The Desert Moon Mystery (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1927)

Twins Gabriella and Daniella Canneziano appear rather inexplicably at the Desert Moon, an isolated ranch in the Nevada highlands. They are the guests of their uncle, the Desert Moon’s owner Sam Stanley, although they’re not really related — they’re the children from the second marriage of Sam’s ex-wife. He hasn’t seen them since they were very young and doesn’t know why they’re here now, except that their mother has been dead for a decade and their father has recently been sent to prison. Sam’s not the type to pry, though. Also at the ranch are Mary, who’s been the cook for 25 years; Chad and Hubert, who are nebulously employed charity cases; and Mrs. Ricker. Mrs. Ricker cares for Martha, who’s severely retarded. Martha and John are Sam’s adopted, adult children.

John and Danny very quickly fall in love and are engaged to be married. Mary is suspicious of the Cannezianos and spies on them, discovering that they are searching the ranch for something, something that will get them revenge on someone. Chad and Hubert both fall for Gaby. Mary overhears Mrs. Ricker threaten to kill both Hubert and Gaby if he doesn’t stop perusing her. Martha, who’s been known to be violent at times, has a crush on Chad and is intensely jealous of Gaby.

Two months into their stay, Gaby is murdered on the attic stairs and Chad shoots himself immediately after she’s discovered. Not long after, Martha dies of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. Crime analyst Lynn MacDonald is called in to find the murderer.

This is very much in the Rinehart had-I-but-known school of mystery, much more so than the other Strahan books I’ve read. There are two components to the solution, both of which I identified and solved before the reveal, namely who are Martha’s biological parents and which of the Canneziano twins is which. Everything else hinges on that.

No inscriptions.

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The Canary Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine, 1927)

Broadway beauty Margaret “The Canary” Odell is found throttled to death and her apartment ransacked. Her four paramours were all near by at more or less the time of the murder, but the trouble is that the apartment building was locked from the inside. Can Philo Vance solve this seemingly impossible riddle?

Well, the book asserts it to be seemingly impossible. I didn’t have any problem seeing through it at once — it’s not exactly a puzzler. Nor did I have any trouble at all identifying the culprit. The hints dropped even at the character’s introduction are by no means subtle. I’ve read children’s mysteries that are more challenging.

Inscription: “Olive B Rippere, ’29” on the front flyleaf.

No Other Tiger (A.E.W. Mason, 1927)

Corinne, an up and coming dancer, might have killed her friend Elizabeth Cuttler to inherit her fortune, and she might have then blown that fortune on her boyfriend Leon Battchilena. Corinne’s new friend, Ariadne Ferne, is engaged to Julian Ransome, a rising parliament minister. Colonel John Strickland, being madly in love Ariadne, would not have her hurt by the scandal Corinne would throw on the marriage. There are more pressing issues, though: Elizabeth’s husband Archie, noted murderer, has just escaped from his South American penal colony and returned to England, and he is a bit miffed to find his fortune gone. The plan now is to kidnap Corinne and Ariadne, collect a ransom from Strickland, and then murder everyone. Strickland, naturally, would like to avoid this. Corinne, too, but her method of evasion is more self-serving and doesn’t work out too well.

Inscription: “Laura N. Richards, 1931”, with the trailing S leaving a big, swooping underline beneath both name and date, on the front flyleaf.

The Wolf Pack (Ridgwell Cullum, 1927)

An orphaned boy, called only by the nickname Wolf, is taken in by a cattle rustler and raised alongside his daughter in the Canadian northwest. Pideau has played his hand carefully but at last the police get on his track. The Wolf witnesses him kill two Mounties and Pideau knows it. Years later, after the two have partnered together in a bootlegging operation, Pideau sees his chance to rid himself of the danger the boy poses. The Wolf has come to love his daughter, Annette, but she has eyes only for Constable Sinclair. She’s pregnant and Sinclair has promised to marry her if she tells him where the still is. Pideau is waiting for Sinclair and shoots him dead. He sets it up so that Annette thinks the Wolf did it and that the Wolf thinks it was Annette.

Inscription: “Leo C. York, Canton, Me.” on the front endpaper.

Joyce (Louise Platt Hauck, 1927)

Joyce and the several other lodgers at Frankie’s boarding house live together like a big family. Ward is in love with Joyce, but while she loves him too, she’s not sure if it’s the right kind of love — the marrying kind. Two new boarders appear: Garret and his brother Tony. Tony is blind and Garret has devoted himself to his care. Garret has an unyielding, rigid morality that Joyce at first admires, thinking it’s a strength. She falls madly in love with him and they’re engaged to be married. Then Garret abandons her without a word — believing her guilty of some minor indiscretion that, in his mind, he’s magnified to the highest inexcusable and unpardonable sin. Joyce takes it very hard but at last realizes that Garret’s fanaticism is borne of cowardice and not strength. He lacks faith — in her and in general — and that’s what makes him intolerant and self-destructive. Joyce discovers in Ward’s patient, unconditional kindness that true love she’d been looking for.

Just going off the text and without having done any other research, I’m going to assume this was the author’s first published book. It has all the unevenness I’ve come to expect from neophyte authors. There are the bones of a story here, and the big key scenes and monologues are impressive and well written, but what links them together is the most hackneyed drivel you’ll ever read.

Inscription: Signed on the front endpaper, in the smallest script imaginable, “Annie Wilkinson”.

Red Sky at Morning (Margaret Kennedy, 1927)

William and Emily are the orphaned children of Norman Crowne. Crowne was a poetic genius, but not without scandal. He was involved in a murder, and although not convicted, everyone knows he was guilty. The children are raised by their aunt Catherine Frobisher alongside their cousins, Trevor and Charlotte. Charles Frobisher, Catherine’s late husband, had been a poet himself — equal to Shakespeare in the widow’s mind, if not in anyone else’s. All four children fancy themselves to be writers as well. William and Emily have been left independently wealthy and can do what they please, but Trevor and Charlotte are at the mercy of their mother, who sees in them not the slightest talent. As they grow older, their relationship with their mother becomes more strained.

William and Emily move out. They buy a house together and live like grown-up children, writing for themselves with no real intent of ever actually publishing anything. Trevor leaves as well and, motivated by rebelliousness more than anything else, moves into circles his Little England mother would rather pretend didn’t exist. One of his new friends is Tilli, an actress and something of a gold-digger. Tilli is attracted to Trevor, but her main interest in him came from his tales of Monk’s Hall, his mother’s ancestral home, which he had always expected to inherit some day. That dream seems to be dashed now that its present owner, his uncle Bobbie, has been forced to sell it. William, under pressure from Trevor, buys the old house with the intent of turning it into some sort of ill-thought-out communist collective for struggling artists. Really, though, Trevor just wants to live there.

Tilli tries another attack. She persuades a theatrical producer to stage one of WIlliam’s unpublished plays, starring in it herself. The play is produced and, though well attended, it is roundly panned. Emily is affected more than William — realizing that, no matter what they do, they will always be known as Norman Crowne’s children and will always be made a spectacle of for that reason. To escape from herself, she flees into marriage with a dull village preacher. Alone, William is lost and rather easily falls prey to Tilli. They’re married and take up residence at Monk’s Hall along with Trevor and his friends. Tilli finds life at Monk’s Hall to be a living hell, but her reason for staying is that she’s still attracted to Trevor.

The affair is rather well known, but William turns a blind eye until Sally forces him to act. (I haven’t touched on Sally’s subplot: in short, she’s the mistress of Trevor’s friend Nigel and is attacking Trevor to get revenge on his mother, who continually snubs and belittles her for for what she considers to be an affront to decency.) That night, William goes to confront Tilli and finds her and Trevor together. William chases Trevor out of the house and into the dark countryside. A shot rings out. William is found by the other housemates, quite distracted, babbling about dropping his gun and wanting to stop and search for it. Some time later, they discover Trevor, mortally wounded. He tells his sister that he and William had been chasing a poacher, that he had tripped while holding William’s gun, and that he had accidentally shot himself. He makes sure before he dies that this is the story they must all repeat.