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.

The Crime in the Crypt (Carolyn Wells, 1928)

I’m assured this is a detective story. The cover says so, there are a few murders here and there, and a detective does finally pop up in the last chapter, but most of the book is just kind of a light romp about two American guys who have made fast friends while on vacation in Europe. The mystery seems almost an intrusion — something to be swept away as quick as possible.

I had it solved pretty well by Clevendon’s introduction. The titular crypt murder was so very, very carefully staged to establish the victim as Warren Glynn that of course it couldn’t be him. Who is it? Enter Clevendon with his very convenient injury leaving him unable to write or shave and there’s your man. It all falls into place after that. Glynn was trying to trade places with his half-brother Clevendon to inherit the family fortune.

Inscriptions: On the flyleaf, “A Merry Christmas To Harry From Leola, Dec. 25, 1930.” There’s also a tag attached with a poinsettia sticker that reads “Harry from Leola”.

The Luminous Face (Carolyn Wells, 1921)

At their club, five men idly muse over the motives one might have for killing somebody. Monroe pulls out the old detective story canard that the only three motives are love, hate, or money. Pollard disagrees. A man might kill a man simply because he dislikes him. Take Gleason, for instance. Pollard’s only ever met him two or three times, and yet he intends to kill him.

Later that night, Gleason is found dead. Curious that it was the very night that his engagement to Phyllis Lindsay was to be announced, that she stands to inherit half his estate, that her brother Louis was in $20,000 deep to some loan sharks, that Barry made no secret of his love for Phyllis and his hostility toward Gleason, that Gleason had been having a fling with the erstwhile actress Ivy Hayes and had met her even that night, that Hayes witnessed an argument between Gleason and Louis and/or Phyllis not an hour before the murder, and that Phyllis was spotted in a car with a strange man driving away from the scene. And, of course, that Pollard publicly announced his intention to kill Gleason.

I’m going to spoil the ending now: It was Pollard, you fool. There’s a reveal that fleshes out the animosity between Pollard and Gleason and explains away Pollard’s seemingly air-tight alibi, but the take-away is that sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one.

Inscription: It was withdrawn from the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield, Mass. library on June 10th, 1936, but that’s not very interesting. What’s interesting is a doodle in the bottom margin of page 199 of a woman who looks rather like Bebe Daniels, but I’m inclined to think it’s some reader’s impression of the Ivy Hayes character.