The American Gun Mystery (Ellery Queen, 1933)

Buck Horne, an ageing western movie star, takes the lead role in Wild Bill Grant’s Rodeo, to the displease of its erstwhile star One-Arm Woody. At the first show, he’s shot to death in front of a crowd of thousands. After the case goes cold, the rodeo resumes with Woody back in the lead… and he, too, is shot in exactly the same way at exactly the same part of the show.

A few clues but most of all the creases in the man’s belt strongly suggested that the first man killed was not Buck Horne. The angle of the bullet wound that seemed to suggest the shot came from above, in the audience, of course did nothing of the sort. The riders were in a curve and heavily leaning to one side. The bullet struck parallel to the ground, from one of the other performers. Who is the mysterious man Miller? Well, of course it’s Buck. Buck is the killer. All of that is easy enough to solve. The motive isn’t. Even the book itself never really states what the motive is.

No inscriptions.

The Case of the Velvet Claws (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1933)

I think this is the first Perry Mason novel. You really wouldn’t know it — they’re all remarkably consistently written.

A woman married to the secret owner of a scandal magazine is caught out on a date with a prominent politician. Before much comes of that, her husband is shot to death. The woman thinks she did it herself and so tries to shift the blame alternately onto the politician and to Perry Mason but ultimately is arrested herself. Mason’s work isn’t done: he goes on to prove that, while she did shoot at her husband, she didn’t even hit him. He was shot moments later by his nephew, who stood to inherit his estate.

No inscriptions.

A Thousand Years a Minute (Carl H. Claudy, 1933)

Dr. Lazar’s liver is failing and he doesn’t have time to test his time machine. He writes to Alan and Ted, lately known for their adventures beyond the moon (I swear, half of this book is an advertisement for Mystery Men of Mars), to come take up his mantle. Alan’s the smart wealthy one and Ted’s poor but really strong, you are now fully acquainted with their characters. From the present day of 1933 they go back one million years, to the time of dinosaurs and cavemen. They befriend one of the latter, named Icky Ikki. There’s another tribe, though, who aren’t so nice. They worship a saber-toothed tiger that they’ve got trapped in a pit and periodically throw captives to. They capture Alan, incidentally. Ted, with the help of Ikki and a lot of guns, rescues Alan and they escape to the present just in time to visit The Land of No Shadows, in book stores now.

Inscriptions: Stamped “Richard A. Johnson” on the upper-right corner of the flyleaf.

Fu Mancho’s Bride (Sax Rohmer, 1933)

Fu Mancho, scourge of the West, is out to take over the world again, using a drug that appears to kill people but allows them to be revived as zombies. So, it’s like every other Fu Mancho book, but now the delivery method of the drug is a hybrid louse/sand fly and Fu Mancho’s base is a hollowed-out mountain in the French Riviera.

Did I even mention the titular bride? She doesn’t feature that heavily in the plot.

No inscriptions.

13 At Dinner (Agatha Christie, 1933)

Jane Wilkinson is unhappily married to Lord Edgware. She wants to be rid of him to clear the way for her new amour, Duke Merton, and is quite willing to resort to murder if need be. In fact, she loudly proclaims so to all who will listen. The next day, Edgware is found dead. Jane is immediately suspected, but there are twelve witnesses who swear she was with them at a dinner party while the murder occurred. Hercule Poirot must unravel the mystery of Lord Edgware’s death and of the two additional deaths that follow it.

The linchpin of mystery — that Carlotta Adams was indeed impersonating Jane Wilkinson, but that she was the Jane at the dinner party while the real Jane was out murderin’ — I guessed right away. Everything pointed in that direction. The Geraldine diversion was good and in real life would have probably been correct, but by detective story logic, it was too on-the-nose. I will say, I was wrong about the source of the poison that killed Carlotta. Whether he was involved in the murder or not, I thought it came from Ronald Marsh. When he was introduced, Hastings thought he seemed a bit drunk and I figured he was actually strung out on barbiturates.

In all, it’s very similar to Carolyn Wells’s 1921 novel The Luminous Face.

Inscriptions: a plate pasted on the inside front cover reads “Waldo Peirce Reading Room” and “This book is given in memory -of- Florence M. Cushing.”

The Album (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1933)

The Crescent is a small gated community of old money families, or at least what had been old money before the market crash. Life there exists in virtual stasis, each day following the exact same script it’s followed for as long as Lou Hall can remember, until one day old Mrs. Lancaster is found hacked to death with an axe. The “why” of the murder seems clear enough, as Mrs. Lancaster had grown paranoid of banks and began hoarding gold in a chest under her bed — the chest that now contains nothing but lead dress weights. It’s the “who” that’s the puzzler. The families of Crescent, despite being more or less interconnected, are a reserved and secretive lot. Lou’s lived next door to the Lancasters her whole life and barely knows them. The police, as well as private criminologist Herbert Dean, have their work cut out for them in unraveling this murder and the series of seemingly inexplicable murders that follow it.

In classic had-I-but-known style, the story hinges on a single fact that links all the disparate plot points together and at once explains everything. If only the Crescent’s “Great Secret” has been known sooner, the tragedy might have been averted. As far as mystery novels go, had-I-but-knowns are more difficult than who-dun-its, in that solving them isn’t about simple deduction — it requires rather a lot more lateral thinking. The Album‘s reveal seems to come out of the blue when you first reach it but makes perfect sense in hindsight.

Inscription: Stamped in red ink on the back endpaper, “The Eatonia Tea Room & —Sh—”. The stamp was unevenly inked and the second half is too faint to read but it probably says “Gift Shop”.

Grand Canary (A.J. Cronin, 1933)

Dr. Harvey Leith has recently been disgraced for causing the death of three patients. Though it was hardly his fault, those in charge at the hospital, out of distaste for him personally and for his continually rocking the boat, have made him the scapegoat. He turns to drink. A friend arranges for a little cruise to the Canary Islands for him to get away from the scandal for a while and to sober up. Aboard ship, he meets Mary Fielding, who’s also on a vacation, but she’s escaping from the luxurious but suffocating life she leads at her wealthy husband’s manor.

A yellow fever epidemic has broken out on the islands. By the time they arrive, the worst has passed, but Harvey still offers his assistance. Mary is bitten by an infected mosquito and becomes deathly ill. Harvey, who has fallen in love with Mary and likewise she with him, makes it his mission to cure her.