The Ballad of the Hundred Days (Joseph Roth, 1935)

An historical fiction about the Hundred Days War and the final defeat and exile of Napoleon. Interwoven is the story of Angelina Pietri, a palace servant in love with the emperor. She becomes pregnant with a soldier and her son eventually becomes a solider himself who’s killed at Waterloo.

Inscription: A plate pasted on the front end paper depicting a set of scales in front of a bookcase on which is printed “Ralph M. Smith”.

A House Divided (Pearl S. Buck, 1935)

It’s the start of the Chinese Civil War. Revolution is brewing in the south, but in the north, regions continue to be held by local warlords or else foreign interests. Wang Yuan is the son of Wang the Tiger, a now elderly warlord who expects Yuan to take his place, but Yuan hates war and killing and flees from the war school the Tiger had him enrolled in. When the Tiger arranges a marriage for Yuan, that pushes him quite over the edge and he flees to one of the Tiger’s wives’s homes. She lives in a coastal city controlled by foreigners. I’m assuming it’s Hong Kong, but the book uses no names, ever.

He meets his (half-)sister for the first time since they were very young, when the lady (her mother) moved to the coastal city. He also meets new cousins to him, including Meng, who’s a revolutionist that hates — positively hates — foreigners, who he blames for essentially all of China’s problems. The Tiger writes that, if Yuan doesn’t return, he’ll marry him by proxy. The revolution nears the borders of the coastal city and the police start conducting raids of college-age people, executing anyone suspected of being involved. The lady arranges to ship Yuan out of China, to the safety of foreign lands — which sounds very much like California.

Yuan wants to be a farmer and studies agriculture at the foreign college. He befriends one of his professors, who invites him home. The professor is an intellectual and knows all there is to know about plants. He’s also deeply religious and hopes to win Yuan for Christ. Yuan accompanies him to a church service but comprehends none of it. His only other encounter with a preacher was going to a talk and slide show from a missionary back from China. He’s collecting money for desperately poor street beggars — starving, naked, leprous, blind from disease. Yuan is incensed and calls out there’s nothing of the sort in China. Yuan hated China while there but has idealized it since reaching the US. Sheng, his cousin also hiding out in California, tells him that his thoughts are very deep but incredibly narrow: he focuses on one thing to the exclusion of everything else and sees nothing though he’s surrounded by it.

The government is overthrown and the revolutionists are in power. Yuan takes his degree and ships back home, thoroughly excited now that all of China’s problems are solved. After visiting his father, he learns that he’s deeply in debt after funding Yuan’s escape and keeping him six years in the US. It falls on Yuan to repay his expenses. Meng is a captain in the revolutionary army. He’s building the new capital and has arranged a place for Yuan as a professor in the university. The building is old, the windows broken, the door broken, and the students are too cold to pay attention in class. Meng grows disillusioned — the old parasitic rulers have simply been replaced by new parasitic rulers robbing from the starving, naked, leprous, blind from disease beggars that throng the streets. He plots a new revolution.

This new revolution sweeps the north. The Tiger’s lands are taken, his tenants turned against him. Yuan comes to his aid, but he’s already been captured and essentially crucified. Mei-Ling, the lady’s new adopted daughter who’s studying to become a doctor, also comes, but there’s nothing to be done. Yuan, after building up China in his mind abroad and deciding he wants nothing further to do with the white devils, decided he was going to come home and marry Mei-Ling. He found it completely and utterly incomprehensible that she refused. Who ever heard of a maid refusing a marriage? These new ways are the awful influence of foreigners — China should go back to arranged marriages that the bride and groom have no say or appeal in. But now that Yuan and Mei-Ling are standing over the Tiger waiting for his inevitable death… she just changes her mind and now wants to marry Yuan? There’s no “The End” — it just stops there.

Published in 1935, the civil war was nowhere near its end and the Communist Revolution was still a decade off, to say nothing at all of the Cultural Revolution — although the destruction of the olds is a massive part of Meng’s character and is what ultimately sways Yuan to the revolutionists’ cause. All that’s very interesting, though the ending is abrupt and completely unearned.

No inscriptions.

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 murderer 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.