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.

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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.

From Now On (Frank L. Packard, 1919)

An underling of a crooked bookkeeper thinks he’s set for life when he manages double-cross his employer and make off with a hundred thousand dollars in cash, but the theft only lands him five years in prison. On his release, he’s hounded by the police, who expect him to lead them to where the money is hidden; by his gangland compatriots, who expect the same; and by the mafia, who he foolishly accepted a favor from without realizing that it came at a price. In the end, after much bloodshed and death, he comes to realize that the money simply wasn’t worth it.

No inscriptions.

The Red Lamp (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1925)

On his uncle Horace’s death, mild-mannered English professor William Porter inherits his sea-side estate. Daughter Edith is excited at taking up residence there, but Jane, his wife, abhors the notion. The place is reputedly haunted and she’s had another of her premonitions. They instead decide to rent out the house. A tenant is soon found — a stranger, Mr. Bethel, evidently an author. One side of Bethel’s body is paralyzed and he brings with him an assistant, a shifty-eyed boy named Gordon.

That summer, the village is beset with mystery. A flock of sheep is killed ritualistically. A chalk sigil of a circle enclosing a triangle is left at the scene. The sheep killings are soon followed by human disappearances, and again, the sigil. The villagers are mostly simple folk and they suspect a diabolical presence emanating somehow from the house and the strange, faint red light seen glowing from within it. Porter, while never going quite so far as to call it all bosh, has never lent much credence to the paranormal before — but it isn’t long before he, too, sees little other explanation. The police detective called in from the city, meanwhile, seems firmly convinced that it’s Porter himself who’s the cause of all the mischief.

A very good had-I-but-known mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed. There are parts of the puzzle that I don’t think any attentive reader would fail to solve before the reveal, but the linchpin that ties them altogether came as a surprise that, in hindsight, works perfectly but I never saw coming.

Inscriptions: on the front end paper, “This book belongs to Victor R. Whitcomb, Newburgh, Me.” Prior to Victor, it was part of the Danforth Lending Library in Bangor. Going by the check-out stamps on the back, it was discarded sometime after January 26th, 1929.

The Winter Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine, 1939)

The only son of a declining family returns home with his weird friends for an ice skating party, a man falls to his death in an apparent accident, an emerald collector finds his emeralds stolen, a jewel thief is killed, and the village doctor suddenly decides to elope with the housekeeper. Can detective Philo Vance unravel the mystery?

This was S.S. Van Dine’s last book. The preface insists that it was finished before he died but I doubt it. It’s very rough — hardly more than an outline — and very short — I’d blush to even call it a novella.

Inscription: signed Deb Salisbury on the first page.

13 At Dinner (Agatha Christie, 1933)

Jane Wilkinson is unhappily married to Lord Edgware. She wants to be rid of him to clear the way for her new amour, Duke Merton, and is quite willing to resort to murder if need be. In fact, she loudly proclaims so to all who will listen. The next day, Edgware is found dead. Jane is immediately suspected, but there are twelve witnesses who swear she was with them at a dinner party while the murder occurred. Hercule Poirot must unravel the mystery of Lord Edgware’s death and of the two additional deaths that follow it.

The linchpin of mystery — that Carlotta Adams was indeed impersonating Jane Wilkinson, but that she was the Jane at the dinner party while the real Jane was out murderin’ — I guessed right away. Everything pointed in that direction. The Geraldine diversion was good and in real life would have probably been correct, but by detective story logic, it was too on-the-nose. I will say, I was wrong about the source of the poison that killed Carlotta. Whether he was involved in the murder or not, I thought it came from Ronald Marsh. When he was introduced, Hastings thought he seemed a bit drunk and I figured he was actually strung out on barbiturates.

In all, it’s very similar to Carolyn Wells’s 1921 novel The Luminous Face.

Inscriptions: a plate pasted on the inside front cover reads “Waldo Peirce Reading Room” and “This book is given in memory -of- Florence M. Cushing.”

The Sky Pilot (Ralph Connor, 1899)

Arthur Wellington Moore, a young and inexperienced preacher, is assigned a mission in Swan Creek, Alberta — a small cattle town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Resistant at first, the rough and fiercely independent cowboys eventually come to respect him. Gwen, a teenager who lives in the outskirts of town, is injured in a stampede and left paralyzed. Moore — or the Pilot, as he’s affectionately called — ministers to her and helps her accept her fate. The town raises the money to build a real church, but the Pilot falls ill and dies just before it’s finished.

No inscriptions.