The Window at the White Cat (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1910)

Allan Fleming, state treasurer, goes into hiding. By all accounts, he was a thoroughly corrupt man and he had many enemies. After more than a week’s absence, his daughter Margery visits a lawyer in the hope that he’ll find him. Fleming is found at the White Cat, an exclusive political clubhouse — or rather, his body is found, with a bullet lodged in his skull. The police rule it a suicide. Margery’s fiance Wardrop was Fleming’s private secretary and he knows it was murder. Wardrop is in neck-deep in his boss’s underhanded dealings. Shortly before the shooting, he was robbed of more than a hundred thousand dollars and several incriminating documents. Meanwhile, Fleming’s elderly sister-in-law disappears without a trace. There are few clues but a number that no one seems to recognize but that seems to crop up at every turn: 1122.

Inscription: on the front endpaper, “If you wish to sew my hair, look on page 59 + 401 – Gladys Shaw”. I haven’t the faintest notion what that means. There’s nothing remarkable on page 59 and there is no page 401. I don’t get you, Gladys.

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The Red Lamp (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1925)

On his uncle Horace’s death, mild-mannered English professor William Porter inherits his sea-side estate. Daughter Edith is excited at taking up residence there, but Jane, his wife, abhors the notion. The place is reputedly haunted and she’s had another of her premonitions. They instead decide to rent out the house. A tenant is soon found — a stranger, Mr. Bethel, evidently an author. One side of Bethel’s body is paralyzed and he brings with him an assistant, a shifty-eyed boy named Gordon.

That summer, the village is beset with mystery. A flock of sheep is killed ritualistically. A chalk sigil of a circle enclosing a triangle is left at the scene. The sheep killings are soon followed by human disappearances, and again, the sigil. The villagers are mostly simple folk and they suspect a diabolical presence emanating somehow from the house and the strange, faint red light seen glowing from within it. Porter, while never going quite so far as to call it all bosh, has never lent much credence to the paranormal before — but it isn’t long before he, too, sees little other explanation. The police detective called in from the city, meanwhile, seems firmly convinced that it’s Porter himself who’s the cause of all the mischief.

A very good had-I-but-known mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed. There are parts of the puzzle that I don’t think any attentive reader would fail to solve before the reveal, but the linchpin that ties them altogether came as a surprise that, in hindsight, works perfectly but I never saw coming.

Inscriptions: on the front end paper, “This book belongs to Victor R. Whitcomb, Newburgh, Me.” Prior to Victor, it was part of the Danforth Lending Library in Bangor. Going by the check-out stamps on the back, it was discarded sometime after January 26th, 1929.

The Album (Mary Roberts Rinehart, 1933)

The Crescent is a small gated community of old money families, or at least what had been old money before the market crash. Life there exists in virtual stasis, each day following the exact same script it’s followed for as long as Lou Hall can remember, until one day old Mrs. Lancaster is found hacked to death with an axe. The “why” of the murder seems clear enough, as Mrs. Lancaster had grown paranoid of banks and began hoarding gold in a chest under her bed — the chest that now contains nothing but lead dress weights. It’s the “who” that’s the puzzler. The families of Crescent, despite being more or less interconnected, are a reserved and secretive lot. Lou’s lived next door to the Lancasters her whole life and barely knows them. The police, as well as private criminologist Herbert Dean, have their work cut out for them in unraveling this murder and the series of seemingly inexplicable murders that follow it.

In classic had-I-but-known style, the story hinges on a single fact that links all the disparate plot points together and at once explains everything. If only the Crescent’s “Great Secret” has been known sooner, the tragedy might have been averted. As far as mystery novels go, had-I-but-knowns are more difficult than who-dun-its, in that solving them isn’t about simple deduction — it requires rather a lot more lateral thinking. The Album‘s reveal seems to come out of the blue when you first reach it but makes perfect sense in hindsight.

Inscription: Stamped in red ink on the back endpaper, “The Eatonia Tea Room & —Sh—”. The stamp was unevenly inked and the second half is too faint to read but it probably says “Gift Shop”.