The Mystery of Devil’s Hand (Ted Copp, 1941)

After delivering Mrs. Crave to her Honduran coffee plantation, Steve Knight is forced to crash land his plane on a beach. The plane was tampered with, he discovers, but more pressing are the Indians now shooting at him from the jungle. Peruvian Indians. That’s significant but I think Copp forgot to write why. Such a big deal is made about them being South American and such a mystery is made of their presence in Central America for half the book, and then that plot line is just dropped without a word.

Anyway, he’s rescued by Pedro Hennessey (he’s Hispanic-Irish), a beachcomber since the death of his uncle Alfredo and the seizure of his plantation, Mano del Diablo, by certain foreign interests. They’re Nazis. The book never, never says that, but their leader is named Von Rein and he’s a big fan of slave labor. Maybe Copp was afraid Hitler would sue for defamation if he did more than insinuate.

Anyway, Steve and Pedro meet up with a Romani gypsy (which are apparently common in the jungles of Honduras) named Venga Savricas and the three storm the compound, intent on rescuing Alfredo (who they now have reason to believe isn’t dead) and destroying whatever dastardly work is being carried out there by Von Rein. That’s done largely with a sledgehammer. They’ve got, like, a stealth fighter, a bomber, and a submarine, but yeah, sledgehammer.

Mrs. Crave was Von Rein in disguise, did I mention that?

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.

The Blood Ship (Norman Springer, 1922)

A writer takes passage on Captain Shreve’s ship because he’s heard that he once knew the late”King” Waldon. He wants to write a book on the man who, with his wife alone, sailed in an open boat to Samoa to lead the life of a trader. The writer thinks very highly of his ability to capture a full person or place with the scantest information. Indeed, he praises himself in such a constant stream, it isn’t clear he cares to hear anyone else. It’s only stemmed when a coal hulk nears that catches Shreve’s eye. The writer can’t see anything in the broken down thing, but Shreve is ready to spin a tale.

The hulk was once a clipper ship, the Golden Bough. Shreve, then nineteen, had just been made an able seaman and wanted to sign with the toughest ship afloat and there was no bloodier ship than the Golden Bough. The rest of the crew had to be shanghaied. Only one other man signed up willing, Newman. Captain Swope seems to have seen a ghost when he lays eyes on Newman. He stays in his cabin and forbids his wife Mary from going among the men and tending to their wounds. There are wounds: the mates keep the crew cowed into submission by brutal, sometimes fatal beatings.

To cut a long story short, Swope had framed Newman (or Roy Waldon, to use his real name) with infidelity to break apart him and Mary. He then married Mary for her father’s money. Swope then killed Beulah — the supposed other woman — and Mary’s father, framing Newman for both crimes. Newman has escaped from prison with revenge in mind, but Mary convinces him to maintain the peace. A mutiny would mean his death and much of the crew’s and nothing would change. Swope, however, wants a mutiny. It would give him a perfect excuse to kill Newman, Mary, and one of the mates who has grown too dangerous.

Newman, Shreve, and Holy Joe — a shanghaied preacher — keep the peace as long as they can. Conditions, at last, leave no other option, and with Newman in chains in the hold, there’s no one to hold the crew back. Shreve, Mary, and Wong — the cook — have secretly been cutting into the hold and rescue Newman. Newman appears on deck just as the crew is advancing on the cabin and commands them to stop. Swope, his plot unraveling, attempts to shoot Mary in full view of everyone. Newman lifts Swope and throws him to the deck, snapping his spine. Lynch, the mate marked for death, assumes command of the ship. Holy Joe marries Newman and Mary on the deck. Lynch has launched the dinghy and filled it with supplies. With his help, Newman and Mary depart, with directions for reaching nearby Samoa. When the ship arrives in Hong Kong, there was no mutiny and the two are simply unaccounted for.

We never return to the writer, but I like to think he wasn’t paying attention, seeing no romance in a dingy old coal hulk.

No inscriptions.

Daring Wings (Graham M. Dean, 1931)

Tim is a newspaper reporter and an aviator. The end.

All right, there’s a villain called The Sky Hawk who has a death ray or a chemical weapon or maybe both who’s been robbing airmail shipments containing large sums of money, but he only appears two, maybe three times in the novel and there’s zero effort expended on finding him. The vast majority of the story is reporting on the recently explosion in the popularity of airmail — there’s apparently enough interest there to sustain a daily column.

Inscriptions: on the flyleaf, “Harold L Hunter, from ‘Dad’, Oct. 14, 1931”

Truxton King (George Barr McCutcheon, 1909)

Truxton King, son of an American steel tycoon, travels the world in search of adventure. He finds it in the tiny Eastern European principality of Graustark. This is one of many sequels to Graustark. I’ve already read one of them, The Prince of Graustark. That was a very light romance novel and I expected this to be one as well, but no, it’s rather dark and political.

Robin, the prince, is only seven years old, he having ascended the throne after his parents died in a train wreck. He has regents, but his primary guide is John Tullis, an American who was his father’s closest friend. Graustark has embarked on a rail project that would link Russia to Afghanistan. Russia is eager to invest — indeed, they’re eager to take a controlling share of the company, and it’s for that reason that Tullis maintains it would be wise for Graustark to seek more friendly investors in France and England.

Truxton has been smitten by the armorer’s niece, who he’s sure is a noblewoman in disguise. She was, at least, a gentlewoman in former times, but now she’s a member of the Committee of Ten, who aim to start a Bolshevik revolution in Graustark. Taking him for a spy, Truxton is captured and threatened with execution. Meanwhile, the disgraced and exiled Count Marlanx plots to install himself on the throne by kidnapping Tullis’s sister and leading away a large part of Graustark’s army on a wild goose chase in the mountains, leaving the city virtually undefended.

Truxton and Loraine (the sister) find themselves in the same holding cell in the Committee of Ten’s underground bunker — Marlanx is using them for his own aims by claiming to be a revolutionist himself. The two escape, but can they save little Prince Robin from assassination, Marlanx from capturing Graustark, and Russia from buying it out from under them?

Inscriptions: “~Papa~, From Clara May, Dec. 25, 1913”, on the front flyleaf. On page 19, someone who I can only assume is Clara May’s papa has written “E.N. Phinney -1913-” along the right margin.

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.

Gil Blas (Alain-RenĂ© Lesage, 1715, 1724, 1735)

When I started reading this, I was jotting down quick plot notes for this summary, but it didn’t take long before I realized that was a fool’s errand. The book is well over a thousand pages long, and while it generally follows the adventures of our protagonist Gil Blas, it’s really a collection of short stories, each lasting maybe a few chapters. Knowing that does make it somewhat less daunting, though, since you can put it down, take a break, and pick it up a few weeks or a month later with a new story.

Gil Blas, born of humble roots in Santillana, Spain, sets out at seventeen to make his fortune. At one extreme, he’s robbed, he’s imprisoned, he’s enslaved; and at the other point, he’s the favorite of the Prime Minister and almost personally has the King’s ear. He swings continually from high to low. At the story’s close, he’s a nobleman endowed with a handsome income, wed to a beautiful young woman, living in his peaceful country estate, far from the intrigues of court or the dangers of the highway.

Inscription: There’s something written on the flyleaf, but the ink has rusted and it’s very hard to read. “The Halecicir”, maybe? Or “The Helecivir”? Something like that. I’m sure about the capital H, the two Is, and the final R at least.