All At Sea (Carolyn Wells, 1927)

I’ve got a broken shoulder and am typing one-handed, so this will be brief:

At an Atlantic City resort, a wealthy Chicago business man is found dead in the water — stabbed by someone near him beneath the waterline.

His curious collection of dolls, particularly the dark-haired one he told the chambermaid was his favorite, was obviously the key to the murder and went a long way to providing a motive, but didn’t name the knife-man. On that end, while I’m not sure if there were any reals clues, there was certainly a strong enough vibe that it didn’t surprise me at all.

Inscriptions: It’s from a library and it must gave been popular. This book literally fell apart as I was reading it. I was holding up loose leaves for the last forty pages or so. “Two Cents Per Day Pay Collection” is all that’s written on the check-out pocket.


The Visiting Villain (Carolyn Wells, 1934)

Bruce Dunbar is an eccentric old multi-millionaire. He has no immediate family, but his nephew and three nieces dine with him every Saturday night. He would call himself a jolly prankster while the cousins are more likely to call him a malicious bastard. His delight is mentally tormenting them and pitting them against one another. He’s also very fond of wills, rarely going more than a year without writing a new one.

The nearest thing Bruce has to a child is Streamline, his cobra, who he absolutely dotes on. One morning, just after a Saturday dinner, Bruce is found dead in his bed. It was cobra venom that killed him, the autopsy shows, but he wasn’t bitten. Fleming Stone, the celebrated detective, at once notes that the puncture wounds are too small and too close together. Someone injected the venom into him.

Another surprise, on the 25th of last July, Bruce quickly visited several different lawyers and had several different wills made, each naming a different cousin as the sole heir. All were signed within minutes of one another and finding the last one will be a pickle.

Dividing it into its two parts, the murder mystery was written well enough and the clues dropped do narrow down the suspects to two people. My first suspicion was actually that it wasn’t a murder at all: Bruce’s health had been failing — I thought he killed himself and arranged the wills stunt as one final jab at his family. As to the wills portion of the mystery, the solution of that is a pure deus ex machina.

Inscriptions: a name was written on the flyleaf, but it’s been obliterated by permanent marker.

The Tapestry Room Murder (Carolyn Wells, 1928)

At a house party, Gaylord hopes that Diana will finally accept his marriage proposal, although she favors Ted. Marita is in love with Gaylord herself, or at least in love with his money. Cale, Gaylord’s secretary, is in love with Marita. During the “dark time” — a two minute period each night when the town switches from one power plant to another — Gaylord is stabbed to death. He was in a small room he called his tapestry room with Marita at his side, Diana in front of him, and Ted standing in the doorway. His only known relative, a second cousin named Moffatt, is called in. It’s believed Gaylord made a will and left nearly all his estate to Diana, but that will is conspicuously absent now and Moffatt is tentatively the heir. Fleming Stone, the celebrated detective, tries to unravel the mystery the police have failed to crack. His only clues are the sound of a ticking clock and the smell of mothballs.

Reminiscent of The Crime in the Crypt, where an event has been so carefully detailed and corroborated at every turn that it can’t possibly be natural — it had to have been staged. Here, most of the guests have weak alibis, and those in the room none at all, but one man can give an almost second by second account of where he was while the murder took place.

Inscriptions: from the Colonial Lending Library, and later from the Back Mountain Memorial Library. On page 198, there’s a bit of long division. Someone has divided 118.75 by 15 and correctly arrived at 7.91 and 2/3s.

The Ghost’s High Noon (Carolyn Wells, 1930)

A woman travels to Spain and falls in love at first sight. They’re married, but he dies of phosphorus poisoning. Back in the US, she remarries, but this husband, too, dies of phosphorus poisoning. The less chivalrous American courts won’t let her off simply for being a woman so it’s up to detective Fleming Stone to uncover the real murderer.

Not one of Wells’s better stories in that it hangs on clues the reader isn’t given until the reveal, but I’d guessed the murderer anyway. Figuring both men had to be killed by the same person, that person would necessarily be Spanish, and there is only one other Spanish character.

Inscription: Leon Leon Knapp on the front flyleaf. How unfortunate that his last name wasn’t also Leon.

The Roll-Top Desk Mystery (Carolyn Wells, 1932)

Detective Fleming Stone is on vacation with retired detective Mayo Farnum at Oleander Park on the North Shore — a popular place for summer houses among the moneyed set. But, of course, no detective is actually happy unless he’s on a case, and Rocky Reef house provides.

Lowell Berkeley has fallen head over heals for Rosalie. His father, Louis, is prouder of the family heritage than anything and this woman is virtually anonymous. But Louis would never make Lowell unhappy and has consented to the marriage. Just then, Rosalie is murdered by having her head smashed by a roll-top desk. Farnum — an old friend of the Berkeleys — is called and Stone tags along. It isn’t more than two weeks later that Mimi, Rosalie’s friend, begins to fill the void in Lowell’s heart. She, too, is crushed to death.

I don’t really need to say that it was Louis as there really isn’t any part where that’s not obvious. He explains himself in the end, though. Rosalie, he discovered, was one-eighth black and she had to die to save Lowell from that. Mimi was a prostitute and it’s implied that she had some disease. So, it’s head crushing for her, too.

Inscriptions: stamped “Friends of the Belleflower Library” on the inside front cover.

The Vanity Case (Carolyn Wells, 1926)

Gaybrook Harbor is divided by a bridge, with the old money types in their mansions on the Park side, and a Bohemian artist colony in their bungalows on the Garden side. They share basic services and everyone belongs to the same country club, but otherwise, there’s little interaction between them.

In one of those bungalows lives Perry and Myra Heath along with their guests Bunny Moore and Larry Inman. Larry is a distant cousin of Myra and the only heir to her considerable wealth. The two are also having an affair as everyone knows. One morning, Myra is discovered dead on the floor of the studio, her face caked in make-up (she never wore any in life), and with candles burning at her head and feet. A card reading “The work of Perry Heath” is propped up on the body. The house was locked up like a bank — nobody could enter unnoticed, but more importantly, nobody could leave, either. The culprit must be Perry, Bunny, or Larry.

I had a suspicion fairly early on in the book, when Perry Heath disappeared after the murder but couldn’t have gone far as he clandestinely meets with Bunny and Al Cunningham a few times. The occasions when Perry returned were very pointedly when Sam Anderson was out. The two were one-and-the-same and Perry was leading a double-life, depending on the animosity between the Parkers and the Gardeners to prevent the two lives from intersecting. That was my assumption and I was right. Perry knew his wife loved Larry and so he created Sam: Perry would vanish and claim to have committed suicide to clear the way for Larry, and then there would only be Sam. But at the last moment, Myra reveled she knew all along that Sam was Perry. In a blind rage, Perry accidentally killed her.

No inscriptions.