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.”

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.

The Case of the Fugitive Nurse (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1954)

A woman arrives at Perry Mason’s office with tax troubles. Specifically, her husband — a very successful doctor — has embezzled about $100,000 and has it in the safe in the apartment he meets his mistress in. The doctor, though, turns up dead — his plane crashed, body burned beyond recognition — and it looks like his wife poisoned him. Can Perry Mason clear his client?

The heart of the matter — that the body wasn’t that of the doctor and the real doctor has started a new life with his mistress — I had figured out from the very start. Now, who the body is of who did the poisoning, that was a murky situation, but it’s a sideshow to the main event.

Death in the Air (Agatha Christie, 1935)

Aboard the plane from Paris to Croydon are eleven passengers, two stewards, and one maid.

Jane Grey, a manicurist, won one of the lesser prizes in the lottery and used her winnings to visit Le Pinet and try her hand at roulette. The Countess of Horbury is very familiar with the casino floor herself — much, much too familiar than Lord Horbury’s pocket book will support. The Hon. Venetia Kerr, who’s nothing but country life and horse-sense, would have made Horbury a better match, as they both know, but there’s no way the Countess would grant a divorce. On the male side are the Duponts, father and son archeologists, too engrossed in an argument about the dating of near-eastern pottery to notice much. Clancey is busy in his own mind, as well — he’s a murder mystery author plotting a new book. Ryder is making moon eyes at Jane, sitting opposite him, and doing little else. Medical doctor Bryant cleans his beloved flute, while dental doctor Gale laments that nobody pays any attention to dentists. Finally, Hercule Poirot sits bundled up almost to his eyes, and two rows back, Madame Griselle, that infamous Parisian money-lender and blackmailer, sloops forward over her coffee cup, dead from a snake venom dart apparently launched at her neck from a South American blowpipe.

One of the recurring questions is how nobody on the plane saw such a farcical proceeding of somebody getting up, loading a blowpipe with a feathered dart, taking aim at Griselle, and blowing. What distraction could have been so great to cover that? Of course, that’s just what the murder wants everyone to waste their time on — that’s why they planted the blowpipe. The poison was simply injected directly into the blackmailer’s vein by someone who could get close enough to do it without attracting attention. I didn’t need all that many clues to spot the culprit. The way the character is written and the way they behave instantly from the moment the crime is discovered and until the reveal marks them as the murderer. For that matter, just reading the brief character introductions above, you’ve probably spotted who did it, too.

The Boomerang Clue (Agatha Christie, 1934)

With Christie, you’ve got Poirot stories on the one hand and Miss Marple stories on the other hand, but a tiny, vestigial third hand clutches a little collection of one-offs that probably make up my favorite of Christie’s murder mysteries.

Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent and Bobby, the younger son of the village vicar, were playmates as children and remain close friends. It’s a quiet place where nothing really happens, until one day and unidentified man falls from a cliff to his death. It’s deemed an accident, but the more Bobby and Frankie look into it, the more convinced they become that it was murder and that the “sister” who claimed the body was actually part of a drug smuggling ring.

It’s an involved plot with impersonations and forgeries, and kidnappings and murders that I couldn’t possibly summarize in a few lines, but in the end, though the culprit gets away, Frankie and Bobby come out on top.

No inscriptions.