Molly’s Baby, a Little Heroine of the Sea (C.A. Stephens, 1924)

This is the last book of the Old Squire series, although I don’t really agree that it belongs with the other three at all. The book is in several parts and was plainly serialized when first published as each part begins with a lengthy recap of those that came before. Only the first involves the Old Squire’s family in any meaningful way.

Grandmother Ruth’s half-brother Africa Dresser has just died. There are… issues with that branch of the family that the Old Squire would rather not get involved in, but for appearance’s sake someone has to go to the funeral. Someone is Theodora and her younger cousin, the narrator. Africa, a rather wealthy man, had three brothers who only sought him out when they needed money. He was cared for in his declining years by young Molly Totherly, and as a consequence, he had willed all his estate to her. The brothers, particularly Ethan, don’t care for this arrangement and try to strong-arm Molly into giving up the will into their keeping. Molly escapes to the Old Squire’s, Ethan continues to menace, but eventually the will reaches a lawyer and Molly inherits.

Molly grows up and marries a sea captain. On a whaling expedition in the arctic, she and her husband are killed by Eskimo raiders, but their young daughter is taken by one of the Eskimo women. Addison sets off north to find little Molly. After many months, he does locate the tribe that have taken her, and by a clever ruse, absconds with the toddler. Grandmother hopes to raise Molly herself, but nearer relatives on the west coast claim her.

Little Molly grows up, goes on a whaling expedition to the arctic, gets iced in, and threatened by hostile Eskimos. They hold off the Eskimos until spring, when the ice begins to break. The captain is incapacitated and Molly skippers the ship herself, although the compass is broken and rather than landing in San Fransisco, they land in Honolulu, where they decide to remain.

That only took about two hundred pages, so the last part is a wholly different story about Julia Sylvester. Her good for nothing father, Rufus Sylvester, was a neighbor of the Old Squire’s, and it was all Julia could do to raise enough money on her own to prevent the farm from being foreclosed on for one more year. When Rufus remarries, his new wife blames Julia for the sorry state of the place and Julia decides to leave and find work in Boston.

Asa Mercer, of Washington Territory, is in New England on an unusual mission. After the civil war, there are many more woman in the northeast than there are men. Conversely, the northwestern frontier is ten to one men. He wants five hundred female volunteers to sail with him to Washington, where he promises they’ll find very good employment. Julia signs up to be one of “Mercer’s maidens”. Various incidents follow, but Julia arrives in Seattle, finds work as a gardener, and marries a reporter-turned-politician.

Inscriptions: on the front fly leaf: “To Molly / ‘Mom’ / from one of / ‘Molly’s Baby’ / John”.

The Valley of Voices (George Marsh, 1924)

Almost the exact same book as Under Frozen Stars. Seems like George only had one story in him, but like Peter Kyne, he was determined to get some mileage out of it.

Inscription: On the flyleaf, “Arlene McCleary, Farmington, Maine”. That’s my home town, but I don’t know any McClearies. I know the Knowlton-McCleary building on Church Street.



I couldn’t get past the fact that I’ve lived in Farmington for 37 years and never encountered a McCleary before. I found Arlene in the 1925 edition of Effesseness, the yearbook published by the Farmington State Normal School (now the University of Maine at Farmington, of which I am also an alumnus):

Arlene “Mineva” McCleary, of Strong.
Strong High School, C.A. Member, Regular.

This charming young lady is our dear classmate. Arlene, who always gets 1’s and is afraid she won’t pass. She lives on a farm in Strong and we have an idea she likes there (sic), too. Try to keep her in Farmington some week-end and see. She is very studious and her favorite studies are Arithmetic and Storytelling??? Ask her about it. Arlene is a very charming girl and we are sure her pupils will like her.

Prillilgirl (Carolyn Wells, 1924)

A young woman who might be an alien or a pod person or some manner of robot arrives on the doorstep of Guy Thorndike, the famous actor, and tells him that she’s decided to marry him. She had been raised by her uncle and aunt in a very small and mysterious place, but now that the uncle is dead, her aunt wants to take her on a mission to China. She ran away with a short-list of marriage prospects and Thorndike was the first choice. Guy doesn’t take much convincing. He despises people (he gets along with his co-workers, but actors aren’t people) and a ready-made wife takes him off the market. I can’t stress enough that the young woman doesn’t behave like a human. She has a number of nicknames, Prillilgirl being the main one.

Guy is searching for the perfect role and he’s found it in Mallory Vane’s latest play. He wants to buy it from Vane, but Larkin thinks his contract with Vane gives him the option. Pril, meanwhile, is installed in the house. She and Guy rarely meet. She hopes to repay Guy his kindness by writing a play for him herself (she knows almost nothing about anything but does have an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare) in collaboration with Vane. She clandestinely meets with Vane to work on the play, but it would seem Vane has another interest in Pril.

When Vane’s roommate Pete Jessup returns, he finds Pril unconscious and covered in blood in the telephone booth, and Vane at his desk stabbed in the heart with his own pen-dagger. Pete assumes Pril did it and, knowing Vane as he did, is utterly sure she did it in self-defense. He cleans her up, spirits her home, disposes of as much evidence as he can find, and plants evidence pointing to some stranger before calling the police. Pete’s not alone: literally everyone connected with the Vane wants to see the case either dropped or to take the blame themselves… except Larkin, who wants to see Pril cleared like all the others, but rather definitely wants Guy to take the fall.

Disappointing ending in that I never really saw the murder as the mystery here. The mystery was who or what Pril is, and that’s just never really addressed. It’s sort of hinted at once that she’s radio controlled, but that fizzles out.

Inscriptions: stamped several times on the endpapers and flyleaves and once more on the title page, “The Owl’s Nest, 609 S. 47th St., Philadelphia, Pa.”

The King Versus Wargrave (J.S. Fletcher, 1924)

Left an orphan in Italy, Marco Graffi calls his granddaughter Gemma Graffi to come live with him in London. She doesn’t like it one bit and repeatedly begs to go back. One night, Gemma disappears and Marco is found stabbed to death. The coroner’s quest jury finds her guilty of his murder and a warrant is put out should she ever be discovered.

Some years later, Lady Wargrave makes a pilgrimage to her country seat with her son, the three year old Baronet of Wargrave. She’s not English — the late baronet married abroad to an Italian woman. I think you know where this is going. A man named Di Spada discovers who she is and tries to blackmail her into marrying him. The wedding is broken up by an arrest — the police found out, too.

Fairly clear who the murderer was. There was the one red herring of Ottilia Morro, the girl who helped Gemma to escape to Italy, but she totally lacked a motive.

Inscription: on the front flyleaf, “The Half Mast murder, + this one, are old Books. Hope you’ll enjoy reading them. P.D.”

The Cask (Freeman Wills Crofts, 1924)

A cask is delivered to Felix, a French born but London based artist. He’d received a letter from an old friend that he went in halves with in the French lottery. They’ve won, he said, and the cask contains his share. The importation and delivery of the cask was suspicious and a detective is there to see it opened. Felix gets the shock of his life when it’s found not to contain gold, but the strangled body of Annette — the woman Felix had long ago been engaged to marry, but her father forced her to marry wealthy Boirac instead. The net closes in on Felix. Every shred of evidence points to him being the culprit. Can private detective La Touche clear his client’s name?

It’s an unusual book. That Boirac is the real murderer isn’t ever in doubt, but the trouble is breaking down his alibi and finding the proofs that would convince a jury of the fact. I can’t recall the last time I read a murder mystery of this style, but I liked it.

No inscriptions.

The Saint of the Speedway (Ridgwell Cullum, 1924)

Two Alaskan boys set out to Australia chasing a mythical river of gold that turns out to be real. There’s millions of dollars worth for the taking, but it’s far too big a project for them to handle themselves in their little boat. They charter a ship and Jim Cleaver, one of the Alaskans, leaves with its captain and crew and $500,000 in the hold, but on their first voyage, the ship is caught in a storm and sinks.

Back at home, Saint Claire Cleaver and her mother are left to fend for themselves, which Claire decides to do by becoming a professional gambler. She proves to be poker player without equal and regularly breaks the bank at the Speedway Casino in Beacon Glory, Alaska. Beacon Glory was a boom town back in the gold rush, but now it’s a disreputable hive of scum and villainy. Enter the Aurora Clan. The Clan, who are replete with white gowns and conical hoods, make it their mission to clean up the town. None knows the identify of their leader, known only as the Chief Light.

Enter now another mysterious individual, Cy Liskard. Liskard’s struck it rich somewhere up north and is banking his gold in Beacon Glory — a curious, red gold not at all like the sort typically found in Alaska. Hint, hint. He insults Claire at the casino and thus makes an enemy of her boyfriend, Ivor McLagan. Ivor only drops into town occasionally, being preoccupied with his oil work further up the coast. When he returns, he’s met with the singularly remarkable sight of an abandoned ship drifting toward the rocks. When it finally beaches, he examines the wreck. Not unlike the Mary Celeste, it seems to have been abandoned quickly and for no obvious reason. There’s also evidence that it’s name plate has been altered, and recently so.

You’ve in all likelihood solved the puzzle already, so we’ll skip to the end. Chief Light Ivor sees that Captain Julian Casper, alias Cy Liskard, is hanged for the murder of Jim Cleaver. The gold, or what remains of it, is returned to Jim’s partner. A massive oil deposit is discovered that will at once reverse the fortunes of Beacon Glory. Ivor and Claire marry.

(Edit:) Also, ghosts. It would be remiss of me to not mention that there are ghosts.

Inscriptions: On the front endpaper and flyleaf there are three-ish lines of curious asemic writing in navy blue wax crayon. It’s not a childish scribble, it’s quite deliberately done. On the flyleaf there are even some faint pencil markings that appear to be a rough draft.

Rugged Water (Joseph C. Lincoln, 1924)

Calvin is the Number One man at the Setuckit life saving station, and after the retirement of Captain Oz, he expects to be promoted to keeper. And he would have been, had it not been for Benoni. Benoni was a life saver at the nearby Crooked Hill station. The Crooked Hill gang made a disastrous blunder one storm and all hands, save Benoni, were lost. He escaped entirely by luck — although to hear him tell it, it was the will of God that he should live. Benoni was already something of a born again, but the wreck has driven him into a religious mania. He’s a dangerous person to have around, both the Setuckit crew and the life saving superintendent agree, but the press have turned him into a hero, and politicians courting voters have had their sway. Benoni is made captain at Setuckit.

Calvin is troubled less than Myra at this setback. Myra is secretly engaged to Calvin — secretly because she’s less interested in him than she is in using him for her own advancement, and the future marriage was contingent on the captaincy. Calvin, in truth, is relieved to be rid of her now that he’s discovered true love in the form of Benoni’s daughter Norma. Norma’s opinion of her father’s ability to lead isn’t very much greater than that of the others’, and in Calvin, she finds someone who can support and direct him, which Calvin promises to do.

The charade is kept up while the seas are calm, but it couldn’t last through too many rescues. Calvin is forced to assume command when Benoni refuses to respond to a ship signalling distress, insistent that he’s personally spoken to God and that God will deliver them. The fallout results in Benoni’s dismissal. Norma, who’s found out about Myra, thinks it was all a plot — that Calvin never cared for her and had just been angling to be made captain — and breaks all contact with him.

Benoni never recovers from the last mental break. God has anointed him and this coastline is his. One storm, he sneaks out from under his daughter’s careful watch and steals a boat. It falls on Calvin, who’s alone at the station sick with rheumatic fever, to rescue him. When Norma learns of this, and further learns of the actual circumstances of Calvin’s engagement to Myra and of what actually happened the night of the “mutiny”, she more than forgives Calvin. The book ends with the two engaged.

Inscription: “2/13/25, For Mother’s birthday, from Russell & Ethel” on the front flyleaf.

The Locked Book (Frank L. Packard, 1924)

Kenneth Wayne is the captain of a trading ship plying the waters of the Malayan archipelago. The ship is attacked by pirates and Wayne’s father is killed. Wayne vows revenge. His plan involves posing as a gold hunter as a ruse to search Malay villages unsuspected, but he rather overestimates his own ability and is forever being rescued by his much more skillful guide, an Indian named Gulab Singh.

Wayne becomes involved in a mystery — the discovery (and loss) of the fabled Itu Konchi-kan Kitab, or The Locked Book, a sort of treasure map left by a prolific pirate from generations past. Two men are killed for it, a Malay and a white man, and Wayne becomes the target of a manhunt on both sides. Gulab Singh helps him escape into the jungle, but they are cornered by the pirates, who believe that Wayne still has the book.

As it so happens, Gulab Singh has it, and he arranges an exchange with the pirates — the book for their lives. You see, Gulab Singh’s wife and child were also killed by the pirates and he also vowed revenge. He spent years forging The Locked Book perfectly, only it did not contain the key to lost treasures, but rather high explosives rigged to detonate on opening. Gulab Singh orchestrated almost everything and was using Wayne as a means of massing the pirates together and getting the booby-trappedĀ  book into their hands.

The Home-Maker (Dorothy Canfield, 1924)

A family of five are just scraping by on the income made by the father — an absent-minded if big hearted man, with a passion for poetry but few marketable skills. The mother cares deeply for her children and is more than willing to sacrifice her life for them, but she is not the mothering type. The mental strain of trying to be a homemaker is killing her.

Father is fired from his job. He’s all too cognizant that he’s failed his family and that he’ll only go on to keep failing them. All he has to give them that’s worth anything is his $10,000 life insurance policy. He contrives to “accidentally” fall from the roof. However, he’s a failure even at suicide and only manages to paralyze himself.

After their meager savings run out, Mother applies for an entry-level job at the same department store her husband had worked for. She gets the job, excels at it, and is quickly promoted through the ranks. She begins bringing in more than twice the income Father had and expects further advancement. Her health and mood improves.

Father, bedridden, is stuck in the house. He gets to know his children in a way he never had before, particularly the youngest, with whom he forms a particular bond. As his health improves and he’s able to get around in a wheelchair, he takes on the housework and childrearing and finds that he enjoys doing it. The children, always of delicate health and in a constant state of cowed, silent awe by their mother’s overbearing, begin to blossom under their father’s care.

The physical cause of Father’s paralysis has passed, and although he remains for a time wheelchair bound from psychosomatic reasons, he and Mother eventually realize that he is able to walk. Both know that society will dictate that he go back to work and she return home. Depression. Mother, to her own horror, finds herself plotting a murder-suicide. The doctor is called. He has also realized what will happen to the family if it returns to its previous structure. After a long, closed-doors consultation with Father, he emerges to tell the others the bad news that Father will never leave his wheelchair again.

The Leap Year Girl (Berta Ruck, 1924)

A girl from a sleepy Welsh town is just about to resign herself to spinsterhood at the ripe old age of nineteen when she falls in love with a visiting English naval officer. She’s thrown into despondency when her proposal is not enthusiastically met. A friend of her late mother abruptly enters her life and whisks her away to London, where she hopes to forget the sailor and where her new godmother hopes to play matchmaker. The ending is as you’d expect, but I will say that the details caught me off guard. I was quite sure what the godmother’s scheme was by the finish of the second volume and found myself entirely wrong by the finish of the third.