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.

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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)

The Conflict (Clarence Budington Kelland, 1922)

After the death of her father, Dorcas Remalie, a New York heiress, becomes the ward of her uncle. Her uncle lives in a small community deep in the countryside, where he owns thousands of acres of forest and several saw mills. There’s quite a culture shock at first, but she comes to enjoy the woods and makes friends with several of the townsfolk. She never accepts her uncle, however. Outwardly, he professes righteousness and claims the role of the put-upon martyr, but in private, he is the most ruthless and cold-hearted man alive. Uncle lives in abject terror of death, because he believes in a literal hell and is quite sure than he’s damned to it for having been complicit in the murder of his illegitimate son 25 years ago.

Much of the neighboring land has been clear-cut, but the mountain is still virgin forest. Uncle plans on acquiring and logging it, but a stranger, Jevons, arrives in town who intends on having the mountain declared a national park. Dorcas falls in love with Jevons, but overhears that he is actually the son her uncle thought was dead and has come to blackmail him. She’s torn, but ultimately decides to support Jevons.

Uncle, afraid of exposure, plots to kill both of them. Dorcas escapes and joins some friends deeper in the woods, where she becomes engaged to Jevons and he shares with her his secret plans for raising enough money to buy the mountain. Jevons disappears one night, apparently murdered by Uncle’s men. Dorcas takes the reigns herself and sees Jevons’s operations through. The mountain is saved.

Uncle, accused of Jevons’s murder, sends the foreman of his saw mill to the gallows in his place. Then he learns that it was actually the foreman who was his son. Driven into a religious madness, he dons sackcloth, covers himself in ash, and jumps to his death while muttering apocalyptic phrases. But Jevons wasn’t actually dead after all. He stumbles into town, weak from hunger and having been tied up for days, where he reunites with Dorcas.