Bill Had an Umbrella (Louise Platt Hauck, 1934)

Deirdre is a wealthy heiress who stumbles into Bill’s life accidentally, at her wits end about what to do with Precious and Phillipe. P&P are, respectively, her late father’s second wife and stepson. Precious thought the fortune was Bart’s or else there’s little chance she would have married him, but now P&P live on at Riverview on Deirdre’s dime, and Deirdre — so desperate is she to avoid any and all conflict — can’t bear to throw them out.

But back to Bill. Bill’s an ad man, his mother Eleanor is a landscaper. Deirdre was fleeing from her troubles to California, but Bill persuades her to stay with them. His mother’s looking for assistant — at least, that’s the pretext. Bill, of course, really wants Deirdre to stay because he’s fallen madly in love. And it isn’t long before Deirdre responds in kind, although there is the hitch that she’s sorta-kinda already engaged to Arthur. Arthur’s been off for years in India or Tibet or maybe it’s Mexico now — you can never tell with Arthur; his interest burns fierce but is out quickly. Deirdre is quite sure he’s already forgotten, and he would have, were it not for Phillipe.

Phillipe, chafing under what seems to him an exceedingly small allowance, has attempted to win financial independence by investing in a fine and upstanding center for the artistic endeavors and bathtub gin — mostly bathtub gin — but unfortunately it’s just been raided and Phillipe needs cash to stay out of jail. One sob story to Arthur later, twisting the truth only slightly by replacing Deirdre’s name for his own, and Phillipe is in the clear and with several thousand to spare. But Arthur, chivalrously, must of course now marry his technically fiancee.

Cutting the story short, Bill thinks he’s been thrown over and Deirdre can’t forgive him his doubts and both are positively miserable until Eleanor patches it up. Arthur’s already skipped away to chase after opals in Central America, P&P take their newfound riches with them to Paris, and Bill and Deirdre are left at Riverview to plan their Christmas wedding.

Inscription: On the flyleaf, “Bill Platt, From Ann”. Relative, perhaps?

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The Hobgoblin Murder (Kay Cleaver Strahan, 1934)

Almost fifty years ago, a young woman eloped with a man that her father considered to be far below her station. He disowned her, and suspicious of his other daughters’ complicity, put his vast fortune in trust. Not a penny was to be turned over until after the death of his eldest daughter, Prudence — a woman as hardhearted and tyrannical as himself. His three remaining children, now elderly, lead an isolated, joyless life filled with fear and anger.

One night, the granddaughter of the estranged eloper appears at the door seeking shelter.  It comes to be known that she is ill and in danger of losing her sight if she does not get an operation, and has come in search of funding. She brings with her a four-year-old child, whose presence is probably the only reason she was not turned away at once. All the same, it is obvious that she will get no money until after Prudence dies.

Prudence is found dead six weeks later, stabbed in the neck with knitting shears. The house was locked tight. Everyone inside had a motive, but also an alibi. Lynn MacDonald, a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, is called to unravel the mystery.

The twist is something that has to be seen to be believed. Stop reading now if you have any intention of picking up this book.

Fair warning, I’m going to spoil the end…

The four-year-old is actually a fully grown circus midget.