Death in the Air (Agatha Christie, 1935)

Aboard the plane from Paris to Croydon are eleven passengers, two stewards, and one maid.

Jane Grey, a manicurist, won one of the lesser prizes in the lottery and used her winnings to visit Le Pinet and try her hand at roulette. The Countess of Horbury is very familiar with the casino floor herself — much, much too familiar than Lord Horbury’s pocket book will support. The Hon. Venetia Kerr, who’s nothing but country life and horse-sense, would have made Horbury a better match, as they both know, but there’s no way the Countess would grant a divorce. On the male side are the Duponts, father and son archeologists, too engrossed in an argument about the dating of near-eastern pottery to notice much. Clancey is busy in his own mind, as well — he’s a murder mystery author plotting a new book. Ryder is making moon eyes at Jane, sitting opposite him, and doing little else. Medical doctor Bryant cleans his beloved flute, while dental doctor Gale laments that nobody pays any attention to dentists. Finally, Hercule Poirot sits bundled up almost to his eyes, and two rows back, Madame Griselle, that infamous Parisian money-lender and blackmailer, sloops forward over her coffee cup, dead from a snake venom dart apparently launched at her neck from a South American blowpipe.

One of the recurring questions is how nobody on the plane saw such a farcical proceeding of somebody getting up, loading a blowpipe with a feathered dart, taking aim at Griselle, and blowing. What distraction could have been so great to cover that? Of course, that’s just what the murder wants everyone to waste their time on — that’s why they planted the blowpipe. The poison was simply injected directly into the blackmailer’s vein by someone who could get close enough to do it without attracting attention. I didn’t need all that many clues to spot the culprit. The way the character is written and the way they behave instantly from the moment the crime is discovered and until the reveal marks them as the murderer. For that matter, just reading the brief character introductions above, you’ve probably spotted who did it, too.

Camp Lenape on the Long Trail (Carl Saxon, 1935)

Instead of going to Wild Rose Camp as he has previous summers, Dirk Van Horn, son of a wealthy banker, is sent to the much humbler Camp Lenape. It will do him good to mix with other kids, his father believes. The adjustment period is difficult and he makes an enemy of Brick Ryan, one of his tent mates. The Long Trail is a sixty mile canoe and hiking trip to Mount Kinnecut. Along the way, Dirk and Ryan are kidnapped by a couple of outlaws looking for ransom. In the escape, Ryan is injured and Dirk has to carry him up the mountain to find the others, and so wins acceptance into Camp Lenape.

Inscriptions: In the right margin of page 159, someone’s drawn a skull and crossbones in blue marker.

The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1935)

A man is found dead, clutching a glass eye. His wife had a son from a previous relationship with a man who, as it should happen, only has one eye. Perhaps related are a boy and his unknown accomplice, who had been embezzling thousands of dollars from the dead man and had just gotten caught. The only eye witness to one-eyed murder was the son’s new secret wife, who has skipped town for reasons of her own. Perry Mason, celebrated lawyer, is employed variously by pretty much every major character to see that the innocent go unpunished.

No inscriptions.

The Devil’s Toy (Anita Stewart, 1935)

A long abandoned, thought to be haunted theatre is reopened to stage a new show. Gray haired Mary Flood is a seamstress who sees to the costumes. Decades ago, she had been an actress herself — a very promising one — but she gave it all up for a man. When the marriage failed and she returned to the business, there were no more parts to be found. The star of this show is Alice Craig, whom Mary looks on almost as a daughter. Alice, meanwhile, is likewise protective of June Ellington, a young dancer. All the ladies seem to love Alfredo Moreno, but not Mary or Alice. June has fallen head over heals for him, and they will do anything to keep her away from that womanizer.

At the dress rehearsal, the second act concludes and Moreno goes to his dressing room. Shortly afterward, he’s found there dead. He was stabbed, but that didn’t kill him. The manner of death is strange — maybe some kind of poison. In the following investigation, Gowdy, the assistant D.A., has the rehearsal re-staged, with himself filling in for Moreno, to see how it happened. Gowdy, too, dies in the same way.

It looks bad for Alice. Mary and her friend Toby, a hunchbacked dwarf who works the lighting, do all they can to cover for her — including concealing and destroying evidence. Will O’Brien uncover the culprit?

Most books I just pick up at random, but this is one I intended to read. The Devil’s Toy was Anita Stewart’s first and last book (for good reason — I’ve read worse murder mysteries, but this is pretty bad). She was a major film star in the 1910s, but after marrying and trusting in her husband’s decisions, her career went into steep decline in the ’20s, and eventually it died.

Edit: Oh, Toby built a death ray. That’s the solution. I figured all along that it was either Mary or Toby because those were the most hackneyed suspects, but I did not guess that the murder weapon was a death ray.

No inscriptions.

A London Story (George Buchanan, 1935)

Two brothers are both employed by Lord Flowerfield at Drancers department store in London, but John and Nicholas could not be less alike. John is, to use the newly imported Americanism, a go-getter. He’s loud, brash, and assertive, focused entirely on advancing himself and increasing his income. He allows no fault in others and admits of no fault in himself. Nicholas, meanwhile, finds the whole commercial world to be nothing but a hollow facade propped up by old men of inherited wealth and titles with no convictions beyond a terror of a changing social order.

Nicholas is fired, and at the height of the Great Depression, his prospects for finding another job are close to nil. He becomes dejected by the scorn he faces. He’s the product of his generation, they say: a lazy good-for-nothing, expecting of everything and deserving of nothing; he could find a job if only he chose to. After months of failure, he’s reached the point of giving up. With his last few pounds, he rents a car and speeds away with suicidal abandon.

In the hospital, after the crash, Nicholas is met with Phillida, who takes a keen interest in his well-being. Phillida briefly dated John and before the wreck had only the slightest acquaintance with his brother. She and John had parted ways largely because she wasn’t impressed by his bluster and that’s all he was looking for. He found it in Beryl. Beryl found in him a money machine.

The friendship between Nicholas and Phillida grows into love and the two wed. John marries Beryl. As they were in worklife, the brothers could not be less alike in homelife, either. Nicholas has found a job — not a very good one and not one he enjoys, but it’s something. He and Phillida are very happy in their little two-room apartment. Beryl does well enough in the lap of luxury, but John is miserable. He never deceived himself that Beryl loved him, but her cold and impersonal treatment proves to be more cutting than he could imagine. He’s distracted, he loses control. All his go-getter attributes slip away, he finds himself on Flowerfield’s bad side, and is soon without a job.

Inscription: A small plate is pasted on the outside front cover that reads “Camden Public Library, 14 Days”. That would be Camden, Maine. No other markings.

The Garden Murder Case (S.S. Van Dine, 1935)

After receiving a mysterious warning, amateur detective Philo Vance drops in on the Gardens. Floyd Garden and his friends are  avid horse race gamblers and are throwing a party of sorts around the Rivermont Handicap. His cousin, Woode Swift, has staked his entire fortune on a horse named Equanimity. Swift is spared the grief of Equanimity’s loss by receiving a bullet to the head ten minutes before the race.

It was framed as a suicide, but Vance at once spots the tell-tale signs of murder. But who among the several guests is guilty? Vance remains vague till his melodramatic reveal at the end, but the clues given quickly narrow the case down to two suspects, and the book isn’t two-thirds done until any reasonably attentive reader will have arrived at the culprit. All the fun of detective novels is in trying to solve the mystery yourself, but this one is simply too easy.

No inscriptions.

Woman Alive (Susan Ertz, 1935)

A young doctor visits a man who, by semi-scientific, semi-mystic means, is able to project an image of future events into his subjects’ minds. The man asks to see London as it will be in 1986.

Much has happened in the intervening fifty years. Britain went to the Soviets after the world war of 1950, but communism had collapsed in on itself in by the 1960s and the country was once more independent and capitalist. It, and much of the world, is closely allied with the ocean-spanning United States of Europe. War was all but a memory until a few weeks ago, when a break-away state launched an air strike against the USE in a bid for independence. They dropped a new chemical weapon that specifically targeted women. In a matter of days, the contagion spread throughout the world, and soon it is believed that every woman on Earth is dead and that humanity’s last generation has been born.

One woman survived, however. She had been the guinea-pig for a new, experimental vaccine, which left her alone immune to the disease. The daughter of simple farmers in rural England, she becomes quite an important personage. The world is ready to war again for the possession of her — each nation wanting to use her to continue their race — but she would rather see humanity suffer the death it brought upon itself. At first, at least.

Wonderful Art-Deco illustrations (in the first US edition anyway — I can only assume they’re in the others, too)