Graustark (George Barr McCutcheon, 1901)

I’ve read several sequels to Graustark already, but never the original book. There’ll be nods here and there to previous novels but no real continuing story, so what order you read them in is of little consequence.

Grenfall Lorry, the son of a prosperous lawyer, has just completed his tour of the world and is on his way back to Washington. On the train, he meets a Miss Guggenslocker, traveling with her aunt and uncle, and falls instantly in love. Miss Guggenslocker, too, finds in Lorry her ideal image of an American. She’s just finished a tour of the US and is returning to her native Graustark, an impossibly tiny principality tucked away somewhere in eastern Europe. She says she hopes she’ll meet him there someday, little expecting that someday will be a couple weeks later.

Lorry — along with his friend Harry Anguish, who he picked up in Paris — eventually track down where this Graustark place is, and there, they discover that Miss Guggenslocker is none other than Princess Yetive, the country’s ruler. Graustark is heavily in debt to Axphain, their northern neighbor. Prince Lorenz of Axphain and Prince Gabriel of rich Dawsbergen to the south hope to exploit this in a bid to marry Yetive. She accepts Lorenz’s proposal, but after hearing him insult the princess, Lorry challenges him to a duel. Before the day appointed arrives, however, Lorenz is found stabbed to death in his bed.

Lorry is accused of the crime. Yetive effects his escape from prison and hides him in a monastery in the mountains. Lorenz’s father arrives and makes a new offer: Graustark will have another ten years to repay their debt if the murderer of his son is captured. Lorry hears of this decides to give himself up, trusting that his innocence of the crime will win out. Anguish has an ace up his sleeve: at the assembly in the throne room, where Yetive is to give her answer, he accuses Gabriel of murdering Lorenz, and Gabriel’s reaction at once confirms its truth. Gabriel is arrested. Axphain’s condition met, the deadline is extended for another ten years.

There still remains between Yetive and Lorry an insurmountable barrier, though, in that one is of royal blood and the other a commoner. There’s no precedent for such a marriage in the history of Graustark. Yetive gives her ministers an ultimatum: if that can’t be overcome, then she’ll abdicate and bring an end to the centuries long dynasty. And it very quickly is overcome after that.

Inscriptions: Signed L.H. Cottle on the front end paper.

Old Jed Prouty (Richard Golden and Mary C. Francis, 1901)

A novelization of the very well known (in Bucksport, anyway) play.

Jed Prouty owns the Prouty Tavern in Bucksport, Maine. It’s a little coastal town between Bangor and Ellsworth, but the train linking those two hubs passes around Bucksport, so they don’t get too much traffic. Jed’s elderly and rather demented father takes out a needless mortgage on the tavern. Mother pays it back immediately, but Aaron Hemingway, the junior man at the bank, disappear into the night with it. Aaron left a wife and daughter to freeze to death in the harsh winter. The wife does die, but Jed rescues little Alice, who he promptly renames Tretty.

An atheist of long standing, Jed finds new faith in raising Tretty, but he does make an enemy of John Todd, the senior man at the bank, who knows the mortgage exists but doesn’t know it was repaid, because Aaron ran off with both the document and money. Years later, the situation erupts when Aaron, broke again, returns to town to claim Tretty to use as leverage in finding fresh funds.

Jed eventually gets Tretty back and the mortgage is proved to be nullified.

Inscriptions: pasted on the front flyleaf is a picture of a boy in a red stocking cap holding a massive card that reads “This book is the property of Cora Allen, Camden, Me.”

The Golden Spur (J.S. Fletcher, 1901)

Cosmo has just been evicted, has pawned everything but the clothes on his back, and is stoically facing homelessness when his old friend Nancy appears to offer him a job. Princess Amirel has fled from her small principality of Amavia to marry an Irishman, Sir Desmond. Adalbert, the prince, is after her. She’s been arranged to marry Graf von Hofberg, who’s less interested in her than he is in her jewels — namely, the Amavia amethyst. Cosmo is employed as a watchdog until Sir Desmond gets back home from South Africa. He’s not very good at that as the jewels are stolen. The book is vaguely a mystery novel: who took them? The artist fellow who’s trailing Cosmo, of course. It’s perfectly, blindingly obvious, but it isn’t treated as such.

Inscriptions: There’s a sticker on the inside front cover that’s black on dark red and almost wholly illegible, but does in fact read “C. Mace & Son, Booksellers, Leeds”.

In the Fog (Richard Harding Davis, 1901)

Five men are at the Grill, the most exclusive club in England. One is a M.P. who supports a naval expansion bill. Another man — the one with the black pearl stud — does not. The vote is to be held today. The M.P.’s one weakness is the penny dreadful — the gorier the better. When reading one, he quite forgets everything else. He finishes his last book and is about out the door when the three other men start to tell a tale of their own.

Lord Chetney. thought lost in Africa, has just returned and resumed his affair with Russian princess Zichy. That isn’t great news for his younger brother Andrew, who now no longer stands to inherit and is massively in debt. Sears, an American naval attache, lost in the fog, stumbles into Zichy’s townhouse and finds both her and Chetney stabbed to death. Andrew is at once suspected, but the detective has his doubts. A search of the waste paper basket reveals a torn-up letter. Piecing it together reveals the name… Sears.

The M.P. is entranced. During the talk, Pearl Stud has been watching the lights in Parliament. When they finally go out, it’s revealed that the whole thing was fiction. In fact, Lord Chetney, the murdered man, was one of the story tellers. The M.P. has it over on Pearl Stud, though: the vote was already held earlier in the day — he was stalling for nothing.

No inscriptions.

Sir Richard Calmady (Lucas Malet, 1901)

For centuries, a curse has been on the noble Calmady family, and none of its heads has died a mature or natural death. Richard, the last of the line, seems to be doomed from birth, having been born without lower legs — his feet where his knees should go. For thirty years, he lives in a state of denial that only immense wealth can afford, but on the eve of his arranged marriage, he’s jilted by his would-be fiancee. He realizes that, no matter how polite and accommodating his friends are, they can’t help but regard him with revulsion. It isn’t that they’re heartlessly gawking at a freak — it isn’t so simple as that. Rather, Richard’s deformity exposes what a pernicious thing life and health is, and that’s something nobody wants to be reminded of.

Richard takes it hard, but after several years of lashing out, he comes to accept his lot. He also realizes what a leech he and his class are, living off the backs of the working class without so much as noticing them, much less offering anything in return. He devotes himself to the establishment of a home for the disabled of more humble means than himself, who surely couldn’t yacht about the world for four years when their hopes are disappointed. Rather, they would likely find themselves in either the circus or prostitution.

Inspired by real-life politician Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, who was born without arms or legs.

Inscriptions: “Evangeline Dunning Parker, 32 West Broadway, Bangor, Maine” on the inside front cover. On the flyleaf, “Evangeline, from Mrs. Brett, Xmas 1916”. For those not aware, that is the most fashionable part of Bangor.

The Three Days’ Terror (J.S. Fletcher, 1901)

A secret society issues a demand on the British government for £100 million with the threat that, if they are denied, they will begin destroying all the major cities of Europe. At first, the demand is ignored as a hoax or the ravings of madmen, then suddenly a large part of London is reduced to ashes by means of a chemical explosive unknown to all of the nation’s top scientists.

Meanwhile, a mysterious French count ingratiates himself with an English cabinet member and, under the guise of removing them to a place of safety outside of London, abducts his daughter and son-in-law.

There are tantalizing clues scattered about and the corners of the mystery are chipped away, but don’t expect some detective character to step forward and explain everything at the end. The characters who survive learn very little of what has happened or why it happened and neither does the reader.

The novel begins as would a traditional mystery, but as it progresses, it becomes more of a gothic horror.