Locked Doors (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Miss Adams and Mr. Patton, the nurse and detective from The Buckled Bag, are on another case. The Reeds are behaving very strangely. They live in Beauregard Square, an exclusive neighborhood in the city. They’ve recently dismissed all their servants, ripped up the carpets, pulled the furniture away from the walls, and leave every light on around the clock. Their two boys are kept locked in the nursery on the second floor and Mr. and Mrs. Reed alternate in keeping a 24 hour watch at the head of the stairs. Mr. Reed needs someone to babysit the children, but they have to be a registered nurse.

The answer:

The Reeds were living far beyond their means. The bubonic plague is sweeping a European country. Mr. Reed is a bacteriologist and has been hired to find a cure. Several plague rats were kept in his basement lab, but they’ve escaped. Their strange behavior was a precaution against the plague rats or the fleas they carry reaching the children.

No inscriptions.

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The Buckled Bag (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Claire, recently engaged to be married, has been missing from the March household for five weeks. Her mother has taken to bed, sick with worry. A detective, noticing the reticence shown when discussing specific details about the situation, enlists the help of the nurse hired to care for Mrs. March. People tell things to nurses they’d never tell anyone else.

Eventually, Claire reappears with a cock and bull story about being abducted and kept locked in an attic. While the story doesn’t hold water, she includes details that are too oddly specific to be fictional. Following these clues, the nurse traces down Claire’s actual hideout and learns that Claire is a cokehead. Wanting to get clean for her marriage, she voluntarily locked herself into a room while her friend slowly stepped down her cocaine dose until she was off it entirely. The mystery was really Claire trying to shield her fiance from her past drug use.

No inscriptions.

The After House (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1914)

Ralph Leslie, fresh out of medical school, catches typhoid fever. He leaves the hospital sickly and broke. He takes a job as a deck hand on a yacht sailing for South America for a dose of health-restoring sea air and manual labor. The owner of the yacht, Marshall Turner, is a man who likes his drink. Mrs. Johns, one of his guests, asks Leslie to move from the crew’s quarters in the forecastle to a room in the after house with them. Turner has been arguing with Richardson, the captain of the boat, and in his drunken rage, she fears there will be trouble.

Not long afterward, Leslie finds himself locked in. When he breaks down the door, he discovers the bodies of Captain Richardson, Mr. Vail (another of the guests), and Karen Hansen (the maid), all hacked to death with an axe. With the ocean stretching out for hundreds of miles around them, the culprit must be there on the ship: either one of the crew, one of the guests, or Turner. Everyone is on edge, particularly when they begin seeing a strange, spectral figure at night flitting around the deck.

The reveal is a bit of a let down. It’s not that it’s bad, per se, but the build-up was so terrific that I suppose any ending couldn’t live up to it.

No inscriptions.

Blue Bonnet in Boston (Caroline E. Jacobs and Lela H. Richards, 1914)

Elizabeth “Blue Bonnet” Ashe is an orphan from Texas with a considerable inheritance. She’s sixteen (going on seventeen, she would tell you) and has just arrived in Boston to attend a prestigious boarding school. She makes new friends and they get into various adventures and scrapes. That’s about it.

Part of a series of Blue Bonnet books, evidently, but it’s the only one I have. This book ends with a bit of a question as to whether Blue Bonnet will go back to her Texas ranch or stay in New England to attend college.

Inscriptions: Withdrawn from the Waltham, Mass. Public Library.

The Alster Case (Rufus Gillmore, 1914)

Swan is an attorney at Avery, Avery, and Avery. It’s a dead-end job with no chance of advancement, but he’s stuck there having to provide for his mother and younger siblings. He’s assigned to rewrite Cornelia Alster’s will. Alster is a difficult client. A very wealthy woman — she can, at times, be a most generous benefactor, but at the slightest offense will renounce you to the end of days. Hence the frequent will alterations.

The next day, Cornelia Alster is found dead. It may have been suicide, but private detective Trask is inclined to think not. Perhaps it has something to do with the simultaneous disappearance of Keith, the butler. The will names Swan the executor of the estate. Beatrice and Linda, Alster’s two adopted daughters, at once begin to act strangely — telling obvious lies, secretly corresponding with someone, advancing large sums of money from Swan that immediately vanishes. At last, Linda herself vanishes and Beatrice is convinced she’s been kidnapped by Keith, who she believes is her biological brother.

Can even the celebrated Trask find LInda and solve the mystery?

I read this quick — pretty much in two sittings — so I didn’t have much time to think about the solution myself, but one line very near the start jumped out at me: when Swan gets off the phone and quits the firm, he says it’s to manage the Alster estate because he’s just heard that his client was “murdered”. Not “found dead” but “murdered”. The nature of Alster’s death is not at all certain at the time. Is this a Roger Ackroyd situation, I asked myself? Yes, it is.

Inscription: A typewritten plate is pasted on the inside front cover reading “#22 THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF HERBERT J BROCK”. Herb has also signed several seemingly random pages.

The Prince of Graustark (George Barr McCutcheon, 1914)

William W. Blithers is the richest man in the world. He’s accustomed to getting what he wants, and right now what he wants is to see his daughter a princess. Conveniently, the small eastern European country of Graustark is in a bad way financially and Prince Robin happens to be a bachelor. The ten million dollars spent to buy their debt is nothing to Blithers. What isn’t nothing is Maud’s opinions on the matter: she wants nothing to do with Robin and refuses even to meet him. Graustark, meanwhile, is dead set on their prince’s marriage to the princess of neighboring Dawsbergen.

Robin, traveling incognito as private citizen R. Schmidt, falls in love with a woman who travels under the equally assumed name B. Guile. His handlers know full well who Miss Guile must be and try everything in their power to separate them, but Robin has found his wife, even if it means abdicating the throne for her.

Delightful twist ending that’s not at all as expected, despite the chapter’s name.

Inscription: Signed Thurl W. Wilson on the front flyleaf. The ink wasn’t blotted, so the name’s mirrored on the endpaper as well.

The Clean Heart (A.S.M. Hutchinson, 1914)

In general overview, Philip Wriford is a very successful writer — few¬† authors wouldn’t envy him — but he doesn’t know what happiness is. I mean that in the most literal way.

Breaking it down further, the book is in five distinct parts, but we might summarize it in three:

The first part is the weirdest. After an failed suicide attempt, Wriford splits into two personalities. Wriford tries to flee from Figure of Wriford, but Figure of Wriford can’t be escaped. This chase eventually leads to the second part, Mr. Puddlebox.

Puddlebox is a drunken tramp who takes a liking to Wriford, who he calls his loony. Wriford is spooked, he says, and won’t be unspooked until he learns not to think so much about himself. Wriford, in his wanderings with Puddlebox, becomes reckless. Caught by a storm on the coast, Puddlebox sacrifices himself to save Wriford.

In the third part, Wriford finds himself lodging with the Bickers. He falls in love with their daughter, Essie, and wants her to go away with him, but he doesn’t want to marry her because he believes himself to be “different” and that… I don’t know, his happiness-void would sap away her happiness. Caught by another storm on another coast, Wriford’s life is again saved, only Essie doesn’t die — she’s merely paralyzed. Wriford, realizing what he’s selfishness has wrought, at last learns that happiness is caring for people other than yourself.

Inscription: signed M.E. Gerald on the front flyleaf. On the back cover is a little round sticker that reads “Tilden Stationer, Keene”. Keene, New Hampshire, I would suppose. There are several four-leaf clovers pressed between pages 60-61 and 206-207.