Perris of the Cherry Trees (J.S. Fletcher, 1913)

Rhoda married Perris because he had a farm and £500. Two years later and the money’s gone and they’re days from eviction. Rhoda appeals to Taffendale, a prosperous large farmer and lime quarry owner. He lends Rhoda the money to make their rent and to improve the farm with the understanding that he’s loaning it to her, not to Perris. Perris isn’t a bad worker, but he needs a heavy-handed boss or else he’ll go to rack and ruin. With Rhoda at the helm, the farm does turn around and becomes profitable. Trouble is, she and Taffendale have fallen in love. A former laborer on their farm with an axe to grind tells Perris one evening. I’m unclear what the goal was, but he winds up throttled to death at the bottom of a disused well. Not many days later, Perris liquidates all he can and vanishes.

Rumors mount in the small village. The general consensus is that Rhoda killed Perris so that she might marry Taffendale (the absence of a body notwithstanding) and the laborer as well (his body is found). It reaches the point that a warrant for Rhoda’s arrest is issued but she doesn’t reach the station before Perris himself puts in an appearance. He’d left for London with the vague idea that abandonment was the same as divorce and that Rhoda and Taffendale would have married — he was under no illusion that she loved him. Not much of a reader, he’d heard nothing of her being accused of multiple murders, but now he’s come to confess his guilt.

He refuses a trial and things seemed rather resolved when, the day before he’s about to be hanged, his sentence is commuted. He’ll be many years in prison, but he’s young yet and will get out. Taffendale knows that all is lost for him and that Rhoda will wait for Perris.

No inscriptions.

Daring Wings (Graham M. Dean, 1931)

Tim is a newspaper reporter and an aviator. The end.

All right, there’s a villain called The Sky Hawk who has a death ray or a chemical weapon or maybe both who’s been robbing airmail shipments containing large sums of money, but he only appears two, maybe three times in the novel and there’s zero effort expended on finding him. The vast majority of the story is reporting on the recently explosion in the popularity of airmail — there’s apparently enough interest there to sustain a daily column.

Inscriptions: on the flyleaf, “Harold L Hunter, from ‘Dad’, Oct. 14, 1931”

The Franchise Affair (Josephine Tey, 1948)

Robert Blair, a small town solicitor, is called to represent Marion Sharpe and her mother. The two have been accused of kidnapping and beating a fifteen year old girl, Betty Kane. Kane looks like an innocent schoolgirl — like “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” — and the Sharpes are commonly thought to be witches, but Robert at once doubts Kane’s story. He enlists the help of his friend Kevin Macdermott, a criminal defense attorney, and Alec Ramsden, a private investigator.

I found this in this mystery section of the local used bookshop, but it’s really not. I’d call it more of a crime thriller. Kane, it turns out, spent the month in Copenhagen with a man she’d picked up in a coffee shop. His wife found out and beat her senseless. The Sharpes are acquitted.

No inscriptions.

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.

Boots and the Mystery of the Unlucky Vase (Edgar Martin, 1943)

Boots and Her Buddies evidently was a newspaper comic strip I’ve never heard of. Near as I can tell, this is a novelization of one of the strip’s story arcs. Well, most of the book is just descriptions of one-off gag comics, one after another, with the barest of linking dialogue:

“Hey do you remember [three panel comic]?”

“That was a great time. What about [three panel comic]?”

“Yeah, it was very similar to what happened in [three panel comic].”

Storywise, all it establishes is that it’s WWII and that Boots feels like she’s not doing enough for the war effort. On page 157 of this 248 page book, we arrive at the vase. Boots takes a receptionist job at a car plant repurposed to make airplane engines. Two German spies, one of whom might actually be Hitler, steal blueprints from the plant and hide them in the vase. The vase is awarded to Boots for being such a good worker. Boots and some other people are kidnapped by the Germans but are soon rescued by a paratrooper. Who was just flying overhead. Coincidentally.

Inscription: “Tina, from Mother” on the title page.

No Other Tiger (A.E.W. Mason, 1927)

Corinne, an up and coming dancer, might have killed her friend Elizabeth Cuttler to inherit her fortune, and she might have then blown that fortune on her boyfriend Leon Battchilena. Corinne’s new friend, Ariadne Ferne, is engaged to Julian Ransome, a rising parliament minister. Colonel John Strickland, being madly in love Ariadne, would not have her hurt by the scandal Corinne would throw on the marriage. There are more pressing issues, though: Elizabeth’s husband Archie, noted murderer, has just escaped from his South American penal colony and returned to England, and he is a bit miffed to find his fortune gone. The plan now is to kidnap Corinne and Ariadne, collect a ransom from Strickland, and then murder everyone. Strickland, naturally, would like to avoid this. Corinne, too, but her method of evasion is more self-serving and doesn’t work out too well.

Inscription: “Laura N. Richards, 1931”, with the trailing S leaving a big, swooping underline beneath both name and date, on the front flyleaf.

The Talleyrand Maxim (J.S. Fletcher, 1920)

A wealthy mill owner dies apparently interstate and some distant and rather poorer relations inherit. A clerk at the law office discovers that there was a will that would leave the benefactors comparatively nothing and he attempts to use it as blackmail.

I’ve said before about Fletcher that’s he’s a decent enough author, he simply had no talent at all for detective stories. It’s unfortunate for him that he wrote during the golden age of detective stories and that’s where the money was. I am 100% convinced that the first draft of this book was a mystery with Collingwood’s serving as the detective. There is no doubt in my mind. Whether it was Fletcher’s own choice or his editor’s to reveal the secret at the start of the book and turn the story into a straight crime thriller, I don’t know, but I am certainly thankful.

Inscription: on the inside front cover is carefully penciled “Belongs to” and nothing else.

The Wire Gang (Frank L. Packard, 1918)

The Wire Gang are a criminal outfit in the southwest with the gimmick of sending each other coded messages over the railroad’s telegraph lines. They keep getting beaten to the punch, however, by the Hawk, who has deciphered their code and manages to steal the money/gold/jewels before them. Though the Wire Gang would like to see him dead, the press and local police assume the Hawk must be the Wire Gang’s chief. But the Hawk is actually an undercover Secret Service agent. Oh no, I spoiled it. You know, I’ve read a number of Packard’s crime-action novels and they are pretty samey, but this one felt really by the numbers.

No inscriptions.