Feathers Left Around (Carolyn Wells, 1922)

A man with a rather irrational hatred of divorce holds a house party with his fiancee, Pauline. They invite a popular mystery author. He turns up dead — cyanide poisoning — but it wasn’t suicide. The doors and windows were locked from the inside.

Private detective Fleming Stone doesn’t appear until the book is nearly over to solve the riddle. For 75% of the book, if not more, the investigation is lead by the single least competent police detective imaginable. When the dead author’s watch it found missing, the man didn’t even consider searching the house for it.

Pauline was the author’s first wife. He was done in with a poisoned toothpick. The door was locked because he locked it. It was all rather obvious.

No inscriptions.

The Blood Ship (Norman Springer, 1922)

A writer takes passage on Captain Shreve’s ship because he’s heard that he once knew the late”King” Waldon. He wants to write a book on the man who, with his wife alone, sailed in an open boat to Samoa to lead the life of a trader. The writer thinks very highly of his ability to capture a full person or place with the scantest information. Indeed, he praises himself in such a constant stream, it isn’t clear he cares to hear anyone else. It’s only stemmed when a coal hulk nears that catches Shreve’s eye. The writer can’t see anything in the broken down thing, but Shreve is ready to spin a tale.

The hulk was once a clipper ship, the Golden Bough. Shreve, then nineteen, had just been made an able seaman and wanted to sign with the toughest ship afloat and there was no bloodier ship than the Golden Bough. The rest of the crew had to be shanghaied. Only one other man signed up willing, Newman. Captain Swope seems to have seen a ghost when he lays eyes on Newman. He stays in his cabin and forbids his wife Mary from going among the men and tending to their wounds. There are wounds: the mates keep the crew cowed into submission by brutal, sometimes fatal beatings.

To cut a long story short, Swope had framed Newman (or Roy Waldon, to use his real name) with infidelity to break apart him and Mary. He then married Mary for her father’s money. Swope then killed Beulah — the supposed other woman — and Mary’s father, framing Newman for both crimes. Newman has escaped from prison with revenge in mind, but Mary convinces him to maintain the peace. A mutiny would mean his death and much of the crew’s and nothing would change. Swope, however, wants a mutiny. It would give him a perfect excuse to kill Newman, Mary, and one of the mates who has grown too dangerous.

Newman, Shreve, and Holy Joe — a shanghaied preacher — keep the peace as long as they can. Conditions, at last, leave no other option, and with Newman in chains in the hold, there’s no one to hold the crew back. Shreve, Mary, and Wong — the cook — have secretly been cutting into the hold and rescue Newman. Newman appears on deck just as the crew is advancing on the cabin and commands them to stop. Swope, his plot unraveling, attempts to shoot Mary in full view of everyone. Newman lifts Swope and throws him to the deck, snapping his spine. Lynch, the mate marked for death, assumes command of the ship. Holy Joe marries Newman and Mary on the deck. Lynch has launched the dinghy and filled it with supplies. With his help, Newman and Mary depart, with directions for reaching nearby Samoa. When the ship arrives in Hong Kong, there was no mutiny and the two are simply unaccounted for.

We never return to the writer, but I like to think he wasn’t paying attention, seeing no romance in a dingy old coal hulk.

No inscriptions.

The Covered Wagon (Emerson Hough, 1922)

The Wingates are taking the Oregon Trail to start a new life in the Willamette Valley. Jessie Wingate is elected train leader, though he lacks any leadership ability. Will Banion — who actually has some experience on the trail and knows how to take command and responsibility — would have been a better pick, but they already decided on Jessie and no taksies-backsies. Molly, Jessie’s daughter, has more or less been arranged to marry Sam Woodhull, though it isn’t long before she falls for Banion. This throws Woodhull into a murderous rage and breaks apart the train.

The rest of the novel is pretty much the Wingate train stumbling into an Indian ambush, the Banion train rescuing them, and Woodhull slandering Banion and plotting his murder. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Eventually they reach the fork in the trail splitting off to either Oregon or California. Banion, who’s learned that there’s gold in them thar hills, opts for the southerly route, trailed by Woodhull, still murderous. The Wingates press on north for whatever reason. Jessie gives a vanguard of civilization speech that rings rather hollow, given his character. I’d say it’s pigheadedness more than anything.

In California, Banion strikes it rich. Woodhull — who, I might say, has spent a year plotting this assassination — trips on some rocks, is spotted, and gets himself shot. Banion loads up his tons of gold, heads to Oregon, and marries Molly.

Inscriptions: The flyleaf is stamped “W.K. McDonald, Stony Brook Farm”. Beneath that, someone’s written “May 22, 1929”.

A Busy Year at the Old Squire’s (C.A. Stephens, 1922)

A continuation of When Life was Young. The kids are two years older, making the unnamed author fourteen; Addison and Theodora eighteen; and Halstead, Ellen, and Wealthy… two years older than whatever they were. Wealthy is the youngest, I think Halstead and Ellen are the same age as the author. Otherwise, it’s simply more recollections of the author’s youth at his grandfather’s farm in Maine after the Civil War. Notable stories include meeting Hannibal Hamlin on his senatorial campaign, where he gave a speech in a disused church infested with bees that eventually drove the listeners to make a hasty retreat. It ends with Addison buying a stand of what’s thought to be ordinary maple trees but what are actually valuable curly maples. It had been a lean year without much money to spare, but Addison’s windfall will pay for both his and Theodora’s admission to college.

Inscription: Ex libris of the Mantor Library at Farmington State College. The library is still called Mantor, but the school is now the University of Maine at Farmington. On the fore-edge is written “D.F. Brown”.

Captain Blood (Rafael Sabatini, 1922)

Peter Blood, Irish surgeon, has the misfortune of being caught rendering aid to a man on the wrong side of the Monmouth Rebellion. He had no care at all for the man’s politics and saw only that he was hurt. For this, Blood is condemned to slavery in Barbados. Spanish privateers sack the port city, and in the confusion, he and a group of other slaves steal the Spanish ship and escape, beginning their own lives of gentlemanly piracy. After the Glorious Revolution and the deposition of James II, Blood is once more a free man. More than that, after the valor he shows in his defeat of the French fleet threatening Jamaica, he’s made the governor of that island.

Inscription: a small strip of paper is pasted to the front flyleaf, on which has been typewritten “Harold T. Dunlap”.

Flowing Gold (Rex Beach, 1922)

In the war, Calvin Gray was dishonorably discharged on the false accusations of a fellow officer. The other man, Henry Nelson, is now the vice-president of a bank in Texas. Gray arrives in town and sets about first enriching himself in the oil boom, then using his funds to stage a hostile takeover of the bank and ruin Nelson.

Gray isn’t only driven by spite. He becomes close friends of the Briskows, a family of nouveau-riche “nesters” — quite rustic in character but trying to find a guide to help them enter society. Many are willing to take their money, but Gray seems to be the only one who doesn’t laugh when their backs are turned. Allie, the Briskow daughter, falls in love with Gray.

No inscriptions.

Doors of the Night (Frank L. Packard, 1922)

Billy Zane Kane is the private secretary to David Ellsworth, the multimillionaire, ruby collector, and noted philanthropist. Part of Billy’s job is vetting the stories of all the poor people who appeal to Ellsworth for help. Those who tell the truth are handsomely rewarded, and those that are running a con are turned out. It’s a job that quickly familiarizes Billy to New York’s underworld and the people who haunt it.

Late one evening, Billy discovers that his boss has been murdered and the rubies stolen. It’s clear that whoever  committed the crime intended for Billy to take the wrap, as all the evidence left points conclusively to him. Pursued by the police, Billy escapes into the underworld, where he finds himself mistaken for a gangster known as the Rat. The resemblance must be uncanny, as no one so much as doubts that the Rat is back in town.

Billy intends to use the new persona as a cover to search for Ellsworth’s real killer, who he eventually identifies as the Man with the Crutch, but the appearance of the Woman in Black complicates matters. The Woman in Black is holding something over the Rat — what, Billy doesn’t know, but evidently it’s enough put him in her power. She directs hims to thwart all his gang’s criminal activities, which he does by adopting a third persona. All of them are dangerous: Billy Kane is hunted by the police, the Man in the Mask is hunted by the underworld, and the Rat will be in a sticky situation should the actual Rat ever return.

Speaking of that, where is the Rat and how is it that his impersonator has gone unnoticed so long? As it turns out, he’s never been away at all — the Rat and the Man with the Crutch are one and the same — and he’s well aware of Billy’s activities — in fact, he’s setting Billy up to take another fall. He intends on killing the troublesome Woman in Black, after which her securities against him will be made public, but that matters little, because “the Rat” will also be found dead.

Interesting tidbit, Doors of the Night contains one of the earliest usages of “– not!” I’ve seen. There are earlier, some dating back to the 19th century, but they’re uncommon and don’t read exactly like the familiar 1990s catchphrase, which this one absolutely does:

The Cherub, a young thug with a disarmingly innocent face, is talking to Shaky Liz, a disheveled, elderly boozehound. He was speaking about his grandmother when he tells her:

“She looked just like youse, too — not!”
Shaky Liz scowled.
(Packard, 1922, p. 264)