The Breaking Point (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1920)

Ten years ago, Jud Clark disappeared after the murder of Howard Lucas. Lucas was married to Beverly Carlysle, a famous actress, and it was widely suspected she and Clark were having an affair. Clark, almost black-out drunk, stumbled into a raging blizzard and is thought to have died somewhere in the mountains of Wyoming.

Dick Livingstone, nephew of David Livingstone, is a young doctor in the small town of Haverly, Pennsylvania. He wants to marry Elizabeth Wheeler, but first he has to clear up some questions about his past. He has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything longer ago than ten years.

No inscriptions, but the start of chapter 19 is dogeared.

The Talleyrand Maxim (J.S. Fletcher, 1920)

A wealthy mill owner dies apparently interstate and some distant and rather poorer relations inherit. A clerk at the law office discovers that there was a will that would leave the benefactors comparatively nothing and he attempts to use it as blackmail.

I’ve said before about Fletcher that’s he’s a decent enough author, he simply had no talent at all for detective stories. It’s unfortunate for him that he wrote during the golden age of detective stories and that’s where the money was. I am 100% convinced that the first draft of this book was a mystery with Collingwood’s serving as the detective. There is no doubt in my mind. Whether it was Fletcher’s own choice or his editor’s to reveal the secret at the start of the book and turn the story into a straight crime thriller, I don’t know, but I am certainly thankful.

Inscription: on the inside front cover is carefully penciled “Belongs to” and nothing else.

Sister Sue (Eleanor H. Porter, 1920)

Sue is a talented pianist and shows great promise for a career in music, but she puts all that aside to care for her family after Mother dies and Father has a nervous breakdown that leaves him with the mentality of a child. After scraping by for six years to provide for her younger brother and sister, who of course show not the slightest appreciation for her sacrifice, she at last finds herself free. Sue returns to her music teacher, but in the waiting room meets her idol — a famous, unnamed female pianist — who has just received a letter from her childhood friend. The friend, like Sue, also had aspirations and also gave them up. She writes to congratulate the pianist for her success, but the pianist tells Sue that her friend is far worthier of praise than herself.

Inscription: Discarded from the Livermore Falls, Maine public library in August, 1939. Scribbled in the top margin of the first page is “Look on Page 54”. Turn there, and you’ll be told to look on another page, and so on and so on until you reach page 310, where the reader is rewarded with “ha-ha-ha-ha SUCKER -> TO HELL WITH YOU!”. Delightful, 1930s teenager.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie, 1920)

A recently married older woman meets a violent death by strychnine poisoning. The woman being rather wealthy, suspicion lights on her new husband, who it seems quite everyone takes for a flagrant gold-digger. Particularly suspicious is John, her stepson, who’s hard-up for cash and who was dependent on his stepmother’s support. Prior to her marriage, he had also been heir to the estate. Then there’s niece Cynthia, who works as a dispenser at the local hospital’s pharmacy; Dr. Bauerstein, a poisons expert who John’s wife Mary appears to be having an affair with; and we can’t forget John’s brother Lawrence, who, in the face of all evidence, maintains that his stepmother died of natural causes. It’s a puzzling case that only Hercule Poirot can unravel.

Inscription: E.M. Qunicky, on the inside front cover.

Now here’s a curious real-life mystery: Between pages 16 and 17 is a scrap of paper clipped or very neatly torn from the corner of a computer printout. On the print side, there are two columns of numbers that might be accounting of some sort. Whatever it is, the footer tells us it’s “Continued on next page.” It’s a dot-matrix printout that I would wager heavily came from a Commodore MPS 801 printer. I should know, because I had one myself. On top of this, there are several haphazardly scrawled numbers. From left to right, these are: 25, 22 (the initial two being almost illegible, a clearer 2 has been written beneath it); and 27 (this has been circled). Sideways along the right margin are what I’m sure are the last four digits of a phone number and “channel 25” — the number written over several times and underlined thrice. On the reverse side, there’s a full name and phone number. I recognized the latter as coming from a town not far from here. I looked it up in the phone book and, sure enough, it matched the name. The book is rather outdated, which is just as well, as I later discovered that the number’s owner died a few years ago at the age of 102.

The Dream Detective (Sax Rohmer, 1920)

A collection of short stories all involving Moris Klaw, the dream detective, who has the unusual crime-solving technique of sleeping on his “odicly sterilized cushion” at the crime scene and allowing lingering thoughts to form an “etheric negative” in his mind.

Most of the stories are locked-room theft and/or murder mysteries, but some are quite straight forward and don’t involve detective work at all, dream or otherwise. In “The Potsherd of Anubis”, for example, Moris Klaw poses as a French archeologist to steal a valuable Egyptian artifact from an antiquities collector. That’s it. It’s not even a mystery — the collector was quite sure his new neighbor was there to steal the sherd all along. All except the final story feature a crime of some sort. In the last, a man rather obsessed with Egyptology attempts to re-create a ritual from the cult of Isis and invoke the goddess to appear.