Rollo in Rome (Jacob Abbot, 1858)

Rollo and his uncle George continue their tour of Europe. Set during the tumultuous Italian unification, like Rollo on the Rhine the land they travel through doesn’t exist anymore. Much is made of the travel itself — particularly as they cross from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies into the Papal States — about the borders, the checkpoints, inspections, and passports. George explains how the government says its to prevent criminals from escaping justice, but really it’s because the government doesn’t represent the people and restricting their movement stops them from being overthrown.

Also fascinating to me are how few people there are. They visit the Vatican museum to see the statuary and there’s thirteen people there. I’ve been there, too, but there were several hundred times that number when I went.

Inscriptions: stamped “Roy A. Evans” in purple ink on the front flyleaf.

Leave Me With a Smile (Elliott White Springs, 1928)

Armistice has just been declared and aviator Henry Winton is among the first to return home. There are those that want to parade him around as a hero — none more so than his father, a mill owner who sees his son as his ticket to important business and political alliances — but the war has made Henry deeply cynical. He wants nothing to do with jingoistic patriots and military fetishism. He has very little desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. He’s in love with Phyllis, a woman who’s not entirely divorced yet.

Repetitive. Henry is torn between loyalty to his father and his love for Phyllis. By the end, I frankly didn’t care what happened to him.

No inscriptions.

Prillilgirl (Carolyn Wells, 1924)

A young woman who might be an alien or a pod person or some manner of robot arrives on the doorstep of Guy Thorndike, the famous actor, and tells him that she’s decided to marry him. She had been raised by her uncle and aunt in a very small and mysterious place, but now that the uncle is dead, her aunt wants to take her on a mission to China. She ran away with a short-list of marriage prospects and Thorndike was the first choice. Guy doesn’t take much convincing. He despises people (he gets along with his co-workers, but actors aren’t people) and a ready-made wife takes him off the market. I can’t stress enough that the young woman doesn’t behave like a human. She has a number of nicknames, Prillilgirl being the main one.

Guy is searching for the perfect role and he’s found it in Mallory Vane’s latest play. He wants to buy it from Vane, but Larkin thinks his contract with Vane gives him the option. Pril, meanwhile, is installed in the house. She and Guy rarely meet. She hopes to repay Guy his kindness by writing a play for him herself (she knows almost nothing about anything but does have an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare) in collaboration with Vane. She clandestinely meets with Vane to work on the play, but it would seem Vane has another interest in Pril.

When Vane’s roommate Pete Jessup returns, he finds Pril unconscious and covered in blood in the telephone booth, and Vane at his desk stabbed in the heart with his own pen-dagger. Pete assumes Pril did it and, knowing Vane as he did, is utterly sure she did it in self-defense. He cleans her up, spirits her home, disposes of as much evidence as he can find, and plants evidence pointing to some stranger before calling the police. Pete’s not alone: literally everyone connected with the Vane wants to see the case either dropped or to take the blame themselves… except Larkin, who wants to see Pril cleared like all the others, but rather definitely wants Guy to take the fall.

Disappointing ending in that I never really saw the murder as the mystery here. The mystery was who or what Pril is, and that’s just never really addressed. It’s sort of hinted at once that she’s radio controlled, but that fizzles out.

Inscriptions: stamped several times on the endpapers and flyleaves and once more on the title page, “The Owl’s Nest, 609 S. 47th St., Philadelphia, Pa.”

Squire Phin (Holman Day, 1905)

Palermo is a small town in Mid-Coast Maine near to Rockland. Bear in mind, while the real-life Palermo is land-locked, this one isn’t. In fact, had the town been given a fictional name, I’d have guessed it was Camden.

The people there are farmers or they work in shipping, almost to a man. Judge Willard is the local aristocracy. He and his father before him have been the town treasurer for decades. The Willards are assumed to be fabulously rich — he must know how to handle money. The Looks are the black sheep of Palermo, but Phineas Look gets out, goes to law school, and finishes top in his class. He could practice anywhere, but chooses to come back to Palermo. Few of the townspeople have more than a basic education, so Squire Phin is treated as a reference desk and general authority on anything.

Phin and Sylvena, the Judge’s daughter, are in love, but the Judge will not see a Willard married to a Look. He has selected King Bradish for her. The Judge is a financier and he takes Bradish on with him. Phin begins to notice certain irregularities. According to the accounts, the town is only $2,000 in debt this year, yet a client comes in with a note for $7,000 signed by the Judge. More and more comes out, and it becomes clear that the Judge must have embezzled at the very least tens of thousands of dollars from the town.

If this was exposed, it would ruin the Willards, including Sylvena, and would forever tarnish Palermo’s reputation. Instead, Phin campaigns to have the Judge re-elected, allow him time to liquidate everything he owns to mostly pay back the embezzled funds, and then Phin covers for the rest. The books now clean, the Judge resigns. Phin and Sylvena marry.

Inscriptions: stamped a couple times on the front endpaper and flyleaf, “From the office of Jos. C. Holman, Farmington, Me.” Relative, perhaps? Farmington isn’t far from Auburn.

The King Versus Wargrave (J.S. Fletcher, 1924)

Left an orphan in Italy, Marco Graffi calls his granddaughter Gemma Graffi to come live with him in London. She doesn’t like it one bit and repeatedly begs to go back. One night, Gemma disappears and Marco is found stabbed to death. The coroner’s quest jury finds her guilty of his murder and a warrant is put out should she ever be discovered.

Some years later, Lady Wargrave makes a pilgrimage to her country seat with her son, the three year old Baronet of Wargrave. She’s not English — the late baronet married abroad to an Italian woman. I think you know where this is going. A man named Di Spada discovers who she is and tries to blackmail her into marrying him. The wedding is broken up by an arrest — the police found out, too.

Fairly clear who the murder was. There was the one red herring of Ottilia Morro, the girl who helped Gemma to escape to Italy, but she totally lacked a motive.

Inscription: on the front flyleaf, “The Half Mast murder, + this one, are old Books. Hope you’ll enjoy reading them. P.D.”

Feathers Left Around (Carolyn Wells, 1922)

A man with a rather irrational hatred of divorce holds a house party with his fiancee, Pauline. They invite a popular mystery author. He turns up dead — cyanide poisoning — but it wasn’t suicide. The doors and windows were locked from the inside.

Private detective Fleming Stone doesn’t appear until the book is nearly over to solve the riddle. For 75% of the book, if not more, the investigation is lead by the single least competent police detective imaginable. When the dead author’s watch it found missing, the man didn’t even consider searching the house for it.

Pauline was the author’s first wife. He was done in with a poisoned toothpick. The door was locked because he locked it. It was all rather obvious.

No inscriptions.

Peril at End House (Agatha Christie, 1932)

Poirot, retired from the detective game, is vacationing on the Cornish coast when he makes the acquaintance of a woman named Nick who, curiously, seems always to just avoid being murdered. A bullet just misses her while she talks to Poirot.

I had my suspicions early on and was fairly convinced that Freddie was being setup to take the fall, but it wasn’t until the chocolate boxes that it all became clear.

No inscriptions.