K. (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Dr. Edwardes, a brilliant surgeon who lost a patient through negligence, abandons his practice and starts as new life as K. Le Moyne. He boards with the Pages. Sydney Page is a nurse and is in enamored with Dr. Max, a surgeon at the hospital. Max rather likes Sydney as well and would like to marry her, but he’s a ladies man and settling down to one woman is really not in the cards. Joe had a childhood crush on Sydney that he’s never gotten over and he despises Max. When he sees him taking a girl to one of the private rooms at a seedy roadhouse, he shoots him. It seems hopeless for Max until K. outs himself and operates — saving his life. Sydney realizes it was only glamour that drew her to Max and that she really loves K.

Inscription: “3/28/20” on the very upper-right corner of the flyleaf.

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The State Versus Elinor Norton (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1934)

Elinor, on trial for the murder of Blair Leighton, awaits the verdict of the jury.

Like most Rinehart romances, a large aspect of the story is the great social upheaval of the world war and the death of Victorian sensibilities. The book takes the form of a memoir/reconstruction of events by Carroll Warner, who’d been in love with Elinor since they were children.

Caroline had Elinor very late in life and never had the slightest affection for her. Whether in their New York mansion, their Palm Springs one, or the one in Newport, Elinor’s life is a very lonely one. Her only true friend is Carroll Warner, whose family was hardly poor — they were their Newport neighbors — but in Caroline’s view existed so far beneath her station as to be invisible.

Lloyd Norton is selected for Elinor’s husband. Elinor is too cowed by her mother to care much, and the marriage is about as perfunctory to Norton as well. War breaks out and Norton goes over. He comes back a mental wreck. Norton is violently jealous of his wife and grows increasingly unstable, though Caroline refuses to see it. At last, they decide a change of lifestyle might do Norton good and they buy a ranch in Montana. “They” meaning Norton and Blair Leighton.

If Norton had any actual cause to suspect his wife’s fidelity, it’s Blair Leighton. She had few interactions with him but often saw him riding while her husband was at war and experienced the first crush of her life. Blair is an Englishman of indeterminate means in the country for indeterminate reasons. Those who know him best know him to be an adventuring womanizer.

The ranch is a crude series of shacks on a vast, lifeless plain, but Norton does actually seem to improve given work to occupy his time. Blair buys in with him, but it quickly becomes clear that his income is quite limited and he expects to leach off Norton. After a combination of inexperience, over expansion, and a disastrous winter, Norton’s own capitol is quite depleted and the ranch limps along solely on Elinor’s allowance from her mother. It’s then that Norton and Blair’s friendship begins to breakdown and Norton’s neuroses return.

On a hunting expedition one winter, the two find themselves snowed in. Only Blair returns. It’s widely if quietly thought that the close quarters broke them both, a fight ensued, and Blair killed him. Regardless, Elinor is convinced it was as Blair said — an accident — and further, gleefully accepts his marriage proposal. But after months of waiting, Blair has still made no move to marry. He has, however, relentlessly hounded Elinor for more money, whether it be by selling her jewelry or by appealing to her mother. It turns out that the windfall that Blair expects — Elinor’s inheritance once Caroline finally dies — will never come. The estate manager writes backs that Caroline is virtually penniless — she’s simply been too ill, stubborn, and trapped in the past to realize it. Everything has already been sold to pay her debts except the Newport house, which is willed elsewhere. Blair for once drops his mask and Elinor realizes what he is — that he was only ever using her for her money and never intended to marry her.

The sheriff arrives and confiscates Blair’s gun. It’s clear he’s suspected of murdering Norton and he needs to flee quick. He ransacks the house looking for Elinor’s pearls — the only thing she’d refused to sell — but doesn’t find them. Elinor has them in her safety deposit box. Late that night, he returns to the ranch, obviously drunk, and begins climbing the steep stairs to Elinor’s room. When he reaches the top, Elinor shoots him with Norton’s old service pistol.

Carroll knows the story, but very little of this is brought out at trial and the defense isn’t confident. The taciturn ranchers that make up the jury, however, are more penetrating than they imagined. Belated, perhaps, but they find that Elinor’s shooting was nothing but self-defense. Elinor moves back east and marries Carroll.

No inscriptions.

The Calling of Dan Matthews (Harold Bell Wright, 1909)

Backwoods boy grows up and decides he want to be a preacher. Goes to school, graduates, and get a job at Memorial Church in Corinth — a town somewhere in the Ozarks. It quickly becomes apparent that a preacher’s job isn’t to serve God, it’s to serve the committees that run the church.

Deborah and Denny are both Catholics and have no church in Corinth. Denny is crippled and supports them by gardening. Deborah’s husband was killed by Grace Connor’s father, and although a good girl herself, the town has shunned her. Denied the last job she could get, she tries to kill herself. Hope Farwell, a nurse who has absolutely no use for organized religion, cares for her. Dan rather foolishly thought it was his place to minister to these least fortunate of the community. The elders of the church did not agree — particularly not the one that stole Deborah’s mortgage payment and tried to have her evicted — and he finds himself out of a job.

He doesn’t abandon his ministry, but sees no need for churches to get involved in it. He gets into the mining business and marries Hope.

Inscription: “Burton H. Soule, from Mother” on the front flyleaf.

Beverly of Graustark (George Barr McCutcheon, 1904)

Beverly Calhoun, southern belle, is in Graustark visiting her friend, Princess Yetive. Neighboring Dawsbergen has just had a coup and Prince Dantan is in hiding — Gabriel having taking the throne. On the road from St. Petersberg, Beverly is abandoned by her escorts and falls in with a gang of rather polite vagabonds, lead by a man called Baldos. They mistake her for the princess and she finds it prudent to play along.

Once in the capital city of Edelweiss, Baldos is made a royal guard, with Beverly still maintaining that she’s Yetive and falling increasingly in love with the stranger. Count Marlanx is suspicious that Baldos is a spy. Further, he wants to make Beverly his sixth wife. When his attempts at murder and blackmail fail, he’s exiled from Graustark. Revealing herself for who she really is, Beverly professes her love to Baldos, who it turns out was secretly Prince Danton. What’s more, Gabriel has been apprehended and Danton is restored to the throne.

Inscription: on the flyleaf, “To my husband, Christmas, 1908”.

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.

Home Talent (Louise Closser Hale, 1926)

An aspiring Midwestern actress finally catches a break and gets a role on Broadway. In truth, Sharlie got the part because the producers had put up quite too much with Isotta Kublay and they needed a redheaded replacement in a hurry. The star of the show is Alexis Orso, a major name in show business despite being completely and utterly helpless without his long-suffering wife Alice. Kublay seeks revenge by framing an affair between Sharlie and Alexis.

Inscriptions: stamped in numerous places that it’s from the Dexter Town Library, Dexter, Maine.