The Lighted Lantern (John Lebar, 1930)

The Warrens are broke. Ruth Warren’s brother Harry Grey has just died. He owned a three-quarters share of a partnership on the Dead Lantern Ranch in Arizona, with Jep Snavely taking the other quarter. Since Kenneth Warren is consumptive and needs to move to a hot, dry climate anyway, they head to Arizona to live on the ranch. Because Harry was Snavely’s partner and Ruth was willed his share. Probate, what?

Yeah, so that’s not at all how that works. Ruth is not Snavely’s partner — Harry was. The ranch would have to be sold and the Warrens would take three-quarters of what it sold for.

We immediately learn several things about Snavely’s outlook on the world: people are bad, fences are bad, cattle are things that generate a bit of money but are otherwise of no consequence, and horses are great. Snavely just wants to be left alone on his 20,000 acre ranch so he can ride his horses in peace, and when Harry Grey was so unexpectedly killed in Mexico, he finally was. When the Warrens arrive demanding to live on the ranch, he asks Ruth if she’s shown the will to a lawyer and she bluffs that she has. So Snavely is aware of Ruth’s fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of what she’s inherited. Rather suggests he killed Harry and wants to keep the Warrens on the ranch so that he can kill them and thus keep living on the ranch.

And that’s exactly what the solution is. But if you just caught that in the first chapter, it was the only solution possible, never mind the whole rest of the book.

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A House Divided (Pearl S. Buck, 1935)

It’s the start of the Chinese Civil War. Revolution is brewing in the south, but in the north, regions continue to be held by local warlords or else foreign interests. Wang Yuan is the son of Wang the Tiger, a now elderly warlord who expects Yuan to take his place, but Yuan hates war and killing and flees from the war school the Tiger had him enrolled in. When the Tiger arranges a marriage for Yuan, that pushes him quite over the edge and he flees to one of the Tiger’s wives’s homes. She lives in a coastal city controlled by foreigners. I’m assuming it’s Hong Kong, but the book uses no names, ever.

He meets his (half-)sister for the first time since they were very young, when the lady (her mother) moved to the coastal city. He also meets new cousins to him, including Meng, who’s a revolutionist that hates — positively hates — foreigners, who he blames for essentially all of China’s problems. The Tiger writes that, if Yuan doesn’t return, he’ll marry him by proxy. The revolution nears the borders of the coastal city and the police start conducting raids of college-age people, executing anyone suspected of being involved. The lady arranges to ship Yuan out of China, to the safety of foreign lands — which sounds very much like California.

Yuan wants to be a farmer and studies agriculture at the foreign college. He befriends one of his professors, who invites him home. The professor is an intellectual and knows all there is to know about plants. He’s also deeply religious and hopes to win Yuan for Christ. Yuan accompanies him to a church service but comprehends none of it. His only other encounter with a preacher was going to a talk and slide show from a missionary back from China. He’s collecting money for desperately poor street beggars — starving, naked, leprous, blind from disease. Yuan is incensed and calls out there’s nothing of the sort in China. Yuan hated China while there but has idealized it since reaching the US. Sheng, his cousin also hiding out in California, tells him that his thoughts are very deep but incredibly narrow: he focuses on one thing to the exclusion of everything else and sees nothing though he’s surrounded by it.

The government is overthrown and the revolutionists are in power. Yuan takes his degree and ships back home, thoroughly excited now that all of China’s problems are solved. After visiting his father, he learns that he’s deeply in debt after funding Yuan’s escape and keeping him six years in the US. It falls on Yuan to repay his expenses. Meng is a captain in the revolutionary army. He’s building the new capital and has arranged a place for Yuan as a professor in the university. The building is old, the windows broken, the door broken, and the students are too cold to pay attention in class. Meng grows disillusioned — the old parasitic rulers have simply been replaced by new parasitic rulers robbing from the starving, naked, leprous, blind from disease beggars that throng the streets. He plots a new revolution.

This new revolution sweeps the north. The Tiger’s lands are taken, his tenants turned against him. Yuan comes to his aid, but he’s already been captured and essentially crucified. Mei-Ling, the lady’s new adopted daughter who’s studying to become a doctor, also comes, but there’s nothing to be done. Yuan, after building up China in his mind abroad and deciding he wants nothing further to do with the white devils, decided he was going to come home and marry Mei-Ling. He found it completely and utterly incomprehensible that she refused. Who ever heard of a maid refusing a marriage? These new ways are the awful influence of foreigners — China should go back to arranged marriages that the bride and groom have no say or appeal in. But now that Yuan and Mei-Ling are standing over the Tiger waiting for his inevitable death… she just changes her mind and now wants to marry Yuan? There’s no “The End” — it just stops there.

Published in 1935, the civil war was nowhere near its end and the Communist Revolution was still a decade off, to say nothing at all of the Cultural Revolution — although the destruction of the olds is a massive part of Meng’s character and is what ultimately sways Yuan to the revolutionists’ cause. All that’s very interesting, though the ending is abrupt and completely unearned.

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Daniel Quayne (J.S. Fletcher, 1926)

Aunt Sarah begs Daniel Quayne not to go to the Sicaster statutes fair. The Quaynes have never had any luck at Sicaster, but Daniel is set for going. He meets a young woman there, Rosanna, who’s plainly not a northerner from her speech, but her family has relocated from Surrey. They both find places at Campion’s farm. He’s saved a substantial sum of money and intends on going to Canada and establishing his own farm, which he’ll likely do after a year with Campion. Daniel is a simple sort and he is entirely smitten by Rosanna. That he’ll marry her he takes nearly for granted. Rosanna isn’t simple. She has casual dalliances with a number of men, but most significantly, Campion himself has fallen for her. Daniel finds them together and shoots them both. He’s hanged.

Inscription: pasted on the front endpaper is a rather elaborate plate showing a globe and several pastoral images that reads “O, Book, which from its proper shelf, My own good friend hath helped himself. Now like a dove with wings unloosed Come back, return, fly home to roost. Alfred H. Fair”. The title page is also signed A.H. Fair.

Spooky Hollow (Carolyn Wells, 1921)

A man calling himself Henry Johnson calls on Homer Vincent at his fabulous home Greatlarch. Homer has owned the sprawling mansion for about five years, ever since his niece Rosemary was left orphaned and came to Vermont to live with Homer and his sister Anne. Rosemary is out to the caller’s dismay. He knows rather a bit about the family to be a stranger. Homer says the caller came to discuss an investment opportunity in artificial rubies. He and his sister would have settled the matter in the morning, but she turns up dead and the caller is missing.

The local police figure Johnson did it to rob Anne of her large ruby, but beyond that, they’re at a loss. Homer has news for Rosemary: she is actually not his niece — she was adopted — and her further presence in the house now that Anne is gone isn’t welcome. Rosemary’s fiancĂ© Bryce Collins is not satisfied with this situation and engages Fleming Stone to unravel the mystery of both the murder and Rosemary’s birth.

Have you solved it already? Rosemary is indeed Homer’s niece. Further, it was Homer’s brother who was wealthy. When Rosemary arrived with her millions, Homer bought Greatlarch and took up the mantle of a country gentleman. Johnson, actually John Haydock, came to beg Rosemary’s hand in marriage. He’s spent the last five years amassing a fortune that would make him Rosemary’s equal. Anne was going to give the game away and tell Rosemary whose money bought Greatlarch. Homer killed Anne and Haydock both and would have sent Rosemary packing.

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The Case of the Velvet Claws (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1933)

I think this is the first Perry Mason novel. You really wouldn’t know it — they’re all remarkably consistently written.

A woman married to the secret owner of a scandal magazine is caught out on a date with a prominent politician. Before much comes of that, her husband is shot to death. The woman thinks she did it herself and so tries to shift the blame alternately onto the politician and to Perry Mason but ultimately is arrested herself. Mason’s work isn’t done: he goes on to prove that, while she did shoot at her husband, she didn’t even hit him. He was shot moments later by his nephew, who stood to inherit his estate.

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Where Your Treasure Is (Holman Day, 1917)

This is very much a book loaf rather than a novel. I get the feeling that Holman Day had a bunch of half-worked ideas none of which really had enough meat to stretch out to more than a hundred pages and just mashed them together. The result is this really rather long book that doesn’t tie together at all.

Ross Sidney goes to Portland to take up deep sea diving. He gets some experience and buys a suit, but then takes a swing at his employer for no particular reason and is blacklisted. He’s then taken on as a barker or something of that nature for a scam curiosities museum, but falls out with them when he helps two boys from his home town get back the money they’d been cheated. He goes back home to find that Judge Kingsley, the town treasurer, has been embezzling from the town and Ross’s uncle is about to spill the beans. (If that sounds familiar, it should, it’s the plot of Squire Phin.) Ross is in love with the Judge’s daughter Celene so he vows to set things right.

The Judge tried to raise money to correct the books, but the investment he made was with the very same con artists Ross was involved with. Ross and the Judge hop on the train and give chase without any clear idea of where they’re going or what they’re going to do if they find them. In the western desert, in a gold boom town, they find one of the men. Ross kind of then just knocks him down and steals his wallet, which conveniently contained all the Judge’s $16,000 in cash. Ross invests in a gold mine that turns out good and makes more money. They go home, the Judge bails himself out, but Celene chews out Ross for kidnapping her father.

Ross strikes out for San Fransisco to dive for a dubiously legal concern trying to recover the three million dollars in gold that was lost in the sinking of the Golden Gate. The wreck isn’t terribly deep, but the conditions make digging down to the strong room virtually impossible. An accident aboard the ship involving a monkey with an artificial tail gives Ross an idea to use water pressure to shift the sand, which works. The labor is tremendous and Ross has a breakdown shortly after the job is completed.

Captain Holstrom and his daughter Karna bring him back home. While Ross is delirious, Karna is pleading his case to Celene, who really does not care a great deal for Ross. When he comes to his senses, he realizes that he really loves Karna.

Inscriptions: ex libris of the Mantor Library, at what is now UMF.

Vicky Van (Carolyn Wells, 1918)

Vicky Van Allen is a social butterfly who lives in a small but perfectly stylish house just off Fifth Avenue. She has a great many friends, but nobody seems to know much of anything about her, and she seems to have simply sprung into existence two years ago. At a dinner party, a mutual friend introduces her to Mr. Somers. Later that night, Somers is found stabbed to death with Vicky Van standing over him, trying to pull out the knife.

Vicky Van vanishes completely. It turns out that Mr. Somers was actually Mr. Schuyler, a wealthy rouĂ© who lived in the house literally adjoining the back of Vicky Van’s. The elderly Schuyler sisters are out for blood, but Ruth — the dead man’s wife — would rather let it go. Schuyler was a domineering man who made his much younger wife’s life misery.

Celebrated detective Fleming Stone is called in to find Vicky Van and he doesn’t have to look far.

This is the earliest Fleming Stone novel I’ve read and it was pretty straight-forward. Wells would reuse this plot later for The Vanity Case in 1926. That one was pretty straight-forward, too. Misdirection wasn’t really her thing.

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