The Lighted Lantern (John Lebar, 1930)

The Warrens are broke. Ruth Warren’s brother Harry Grey has just died. He owned a three-quarters share of a partnership on the Dead Lantern Ranch in Arizona, with Jep Snavely taking the other quarter. Since Kenneth Warren is consumptive and needs to move to a hot, dry climate anyway, they head to Arizona to live on the ranch. Because Harry was Snavely’s partner and Ruth was willed his share. Probate, what?

Yeah, so that’s not at all how that works. Ruth is not Snavely’s partner — Harry was. The ranch would have to be sold and the Warrens would take three-quarters of what it sold for.

We immediately learn several things about Snavely’s outlook on the world: people are bad, fences are bad, cattle are things that generate a bit of money but are otherwise of no consequence, and horses are great. Snavely just wants to be left alone on his 20,000 acre ranch so he can ride his horses in peace, and when Harry Grey was so unexpectedly killed in Mexico, he finally was. When the Warrens arrive demanding to live on the ranch, he asks Ruth if she’s shown the will to a lawyer and she bluffs that she has. So Snavely is aware of Ruth’s fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of what she’s inherited. Rather suggests he killed Harry and wants to keep the Warrens on the ranch so that he can kill them and thus keep living on the ranch.

And that’s exactly what the solution is. But if you just caught that in the first chapter, it was the only solution possible, never mind the whole rest of the book.

No inscriptions.

Spooky Hollow (Carolyn Wells, 1921)

A man calling himself Henry Johnson calls on Homer Vincent at his fabulous home Greatlarch. Homer has owned the sprawling mansion for about five years, ever since his niece Rosemary was left orphaned and came to Vermont to live with Homer and his sister Anne. Rosemary is out to the caller’s dismay. He knows rather a bit about the family to be a stranger. Homer says the caller came to discuss an investment opportunity in artificial rubies. He and his sister would have settled the matter in the morning, but she turns up dead and the caller is missing.

The local police figure Johnson did it to rob Anne of her large ruby, but beyond that, they’re at a loss. Homer has news for Rosemary: she is actually not his niece — she was adopted — and her further presence in the house now that Anne is gone isn’t welcome. Rosemary’s fiancĂ© Bryce Collins is not satisfied with this situation and engages Fleming Stone to unravel the mystery of both the murder and Rosemary’s birth.

Have you solved it already? Rosemary is indeed Homer’s niece. Further, it was Homer’s brother who was wealthy. When Rosemary arrived with her millions, Homer bought Greatlarch and took up the mantle of a country gentleman. Johnson, actually John Haydock, came to beg Rosemary’s hand in marriage. He’s spent the last five years amassing a fortune that would make him Rosemary’s equal. Anne was going to give the game away and tell Rosemary whose money bought Greatlarch. Homer killed Anne and Haydock both and would have sent Rosemary packing.

No inscriptions.

The Case of the Velvet Claws (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1933)

I think this is the first Perry Mason novel. You really wouldn’t know it — they’re all remarkably consistently written.

A woman married to the secret owner of a scandal magazine is caught out on a date with a prominent politician. Before much comes of that, her husband is shot to death. The woman thinks she did it herself and so tries to shift the blame alternately onto the politician and to Perry Mason but ultimately is arrested herself. Mason’s work isn’t done: he goes on to prove that, while she did shoot at her husband, she didn’t even hit him. He was shot moments later by his nephew, who stood to inherit his estate.

No inscriptions.

Vicky Van (Carolyn Wells, 1918)

Vicky Van Allen is a social butterfly who lives in a small but perfectly stylish house just off Fifth Avenue. She has a great many friends, but nobody seems to know much of anything about her, and she seems to have simply sprung into existence two years ago. At a dinner party, a mutual friend introduces her to Mr. Somers. Later that night, Somers is found stabbed to death with Vicky Van standing over him, trying to pull out the knife.

Vicky Van vanishes completely. It turns out that Mr. Somers was actually Mr. Schuyler, a wealthy rouĂ© who lived in the house literally adjoining the back of Vicky Van’s. The elderly Schuyler sisters are out for blood, but Ruth — the dead man’s wife — would rather let it go. Schuyler was a domineering man who made his much younger wife’s life misery.

Celebrated detective Fleming Stone is called in to find Vicky Van and he doesn’t have to look far.

This is the earliest Fleming Stone novel I’ve read and it was pretty straight-forward. Wells would reuse this plot later for The Vanity Case in 1926. That one was pretty straight-forward, too. Misdirection wasn’t really her thing.

No inscriptions.

Face Cards (Carolyn Wells, 1925)

Stephen Clearman, the King of Clubs — so called because of his innumerable club memberships — has just completed renovating his house. It’s a risky move because the house is cursed: anyone who modifies it in any way will die. Stephen thinks he’s outwitted the curse, though. He’s traveled extensively in Africa researching magic and building his collection of protective mud masks. He spends an hour a day wearing a mask and… I don’t know, reciting incantations or something, it’s left pretty vague. Standing to inherit, should he die, are his daughter Lulie, his sister Phoebe, and his wife Carlotta, called the Queen of Diamonds because of her love for the stones. Carlotta assists Stephen in his fight by scouring the attic for pages from his great-great-whatever-whatever ancestor’s diary relating to the curse. I guess it’s got a lot of sub-clauses — it’s left pretty vague, too.

And what would you know, Stephen does die during his alone time with his masks. The mode of death isn’t obvious and his room was locked from the inside. Lulie, meanwhile, has vanished without a trace. When the police detective fails, a private detective is called in and it isn’t Fleming Stone this time — it’s Tony Barron, who I think only appears in this one novel, but Carolyn Wells wrote a million of these things and I might be mistaken.

There’s the usual reveal at the end where the detective sums up the crime, but the book actually has a few reveals starting at about the half-way point. Granted, none of them were exactly stretches to solve. How the door was locked from the inside (or rather, how butler West made it seem as though it was) was very plain if for no other reason than the oddly detailed stage direction in the door opening scene that screamed something untoward was afoot. That Carlotta was the mastermind of the murder also took very, very little deductive skill. I’d had her picked out before the murder even occurred — she’d plainly been the author of the forged diary pages and there was no other reason for their existing. No, the real question was how the various sub-mysteries tied together, and a big part of that was whether West was really involved or just Carlotta’s patsy.

No inscriptions.

Half-Mast Murder (Milward Kennedy, 1930)

A political author is found killed in the summer house. Before the alarm is even raised, our three protagonists are tumbling over themselves to be the first to discover the body, almost as if they already know it’s there and are just waiting for the signal.

That they all suspect one of themselves guilty and are rushing to conceal evidence is obvious. Though a great deal of the book is spent on unraveling the faked and disturbed clues, it’s also pretty obvious that none of them are actually the murderer, either. Who really killed him works in the sense that it fits into the timeline but is very disappointing in that it’s entirely unmotivated. They killed him because otherwise there’d be no book.

Inscriptions: In pen on the front flyleaf, “Doris Hopper” then “Doris Thelma Hopper”. Below that, in pencil, “Doris Hopper”. In pen on the facing end paper, “D. Hopper”.

The Golden Spur (J.S. Fletcher, 1901)

Cosmo has just been evicted, has pawned everything but the clothes on his back, and is stoically facing homelessness when his old friend Nancy appears to offer him a job. Princess Amirel has fled from her small principality of Amavia to marry an Irishman, Sir Desmond. Adalbert, the prince, is after her. She’s been arranged to marry Graf von Hofberg, who’s less interested in her than he is in her jewels — namely, the Amavia amethyst. Cosmo is employed as a watchdog until Sir Desmond gets back home from South Africa. He’s not very good at that as the jewels are stolen. The book is vaguely a mystery novel: who took them? The artist fellow who’s trailing Cosmo, of course. It’s perfectly, blindingly obvious, but it isn’t treated as such.

Inscriptions: There’s a sticker on the inside front cover that’s black on dark red and almost wholly illegible, but does in fact read “C. Mace & Son, Booksellers, Leeds”.