Leave It to Psmith (P.G. Wodenhouse, 1923)

Mr. Keeble’s stepdaughter is in need of £3000, but Lady Constance refuses and it’s she that holds the purse strings. A plot is hatched between Keeble and his nephew Freddie to steal Conny’s diamonds. Conny will buy more, she’ll get her originals back, then Phyllis takes the cash. Freddie soon realizes he’s in over his head and answers an ad in the newspaper from Psmith (the P is silent), who says he’s game for anything legal or not.

Conny is a faddish sort and her current fascination is with poets. It’s a coup to get trendy Canadian poet McTodd to come to the house, but when he drops out, Psmith simply fills in. Of course, there’s another poet there, Miss Peavey, but it turns out she’s a fraud too and is also angling for the diamonds. Conny doesn’t have the best taste.

Inscription: Frances Sumter (or something like that), 1927.


Home Talent (Louise Closser Hale, 1926)

An aspiring Midwestern actress finally catches a break and gets a role on Broadway. In truth, Sharlie got the part because the producers had put up quite too much with Isotta Kublay and they needed a redheaded replacement in a hurry. The star of the show is Alexis Orso, a major name in show business despite being completely and utterly helpless without his long-suffering wife Alice. Kublay seeks revenge by framing an affair between Sharlie and Alexis.

Inscriptions: stamped in numerous places that it’s from the Dexter Town Library, Dexter, Maine.

At the Sign of the Jack o’ Lantern (Myrtle Reed, 1905)

Dorothy and Harlan Carr, newlyweds, have just inherited Harlan’s uncle’s estate. He can’t imagine why, as he’d never even met Ebenezer Judson before. With a place to live and nearly $400 in savings, Harlan quits his reporter job to follow his dream of becoming a novelist. It’s a massive, rambling place, with an uncountable number of beds and cribs, but it should provide a quiet place for Harlan to write his book.

Then the guests begin to arrive. Ebenezer — or, more correctly, his wife Rebecca, who died while they were still newlyweds themselves — had an unending number of relatives, however distant or fictional the connections might be. The guests began inviting themselves after Rebecca’s death, usually staying from spring to autumn, more or less pointedly asserting their claim on Ebenezer and the expectation that they’ll be remembered in his will. Ebenezer’s death has done nothing to stem the flow.

To be fair, none of them knew Ebenezer was dead. None of them are exactly grieving, either. That they weren’t explicitly mentioned in the will comes as no surprise; that wasn’t Ebenezer’s way. They expect to find their recompense hidden somewhere only they’d find. Eventually, they do find the box buried in the orchard containing $2.68, to be divided such that everyone gets more or less eight cents a piece.

After the hopefully final departure of the guests, Harlan’s book is finished, and even if it’s no good (it’s terrible — we get frequent excerpts as he writes), the Carrs are set. They learn that, in addition to the estate itself, they also take Ebenezer’s 2,000 acre farm and $10,000 in ready cash. Of his many, many relations, Ebenezer wrote, Harlan was the best one.

Inscriptions: Signed L.E. Peary in what l looks to be felt-tipped marker in an elaborate script on the flyleaf. L.E. Peary is also penciled on the end paper in a more conventional hand that I could actually read.

No Other Tiger (A.E.W. Mason, 1927)

Corinne, an up and coming dancer, might have killed her friend Elizabeth Cuttler to inherit her fortune, and she might have then blown that fortune on her boyfriend Leon Battchilena. Corinne’s new friend, Ariadne Ferne, is engaged to Julian Ransome, a rising parliament minister. Colonel John Strickland, being madly in love Ariadne, would not have her hurt by the scandal Corinne would throw on the marriage. There are more pressing issues, though: Elizabeth’s husband Archie, noted murderer, has just escaped from his South American penal colony and returned to England, and he is a bit miffed to find his fortune gone. The plan now is to kidnap Corinne and Ariadne, collect a ransom from Strickland, and then murder everyone. Strickland, naturally, would like to avoid this. Corinne, too, but her method of evasion is more self-serving and doesn’t work out too well.

Inscription: “Laura N. Richards, 1931”, with the trailing S leaving a big, swooping underline beneath both name and date, on the front flyleaf.

Joan of the Sword Hand (S.R. Crockett, 1898)

Joan, Duchess of Hohenstein, was arranged from birth to marry the Prince of Courtland. She secretly visits Courtland dressed as a man to inspect her fiance and finds him much to her liking, and Princess Margret thinks about as highly of “Count von Loen”, bitterly angering Muscovite Prince Wasp, who has claimed Margret as his own. On the wedding day, Joan discovers that the man she had taken for the prince was actually his younger brother. The actual Prince of Courtland is a sniveling old man, commonly called about town Louis the Craven for what the townsfolk see as selling out their Germanic freedoms for the autocratic protection of Russia. Joan flees back to Hohenstein and a Russian-backed battle ensues to capture her.

Their supplies running low, a conspiracy is hatched by the high ministers in Hohenstein. Joan is abducted and taken to a place of safety on the Baltic coast. Meanwhile, Maurice von Lynar, a Danish soldier in Joan’s army who bears a remarkable resemblance to her, puts on her dress and feigns capitulating to the invaders so that they’ll withdraw and Hohenstein can be reinforced. The false Joan is taken to Margret, who she takes for Count von Loen. They are married that day by the castle priest. Discovered, Maurice is sentenced to be torn apart by four wild horses.

Joan, trapped on Isle Rugen, finds that her hostess is Theresa von Lynar — Maurice’s mother. She also finds that Maurice is, in fact, her half-brother, her father having secretly married Theresa after his first wife’s death. At the same time, Conrad — the younger Courtland prince Joan thought she was betrothed to — shipwrecks on the island. He and Joan fall in love, though he is a priest and Joan is already married. “In name only”, Theresa says to both.

Word reaches them of what’s happened in Courtland. Joan, Theresa, Conrad, and the handful of guards they have hasten there. The people of Courtland, who find the spectacle playing out before them abhorrent and un-Christian, hail Conrad as a liberator and the true prince. The Courtland military turn and the Russians retreat from them and the well-armed mob. They rally and intend to invade Courtland with the whole of the Czar’s army and annex it into the empire. Courtland holds off the invasion as long as they can, waiting for reinforcement from Plassenburg. Theresa buys them much-needed time by suicide bombing the Russian encampment, killing both Prince Wasp and Louis.

In the end, the Russians are repelled. Conrad, released from his vows as the new reigning prince of Courtland, marries the widowed Joan. On Princess Joan’s abdication as duchess, Maurice and Margret becoming the new duke and duchess of Hohenstein.

No inscriptions.

Saracinesca (F. Marion Crawford, 1887)

Don Giovanni Saracinesca’s father, Prince Saracinesca, wants him to marry Donna Tullia, a widow who’s rich, beautiful, and popular, if more than a little vulgar. Giovanni, however, is in love with Duchess Corona d’Astrardente. Problem there is that she’s no widow, but the Duke is very old and in declining health. He can’t live a great deal longer, and he doesn’t. After a year of morning, the engagement between Giovanni and Corona is announced. Tullia, incensed at this blow to her vanity, wants to ruin the match. Ugo del Ferice, madly in love with Tullia, offers to give her proof that Giovanni Saracinesca is already married if she will marry him. His documents prove genuine: Giovanni Saracinesca is already married… Giovanni Saracinesca the innkeeper in Aquila, not Giovanni Saracinesca the prince in Rome. A warrant is issued for Del Ferice’s arrest, but Giovanni, at his new wife’s insistence, helps the fugitive flee across the border to safety.

No inscriptions.