Footprints (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1928)

The Quilters are a proud family that stretches back to before the Revolution. The present line are prominent ranchers in Oregon that, in the depression of the 1890s, had fallen onto hard times. No expense had been spared on aspiring playwright Chris, the eldest son. After going to the best schools in the East and traveling Europe, all that he’d accomplished was marrying a gold digger much disappointed to find that the mine was tapped out. Chris and Irene returned to Q2 Ranch to find it mortgaged and mortgaged and mortgaged again. Though all the Quilters lived there, from Grandfather to twelve year old Lucy, the ranch strictly speaking belonged to Chris. Irene as soon would have had it sold and let the others shift for themselves.

One night in 1900, Chris’s father was shot to death. It was in the night. All the family had been locked in their rooms. A rope from the bedpost went out the window and to the ground, but an early snow had fallen: the rope was dusted in it and there were no footprints anywhere on the ground around the house. An investigation was made and inquest held, but in the end, no explanation was ever found.

Almost thirty years later, Neal has come to believe that he killed his father, and in the shock of the act, forgot about it. It’s driving him mad. Elder sister Judy and Joe, the long-time family doctor, contact crime analyst Lynn MacDonald to solve the riddle. Of course, the case is long cold, most of the witnesses dead, so much has changed. Judy does, however, have a pack of letters sent to her by Lucy and Neal detailing the events of the house just before and just after the event. From these alone MacDonald must find the trail.

No inscriptions.

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The Crime in the Crypt (Carolyn Wells, 1928)

I’m assured this is a detective story. The cover says so, there are a few murders here and there, and a detective does finally pop up in the last chapter, but most of the book is just kind of a light romp about two American guys who have made fast friends while on vacation in Europe. The mystery seems almost an intrusion — something to be swept away as quick as possible.

I had it solved pretty well by Clevendon’s introduction. The titular crypt murder was so very, very carefully staged to establish the victim as Warren Glynn that of course it couldn’t be him. Who is it? Enter Clevendon with his very convenient injury leaving him unable to write or shave and there’s your man. It all falls into place after that. Glynn was trying to trade places with his half-brother Clevendon to inherit the family fortune.

Inscriptions: On the flyleaf, “A Merry Christmas To Harry From Leola, Dec. 25, 1930.” There’s also a tag attached with a poinsettia sticker that reads “Harry from Leola”.

Big Game (Vida Hurst, 1928)

Mona falls in love with Bruce, her friend’s husband. Angst. Bruce falls in love with her and plans divorce, but then his wife becomes pregnant. Angst some more. Things are looking up (for Mona at least) when the wife dies after giving birth, but oh no, Bruce is jealous of another of Mona’s admirers and decides not to marry her. Angst a lot. Finally,  Bruce learns to trust and he marries Mona after all.

This was the worst written book I’ve ever read. It’s even worse than that Partridge Family novella — and I didn’t think that was possible. I don’t mean the story, which is a mediocre but not offensively bad romance; I mean the author has absolutely no grasp of basic syntax or grammar.

No inscriptions.

The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye (Brian Flynn, 1928)

Brian Flynn may not have been the best mystery novelist but he’ll always hold a place in my heart for being the one who introduced me to the idea of reading for pleasure. Looking back at this blog, it seems that I read 41 books this year. I don’t boast — certainly, there are people who regularly read twice that number — but I think that child-me would be shocked.

This was a re-read, as every Brian Flynn book would be at this point. I considered reading the first of his that I ever picked up, Crime at the Crossways (1930), but I know the story too well and mysteries never hold up without the element of surprise. Peacock’s Eye I hadn’t revisited in decades and had almost completely forgotten, which is good as it’s got a hell of a twist ending.

Two crimes have been committed that may or may not be related: the blackmailing of foreign prince in regards to a past fling that had been amicably settled but, if made public, would spell disaster for his present royal engagement; and the murder of a young woman whose late father had served in India and came home with a particularly valuable war trophy — a large blue emerald worth £20,000. Amateur detective Anthony Bathurst tags along with Chief-Inspector Bannister of Scotland Yard to solve the puzzle.

With mystery novels, you’ve got your Christie-style who-dun-its and Rinehart-style had-I-but-knowns. Flynn is more Rinehart than Christie, but his style is fairly distinctive on its own. There’s generally a mistake near the beginning that the characters make and the reader is invited to make as well. This confounds solution, as any attempt to follow the clues that spring from it are necessarily predicated on a false premise. It isn’t until that initial mistake is re-evaluated that the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place.

Peacock’s Eye
‘s is no exception. It all hinges on the stranger at the Hunt Ball whose true identity everyone seems to know, but do they really? Of course, the man’s name is only the start. The clues must be followed from there to the conclusion. I confess that I failed, but I will admitted that this is a solvable book, although it’s made deucedly difficult by Flynn withholding the most damning evidence until the reveal at the end and leaving the reader only with the less definite points.

If I might give a slight hint (not really a hint at all — it’s there in the text, I only call attention to it): What is the plural of iris? There aren’t many English-speakers so pedantic that they insist on the Greek plural irides. Who do we know who speaks affectedly?

Inscription: Carelessly signed P. Smith in pencil on the inside front cover.

The Murder in the Pallant (J.S. Fletcher, 1928)

A lawyer is found dead in his office. Some valuables have been stolen and it initially appears to have been a burglary gone wrong, but then it comes to light that perhaps this was an unrelated crime or even a diversion, as the real reason the lawyer was killed seems to have been to cover-up a prominent businessman’s underhanded financial dealings. But then still more comes to light and maybe it was a robbery after all. It was thought that only a gold watch and a couple hundred pounds were missing. Nobody knew of the £50,000 in cash that the lawyer secretly had on him. And then yet more comes to light (it keeps coming until the second to last chapter in fact, making this a very difficult mystery to “play along at home” with — you can’t solve it any quicker than it solves itself) that appears to link those two crimes together through a person the investigators least suspect.

Inscription: “H.F. Luicolu, Haterville, N.C.”, on the inside front cover.

The Double Chance (J.S. Fletcher, 1928)

The previous J.S. Fletcher novel I read, The Three Days’ Terror, began as a straight-forward mystery novel but, by the end, had slowly morphed into a gothic horror. The Double Chance stays its course — it’s a simple murder mystery from the golden age of detective fiction. That said, it isn’t exactly a whodunit. There aren’t any clues to piece together in discovering what really happened, the wrongly accused man is never presented as anything but wrongly accused, and in all honesty, there’s no suspense whatsoever as the story unfolds.

Sir Robert Mannersley owns a coal mine that has made him quite a wealthy man. His daughter, Phillipa, is in love with her ne’er-do-well cousin, Clinton Mannersley. Clinton has been in prison these past three years for forging a check from Sir Robert but has recently escaped. He appears one night to plead his innocence to Sir Robert in person, but instead finds the great man murdered in his study.

It looks bad for Clinton, but Inspector Cortelyou, the famed Scotland Yard detective, believes another man committed both the current murder and the previous forgery. I don’t mind spoiling it (as Cortelyou certainly doesn’t): he thinks it’s  Marshall Stead, chief cashier at the colliery. And… it is, but only after a fashion. Cortelyou was wrong in that Stead himself didn’t kill Sir Robert. A stranger did in a fit of madness. It was a lucky chance for Stead, who had been embezzling from his employer for years and was growing paranoid of being detected. In fact, it was a doubly lucky chance, as Stead was also angling for a way to steal the diamonds Sir Robert kept locked in his safe and this provided the perfect opportunity.

Lilac Time (Guy Fowler, 1928)

During WWI, a fleet of British airmen are billeted at a house in the French countryside. One of these is Captain Blythe, the son of General Blythe. He falls in love with the girl who lives in the house, Jeannine, but his father intends for him to marry Lady Iris, an Englishwoman of his own social standing. Romeo and Juliet with a WWI backdrop and a happy ending.

I’m not sure exactly when it was published. The earliest copies I can find are all photoplay editions tying into the 1928 film starring Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper. The story was previously dramatized as a stage play in 1917, but I don’t know if the book came before or after that. It reads rather like a novelization. My guess is that the play came first, then the film and novel were released concurrently in 1928.