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.


The Pretender (Robert W. Service, 1914)

A bestselling author is chafed by reviews that say he writes nothing but pablum and is incapable of true art. On a whim, he leaves for Europe, where he intends to start from scratch to prove to himself and to the world that his success isn’t a fluke and that he really is a great writer. During his adventure, things happen to him that are so contrived and incredible that he can’t help but think his life is not unlike one of his old stories. He finds himself married to a sickly Frenchwoman and living in a Parisian garret, struggling to scrape together a few sou to buy bread crusts, with his great literary goal always just out of reach. Eventually, he returns to his familiar potboilers and, sure enough, becomes a bestseller once more. He returns to America content with what he is — an author of worthless books that everyone reads and not of important books that nobody does.

Inscription: signed on the front flyleaf in a very fanciful, flowing script that’s almost wholly indecipherable. Norman Vincent, maybe?

The Twenty-Fourth of June (Grace S. Richmond, 1914)

Matthew Kendrick sends his grandson Richard to the home of his old friend Judge Calvin Gray with a message. Old Kendrick had built up a great department store and made himself immensely rich in the process; Young Kendrick lives lazily off those riches. Rich’s parents had both died when he was very young and he has no memory of a family like the one he finds gathered around the Grays’ hearth. He’s struck by it in general and by one of its members in particular: Roberta, Gray’s niece. Gray, whose eyesight is weakening with age, is in search of a secretary to help him with his research. In an uncharacteristic but not inexplicable move, Rich applies for the job. Rob, on learning who Rich is, dislikes him on principle. Though of no mean background herself, she values hard work and has no use for idle wealth. It will be an uphill battle for Rich to win her over.

Rich meets his old college friend Hugh Benson. Benson has recently inherited his father’s small-town store and is not doing well financially. Rich forms a partnership with Benson, and with the help of an experienced manager, they set out to rebuild the business. Kendrick, who had quietly harbored his own misgivings about his grandson’s idleness, sees in this the beginnings of a new man. Rob is not so easily swayed. That winter, he had boldly declared his love for her. While she didn’t reject him out of hand, she postponed her answer until Midsummer Day — the 24th of June — fully believing that both Rich’s current occupation and his infatuation with her were only a caprice and would be forgotten long before the months had passed.

She underestimated Rich’s honesty on both counts, but by the time the appointed day arrives, she has a new understanding of him and is ready to return his love.