The Case of Jennie Brice (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1913)

Mrs. Pitman’s boarding house is flooded out and the downstairs residents must pack into the upper rooms. Among them are Ladley and his wife Jennie Brice, an actress. The first night of the flood, Jennie vanishes and the evidence against Ladley starts to mount. Is it a publicity stunt, or is a publicity stunt a great mask for a murderer to hide behind?

Inscription: “Papa, from Lizzie” on the front flyleaf.

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The Ghost’s High Noon (Carolyn Wells, 1930)

A woman travels to Spain and falls in love at first sight. They’re married, but he dies of phosphorus poisoning. Back in the US, she remarries, but this husband, too, dies of phosphorus poisoning. The less chivalrous American courts won’t let her off simply for being a woman so it’s up to detective Fleming Stone to uncover the real murderer.

Not one of Wells’s better stories in that it hangs on clues the reader isn’t given until the reveal, but I’d guessed the murderer anyway. Figuring both men had to be killed by the same person, that person would necessarily be Spanish, and there is only one other Spanish character.

Inscription: Leon Leon Knapp on the front flyleaf. How unfortunate that his last name wasn’t also Leon.

The House Without a Key (Earl Derr Biggers, 1925)

The Winterslips are an old and respected Boston family. Well, most of them are. Some have a case of the wanderlust and some aren’t entirely paragons of ethics. Dan certainly wasn’t. He’s found murdered in his Hawaiian home. Can Charlie Chan discover the culprit?

There aren’t many clues in this one. Indeed, a number of characters point that out. All the same, I’d had it figured out fairly quickly. Exactly three people knew John Quincy was in San Francisco and what his task was. One of them’s dead, the other has an alibi, and the third’s alibi falls apart when we learn he’s a champion swimmer. Doesn’t help that he’s the only one with any real motive, either.

Inscription: Charles S. Brown on the front endpaper.

The Cask (Freeman Wills Crofts, 1924)

A cask is delivered to Felix, a French born but London based artist. He’d received a letter from an old friend that he went in halves with in the French lottery. They’ve won, he said, and the cask contains his share. The importation and delivery of the cask was suspicious and a detective is there to see it opened. Felix gets the shock of his life when it’s found not to contain gold, but the strangled body of Annette — the woman Felix had long ago been engaged to marry, but her father forced her to marry wealthy Boirac instead. The net closes in on Felix. Every shred of evidence points to him being the culprit. Can private detective La Touche clear his client’s name?

It’s an unusual book. That Boirac is the real murderer isn’t ever in doubt, but the trouble is breaking down his alibi and finding the proofs that would convince a jury of the fact. I can’t recall the last time I read a murder mystery of this style, but I liked it.

No inscriptions.

The Desert Moon Mystery (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1927)

Twins Gabriella and Daniella Canneziano appear rather inexplicably at the Desert Moon, an isolated ranch in the Nevada highlands. They are the guests of their uncle, the Desert Moon’s owner Sam Stanley, although they’re not really related — they’re the children from the second marriage of Sam’s ex-wife. He hasn’t seen them since they were very young and doesn’t know why they’re here now, except that their mother has been dead for a decade and their father has recently been sent to prison. Sam’s not the type to pry, though. Also at the ranch are Mary, who’s been the cook for 25 years; Chad and Hubert, who are nebulously employed charity cases; and Mrs. Ricker. Mrs. Ricker cares for Martha, who’s severely retarded. Martha and John are Sam’s adopted, adult children.

John and Danny very quickly fall in love and are engaged to be married. Mary is suspicious of the Cannezianos and spies on them, discovering that they are searching the ranch for something, something that will get them revenge on someone. Chad and Hubert both fall for Gaby. Mary overhears Mrs. Ricker threaten to kill both Hubert and Gaby if he doesn’t stop perusing her. Martha, who’s been known to be violent at times, has a crush on Chad and is intensely jealous of Gaby.

Two months into their stay, Gaby is murdered on the attic stairs and Chad shoots himself immediately after she’s discovered. Not long after, Martha dies of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. Crime analyst Lynn MacDonald is called in to find the murderer.

This is very much in the Rinehart had-I-but-known school of mystery, much more so than the other Strahan books I’ve read. There are two components to the solution, both of which I identified and solved before the reveal, namely who are Martha’s biological parents and which of the Canneziano twins is which. Everything else hinges on that.

No inscriptions.

The Roll-Top Desk Mystery (Carolyn Wells, 1932)

Detective Fleming Stone is on vacation with retired detective Mayo Farnum at Oleander Park on the North Shore — a popular place for summer houses among the moneyed set. But, of course, no detective is actually happy unless he’s on a case, and Rocky Reef house provides.

Lowell Berkeley has fallen head over heals for Rosalie. His father, Louis, is prouder of the family heritage than anything and this woman is virtually anonymous. But Louis would never make Lowell unhappy and has consented to the marriage. Just then, Rosalie is murdered by having her head smashed by a roll-top desk. Farnum — an old friend of the Berkeleys — is called and Stone tags along. It isn’t more than two weeks later that Mimi, Rosalie’s friend, begins to fill the void in Lowell’s heart. She, too, is crushed to death.

I don’t really need to say that it was Louis as there really isn’t any part where that’s not obvious. He explains himself in the end, though. Rosalie, he discovered, was one-eighth black and she had to die to save Lowell from that. Mimi was a prostitute and it’s implied that she had some disease. So, it’s head crushing for her, too.

Inscriptions: stamped “Friends of the Belleflower Library” on the inside front cover.

The Canary Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine, 1927)

Broadway beauty Margaret “The Canary” Odell is found throttled to death and her apartment ransacked. Her four paramours were all near by at more or less the time of the murder, but the trouble is that the apartment building was locked from the inside. Can Philo Vance solve this seemingly impossible riddle?

Well, the book asserts it to be seemingly impossible. I didn’t have any problem seeing through it at once — it’s not exactly a puzzler. Nor did I have any trouble at all identifying the culprit. The hints dropped even at the character’s introduction are by no means subtle. I’ve read children’s mysteries that are more challenging.

Inscription: “Olive B Rippere, ’29” on the front flyleaf.