibney and McGuffey, but I wouldn’t say the most prominent or important. There isn’t a plot, only a series of incidents. The book gets more disjointed as it goes along; by the time it reaches the gunrunning conspiracy, it’s abandoned all semblance of continuity. The tone is… uncertain. There are parts that I’m sure are meant to be comedic, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy. It reads like Kyne is attempting satire, but satire needs to be satirizing something, and there’s just nothing there.

Inscriptions: signed H.E. Guptill or maybe Gubtill on the front flyleaf.

The Window at the White Cat (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1910)

Allan Fleming, state treasurer, goes into hiding. By all accounts, he was a thoroughly corrupt man and he had many enemies. After more than a week’s absence, his daughter Margery visits a lawyer in the hope that he’ll find him. Fleming is found at the White Cat, an exclusive political clubhouse — or rather, his body is found, with a bullet lodged in his skull. The police rule it a suicide. Margery’s fiance Wardrop was Fleming’s private secretary and he knows it was murder. Wardrop is in neck-deep in his boss’s underhanded dealings. Shortly before the shooting, he was robbed of more than a hundred thousand dollars and several incriminating documents. Meanwhile, Fleming’s elderly sister-in-law disappears without a trace. There are few clues but a number that no one seems to recognize but that seems to crop up at every turn: 1122.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “If you wish to sew my hair, look on page 59 + 401 – Gladys Shaw”. I haven’t the faintest notion what that means. There’s nothing remarkable on page 59 and there is no page 401. I don’t get you, Gladys.