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.

Advertisements

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.