I’m going to assume this novel is several short stories mashed together. I can’t otherwise account for the weird narrative jumps. Here we go:
*Deep breath* Billy Byrne is a Chicago hoodlum who’s framed for murder and flees to San Francisco where he’s shanghaied aboard a pirate ship where one of the officers is a French count who wants to abduct Barbara, a millionaire’s daughter, for his bride but they shipwreck on an uncharted island populated by samurai headhunters who kill the count but Billy rescues Barbara and the two fall in love but Billy isn’t high class so he becomes a prize fighter and returns to Chicago to clear his name but he’s sentenced to life in prison but then escapes and goes on the lam with Bridge, a philosophizing hobo, and they hop the border into Mexico where Billy becomes a captain in Pesita’s rag-tag revolutionary army and Barbara is on her millionaire father’s rancho when the Mexicans come to kill all the gringos and Billy saves her and spirits her back to America where the detective searching for Billy finds him and tells him, oh, no, it’s all right, the real bad guy confessed, you’re free to marry Barbara now *Pass out*
A retired brigadier-general entrusts the story of his life to a writer. He started life as a foundling in France brought up in the circus, became a performer with a trained dog, then with a trained woman. They’re good friends, but not romantically involved — she’s devoted to the act, but not at all domestic. The war breaks out, he joins up, rises to brigadier-general — how is immaterial, that isn’t what the story is about. The general is in love with an English aristocrat, but feels like he can’t marry since there’s no work to be found and he has to return to the stage. That solves itself when she discovers what his employment is and isn’t bothered by, and when his assistant runs away with his erstwhile partner.
A man calling himself Henry Johnson calls on Homer Vincent at his fabulous home Greatlarch. Homer has owned the sprawling mansion for about five years, ever since his niece Rosemary was left orphaned and came to Vermont to live with Homer and his sister Anne. Rosemary is out to the caller’s dismay. He knows rather a bit about the family to be a stranger. Homer says the caller came to discuss an investment opportunity in artificial rubies. He and his sister would have settled the matter in the morning, but she turns up dead and the caller is missing.
The local police figure Johnson did it to rob Anne of her large ruby, but beyond that, they’re at a loss. Homer has news for Rosemary: she is actually not his niece — she was adopted — and her further presence in the house now that Anne is gone isn’t welcome. Rosemary’s fiancé Bryce Collins is not satisfied with this situation and engages Fleming Stone to unravel the mystery of both the murder and Rosemary’s birth.
Have you solved it already? Rosemary is indeed Homer’s niece. Further, it was Homer’s brother who was wealthy. When Rosemary arrived with her millions, Homer bought Greatlarch and took up the mantle of a country gentleman. Johnson, actually John Haydock, came to beg Rosemary’s hand in marriage. He’s spent the last five years amassing a fortune that would make him Rosemary’s equal. Anne was going to give the game away and tell Rosemary whose money bought Greatlarch. Homer killed Anne and Haydock both and would have sent Rosemary packing.
A woman travels to Alaska to find her fiance who was lost there six years ago. She hires a guide whose father was a gold prospector killed by his partner, and while the woman searches for the fiance, the man hopes to search for the mine. The fiance is found surprisingly fast, but it turns out that he’s the son of the murderous partner, now himself deceased, who’s spent the last six years searching for the mine himself.
Inscription: On the front flyleaf, “Lottie, from Sister Addie, Xmas 1926”.
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?
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.
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”.
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 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.
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.