The Confession (Mary Robert Rinehart, 1921)

Looking to rent a house in the country for the summer, Agnes finds an all too eager landlord in Emily Benton. Emily advertises the large country house and grounds for well under half its value, and when Agnes gets second thoughts and starts to pull back, even offers to let her stay there free. The place has thoroughly spooked Maggie, the maid, and it isn’t long before fear creeps into Agnes’s more sensible mind. Objects move around at night, but just enough that you’re not quite sure of it. Candles burn down of their own accord. Someone calls at two o’clock in the night only to breathe heavily.

Emily, strangely, didn’t go anywhere. She’s still in town and visits the house regularly — snooping around, Maggie says. It becomes increasingly obvious that their intruders and callers are all Emily. It isn’t clear why until they open the phone battery box and discover a confession, in which Emily admits to having killed a woman five years ago, and even then, nothing is clear. What is Emily’s game?

No inscriptions.

Sight-Unseen (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1921)

Several old neighborhood families gather once a week for the Neighbors Club. At this particular meeting, the attraction is a psychic medium. At the seance, after the usual parlor tricks, she goes into a trance and describes a murder scene. Later, it’s discovered that Arthur Wells is dead and that the medium was right down to every detail.

This reads like a sketchy idea that a few years later Rinehart would develop to much greater effect in The Red Lamp. Short as it is, Sight-Unseen is too repetitive and the ending doesn’t satisfy.

No inscriptions.

Shadow of the East (E.M. Hull, 1921)

Barry Craven travels to Japan, and just as his father had done before him, he begins an affair with a Japanese woman. And again like before, the woman becomes pregnant. However, Barry is shocked and sickened to discover that his beloved O Hara San is the child of his father’s mistress. O Hara San kills herself and Barry is haunted by grief. He would follow her to the grave were it not for John Locke, who on his deathbed entrusted his daughter Gillian to Barry’s care. The two marry. Barry falls in love with Gillian, but thinks himself unworthy of her or of anyone else; Gillian falls in love with Barry, but believes he only married her out of charity and has no feelings for her; and with typical English repression, neither can say anything.

The most surprising part of the story was that there was no surprise. It was perfectly set up that the baby survived and that Yoshio was hiding it from Barry. The book constantly drops hints that this was the case, and even until the last chapter, I was waiting for the shoe to drop — but it never did.

Inscription: at the top of the front flyleaf, “1921 Madeleine E. Gerald”.

The Luminous Face (Carolyn Wells, 1921)

At their club, five men idly muse over the motives one might have for killing somebody. Monroe pulls out the old detective story canard that the only three motives are love, hate, or money. Pollard disagrees. A man might kill a man simply because he dislikes him. Take Gleason, for instance. Pollard’s only ever met him two or three times, and yet he intends to kill him.

Later that night, Gleason is found dead. Curious that it was the very night that his engagement to Phyllis Lindsay was to be announced, that she stands to inherit half his estate, that her brother Louis was in $20,000 deep to some loan sharks, that Barry made no secret of his love for Phyllis and his hostility toward Gleason, that Gleason had been having a fling with the erstwhile actress Ivy Hayes and had met her even that night, that Hayes witnessed an argument between Gleason and Louis and/or Phyllis not an hour before the murder, and that Phyllis was spotted in a car with a strange man driving away from the scene. And, of course, that Pollard publicly announced his intention to kill Gleason.

I’m going to spoil the ending now: It was Pollard, you fool. There’s a reveal that fleshes out the animosity between Pollard and Gleason and explains away Pollard’s seemingly air-tight alibi, but the take-away is that sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one.

Inscription: It was withdrawn from the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield, Mass. library on June 10th, 1936, but that’s not very interesting. What’s interesting is a doodle in the bottom margin of page 199 of a woman who looks rather like Bebe Daniels, but I’m inclined to think it’s some reader’s impression of the Ivy Hayes character.

The Wrong Twin (Harry Leon Wilson, 1921)

The local aristocracy of Newbern Center, the Whipple family, is running distinctly low on male heirs. It’s decided to adopt one of Dave Cowan’s twin boys. Dave is something of a vagabond, drifting from here to there whenever the wanderlust sets in, unable to imagine how Newbern’s landed residents could be content to stay in such a small town for any length of time. He’s also something of a philosopher, expounding to whoever will listen about the origins of the universe, from when “star dust” clumped together into planets and chemical reactions in the same created the elements, which “electricity or something” shook into life, and after millions of years humans evolved, and will millions of years in the future evolve into something else.

Of his two sons, Wilbur takes after his father — unconventional and rough around the edges, but full of wonder. Merle is well-mannered and highly principled, if more than a little conceited. Sharon Whipple favors Wilbur, believing in the boy’s “gumption”, but he’s overriden by Gideon and Harvey D., who prefer Merle’s “refinement”. After the adoption papers are signed, Merle Cowan becomes Merle Whipple. The two grow up following their separate paths. As far as employment goes, Wilbur samples a bit of everything and gains more or less experience wherever he goes. Merle, having decided (less from actual education than from sheer will) that he’s an intellectual, falls in with a rabble-rousing crowd of trust-fund Bolsheviks, perpetually certain that the revolution is just around the corner. Only when his allowance is cut-off does he return home.

At the break of war, Wilbur enlists and goes to fight in the trenches in France. He returns shell-shocked and prematurely aged. Young Patricia Whipple had also joined up as a front-line nurse. She and Wilbur knew each other as children, but now realize that they love one another and decide to marry.

The Second Honeymoon (Ruby M. Ayres, 1921)

Jimmy is madly in love with Cynthia, an actress who’s more interested in the diamonds than the man who gives them. Cynthia throws him over for someone wealthier than himself. Hoping to make her jealous, Jimmy courts his old childhood friend, Christine. When Cynthia announces her engagement, Jimmy rashly proposes to Christine as well. After their marriage, Christine learns why Jimmy proposed to her and leaves him.

Spendthrift Jimmy is financially dependent on his stingy older brother Horatio, and there is no love lost between them. Back at home, Christine meets one of Horatio’s friends and the two grow closer, perhaps, than propriety might allow. Jimmy is jealous, but more, he realizes that he only ever lusted after Cynthia and that he actually does love Christine. The other man makes a pass at Christine, which is enough to open her eyes to the situation and soften her heart to Jimmy. She goes back to him.

If Winter Comes (A.S.M. Hutchinson, 1921)

Mark Sabre is a man forever at odds with everyone else, as while they are quite comfortable in the inherit correctness of their opinions, he can’t help but play the devil’s advocate and consider where all his opponents are coming from. It’s a trait particularly irritating to his wife, Mabel. He’s full of ideas and ideals, but she had no interest in them, and she’s frustrated by his lack of class consciousness and propriety, being especially insulted by his “sticking up” for their social inferiors.

Then there’s Lady Nona Tybar. She was once in love with Sabre, and now that she’s married to Lord Tybar, she realizes that she loves him still. Tybar is an unrepentant rake who revels in his adultery and makes no secret of it to Nona. Nona gets Sabre and she appreciates him — she’s possibly the only one who does.

And there’s Twyning, who works with Sabre. Twyning is a conniving, vindictive man who rather hates Sabre, because he assumes that everyone else is as conniving and vindictive as himself. Twyning is ever-eager to force Sabre out of the office to consolidate his power and to promote the career of his beloved son, Harold.

And finally, there’s the war — WWI. The story begins a few years a before, builds as tensions mount, reaches an uncomfortable plateau while the fighting lasts, and unravels as the war draws to a close. Sabre, never mind his poor health, enlists. A companion is employed for his wife while he’s away — Effie, the daughter of one of Sabre’s coworkers. Effie starts out as a vivacious girl, but Mabel’s bullying grinds her down. She remains on good terms with Sabre when he returns on leave. He treats her as a sister. Mabel isn’t jealous, per se, but the relation offends her sense of propriety. She fires Effie without warning just as Sabre returns to the front.

Nine months later, Sabre is wounded and discharged home. His wife receives a letter from Effie that positively thrills her with vindication: Effie gave birth to a baby, she refuses to give it up or say who the father is, and she’s consequently been turned out. She begs that the Sabres take her back. To Mabel’s astonishment, Sabre insists that they do.

Effie moves in and Mabel moves out. Sabre takes the full brunt of society’s disapproval. His friends refuse to receive him, he’s all but fired from his job, and his wife files for divorce. And all along, it never occurs to him that it’s because they think he’s the child’s father. It’s so far from his mind, it’s inconceivable. Effie realizes what pain she’s brought on him, and so while he’s away for a few days, she’s kills herself and the baby. Sabre is accused of their murder.

At the trial, Twyning is on the prosecution’s side. It’s the great opportunity he’s been waiting for — to get rid of Sabre, permanently. And he very nearly does, until Nona appears. The Tybars are very influential in local affairs, and however unconventional her assistance — busting into court during Twyning’s testimony and loudly proclaiming him to be an “experienced and calculating liar” — it’s enough to sway the jury.

Directly after, alone at home, Sabre finds a suicide note that Effie had hidden where she knew only he’d find it. It begs his forgiveness and names the child’s father as Twyning’s son, Harold. Sabre, in a delirious state, takes his service pistol and rushes to the office — intent on killingĀ  Twyning. He finds him at his desk, very altered and at the point of tears, having just received word that Harold was killed in the war. Sabre consoles him and decides to destroy the note.

In declining health, Sabre suffers a brain hemorrhage that leaves him paralyzed and near death. When he recovers, several months later, he finds Nona with him. Tybar, too, had been killed in the war — unrepentant till the end. Although he tries to force her away so that she might not share in his disgrace, she refuses to leave. The story ends some time later with them newly married.