Sunday, December 31, 2017

#16 - The Gutenberg Murders by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (1931)

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About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Merrivale Mystery by James Corbett).


Gwen Bristow (wikipedia)


About the authors: Here is a Wikipedia article about Gwen Bristow and her husband, Bruce Manning. They also authored three other novels in the Mystery League series (The Invisible Host, Two and Two Make Twenty-Two, and The Mardi Gras Murders). 


Principal characters: 



  • Dr. Prentiss, head of the Sheldon Library
  • Quentin Ulman, assistant librarian; whose racket is "wine, women, and books."
  • Luke Dancy, secretary of the library, cultivates an English accent
  • Marie Catillo, employee of the library
  • Terry Sheldon, nephew of the library's founder
  • Alfredo Gonzales, head trustee of the library
  • Winifred Gonzales, man-chasing wife of Alfredo
  • Wade, reporter for The Morning Creole
  • Dan Farrell, District Attorney
  • Captain Murphy, Homicide

Locale: New Orleans

Synopsis: The prize possession of the Sheldon Library is nine leaves of a Gutenberg Bible, worth a small fortune. The leaves are stolen from the library's safe. DA Dan Farrell and reporter Wade (tapped as a special investigator) discuss possible identities of the thief. 

Dr. Prentiss and Alfredo Gonzales have been at odds over the years. Prentiss obtained the Gutenberg leaves, but Gonzales claims they are forgeries. Quentin Ulman has been known to steal various items from the library but has never been prosecuted - and he is having relationships with two different women. Winifred Gonzales chases every man she encounters. 

Almost immediately after the theft, Quentin Ulman is found dead, his body torched on the little-used road in front of the library's off-site bindery building where books are repaired.

The investigation gathers facts, and after a society party, Winifred is found dead in her burned out car.

Wade looks into the deaths, and finds love triangles as well as complications arising from a convoluted will left by the library's founder.






Tuesday, December 26, 2017

#15 - The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton (1931)

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About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Gutenberg Murders by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning).

collectionimages.npg.org.uk

About the author: Miles Burton is a pseudonym of Cecil John Charles StreetMCOBE (3 May 1884 – 8 December 1964), who was known to his colleagues, family and friends as John Street. Here is a Wikipedia article about him. He has one other title in the Mystery League series: The Hardway Diamonds Mystery.

Principal characters:
  • George Thorold - owner of the Rose and Crown tavern
  • Hugh Dunsford - former operator of the tavern
  • Samuel Whitehead - new operator of the tavern
  • Ned Portch - tavern patron
  • Walter Hosier - tavern patron
  • Constable Viney - the local constable
  • Colonel Bateman - Chief Constable of the County
  • Inspector Robert Young of Scotland Yard
  • Desmond Merrion, friend of Young, the civilian investigator
  • Newport, Merron's manservant
  • Sir William Owerton, magistrate and book collector
  • Mavis Owerton, his attractive daughter
  • Lt. Laurence Hollesley of Elder House
  • Thorburn, a.k.a. Gregson, Hollesley's manservant
Locale: The village of High Eldersham, England

Synopsis: Action centers around the Rose and Crown Tavern, a struggling little pub faced with a loss of business due to its isolated location. Hugh Dunsford, operator, can't make a go of it and the owner, George Thorold, finds a new operator: Samuel Whitehead, retired policeman. 

One evening Samuel Whitehead is found stabbed to death in the tavern, after closing hours. The money remains in the till, so what is the motive?

Nearby village High Eldersham has a quiet farming population and the locals don't particularly want anyone new around. 

Constable Viney inquires around the village, and suspicion initially falls on Ned Portch, one of the last to see Whitehead alive. Chief Constable Bateman calls in Scotland Yard, who sends Inspector Young. Young's friend Desmond Merrion does most the the legwork investigating, finding that the locals have taken up witchcraft and go all in for secret ceremonies in the woods, where they use a mommet doll to inflict injury and misery to various persons.




Thursday, December 21, 2017

#14 - Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding (1931)

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About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton). 

John Leslie Palmer, image from robertarood.wordpress.com

About the author: A Wikipedia article reveals Francis Beeding is a pseudonym of John Leslie Palmer (1885 - 1944), an English author. As "Francis Beeding", he and Hilary Saint George Saunders co-authored The House of Dr. Edwardes. The novel was later used as the basis for the Hitchcock film Spellbound.

Characters:
  • Robert Eldridge, a.k.a. John/James* Selby, having an affair with a married woman
  • Margaret Withers, the married woman - estranged from her husband
  • Withers - the estranged husband
  • Dick Coldfoot, Margaret's cousin, a blackmailer
  • Mary Hewitt, victim #1
  • Miss Helen Taplow, victim #2
  • John Masters, fisherman, witness, and victim #3
  • Captain Thomas Porter, victim #4
  • Winifred Dampier, garden hobbyist, victim #5
  • Colonel James Hewitt, Mary Hewitt's brother
  • Hon. Alistair Rockingham, "soft in his head" after his nervous breakdown
  • Higgins, Rockingham's butler - now his caretaker
  • William Ferris, correspondent for the Daily Wire, victim #6
  • Sergeant Ruddock, an insightful policeman
  • Sir Jefferson Cobb, Chief Constable of the County
  • Inspector Protheroe, the plodding type
  • Chief Inspector Wilkins of Scotland Yard


Locale: UK

Synopsis: Our central character now goes by the name of Robert Eldridge, but he is really John Selby; who disappeared while running Anaconda, Ltd., which failed and left many investors penniless. He assumed the identity of Eldridge to avoid meeting up with any of the investors.

Eastrepps is a seaside resort town, and home of Margaret Withers - married but estranged. Eldridge has been having a once-a-week Wednesday night tryst with her, in secret; and sneaks off to see her by train - using an elaborate ruse to make it appear he is elsewhere. Her cousin, Dick Coldfoot, finds out and blackmails her to keep it quiet.

The troubles begin. Mary Hewitt is murdered while walking at night in an isolated area, closely followed by Miss Helen Taplow. Fisherman John Masters was a witness to the first then he becomes the third victim. All are killed by a sharp instrument to the head, all at 10:30 PM. 

Inspector Protheroe and Sir Jefferson Cobb enlist the aid of Scotland Yard, while Sergeant Ruddock conducts his own inquiries. Alistair Rockingham, a bit "soft in the head" after a nervous breakdown, is an immediate suspect. He likes to sneak out at night and accost young ladies.

The troubles continue. Captain Thomas Porter, Winifred Dampier and journalist Ferris are the next victims. 

An arrest is made and a suspect brought into court on circumstantial evidence.

Review:

This story of murders in a peaceful English seaside town is a page-turner. The main character Robert Eldridge- do we love him or hate him? - is an admitted crook and left many people penniless. Here he is having an illicit affair with a married woman, yet our sympathies are with them both. The deaths start to pile up (there are six), and Eldridge is arrested and brought into court entirely on circumstantial evidence.

The last quarter of the book is devoted to an accounting of the trial, in great detail. It reminds me of the courtroom dramas of Erle Stanley Gardner in the Perry Mason series. 

A few items should be noted: The description of the how the train alibi worked was confusing and took a while to figure out. The character Selby is sometimes John and sometimes James. There is an occasional use of terms for African-Americans which are unacceptable today, but were in common use at the time; likewise references to blackfaced minstrels.


*The first name is inconsistent in the text.





Tuesday, December 12, 2017

#13 - Turmoil at Brede by Seldon Truss (1931)

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About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding).

About the author: We don't know much about Seldon Truss other than his full name was Leslie Seldon Truss, he is from the UK, and lived 1892-1990. He also wrote as George Selmark. His writing style about the savvy adventurer type reminds me of Leslie Charteris. He has one other title in the Mystery League series: The Hunterstone Outrage.

Characters:
  • Mr. Penn of Pentonville*, a Saint**-like adventurer
  • Garnett, butler to Mr. Penn
  • Elizabeth Wild, a.k.a. Elizabeth Parsons, suspected of attempted murder
  • Barrington Wild, her father
  • Dimmer, head butler at Brede Hall
  • Lady Hermione Brede, widow of Brede Hall
  • Mrs. Vereker-Dane, climbing the ladder of society
  • Matthew Vereker-Dane, her husband, a normal guy
  • Mary Vereker-Dane, their debutante daughter
  • Prince Rudautz of Estuania, a good catch (?) for Mary Vereker-Dane
  • Basil Gorman, shady attorney #1
  • Charles Latchmer, shady attorney #2
  • Monsieur Paul Nicosia, owner of the Temple of Youth beauty parlor
  • Detective Inspector Shane
Locale: England

Synopsis:

One night Elizabeth Wild has a late encounter with attorney Basil Gorman in the study at Brede Hall, which ends with a broken window, and Gorman shot and wounded on the floor. She disappears and is immediately suspected. Mr. Penn encounters her and takes her on as his assistant, to find her father Barrington Wild, who has been kidnapped.

Elizabeth had been trying to negotiate the return of an embezzlement confession, signed under duress by her father, an employee of the law firm of Latchmer and Gorman. The firm has a history of representing society debutantes who marry then die unexpectedly, with a resulting transfer of wealth. 

Latchmer dies from mysterious causes. Mr. Penn discovers a system of coded newspaper advertisements being used between the firm and society households. Elizabeth, under the name Elizabeth Parsons, is placed as a maid to spy on the Vereker-Dane household; and promptly finds herself in peril. The Temple of Youth beauty parlor is more than it appears.

Review:

This is quite a tangle of intrigue. We have society matrons, a beautician, and lawyers dealing in a shady scam triangle to set up debutantes with proper marriages, then causing their deaths to cash in on their estates. Mr. Penn of Pentonville will immediately bring to mind Simon Templar (The Saint) of Leslie Charteris books, and fans of The Saint will feel right at home. He is an adventurer operating under an alias, just on the outside of the Law. Wealthy, with a fast car and fast fists. The action takes place at Brede Hall, the stereotypical country manse; complete with a tower and dungeon - and the Temple of Youth, an elaborate beauty parlor complete with hidden rooms, paintings on the wall with the eyes cut out so spies can peer through them, and a beautician who enjoys performing lobotomies on undesired witnesses. Mr. Penn's true identity will come as a surprise.

* Pentonville Prison

** The Saint, a.k.a. Simon Templar, of the Leslie Charteris novels

Saturday, December 2, 2017

#12 - The Maestro Murders by Frances Shelley Wees (1931)


About this edition: The first Mystery League edition of 1931, this edition also contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (Turmoil at Brede by Seldon Truss).

About the author: A Wikipedia article states "Frances Shelley Wees (1902 – 1982) was an American-Canadian educator and writer. She was born in Gresham, Oregon, moved to Saskatoon where she began teaching when she was seventeen. Wees received a BA from the University of Alberta; during this time, she wrote her first novel which remained unpublished. In 1931, she published The Maestro Murders. She went on to write more than two dozen mystery and romance novels. 


Characters:



  • Michael Forrester
  • Theresa "Tuck" Torrie - public stenographer, Michael's girlfriend
  • Bernice "Bunny" Temple - Theresa's business partner
  • John Forrester, District Attorney; Michael's father
  • Police Commissioner A. L. Davies
  • Detective -- Grey
  • Mrs. Merriwell, flaunter of her ruby collection
  • Alderman Mervyn Collinson
  • Odette Collinson, his wife
  • Professor Seeley - expert on antiquities, and news columnist
  • Fraser Laurence, attorney for Professor Seeley
  • Benjamin Lehmann, owner of the antique shop, and theatre manager
  • Eve Levasseur, actress
  • Roger Mills, man about town, friend of Eve Levasseur
  • Dr. Adrian, police psychologist
  • Ruth Adrian, his daughter


Synopsis:


A heist of the "Weldon Jewels" has just occurred, including a precious jewel box known as the "Casket of Queen Catherine". The police are baffled, and DA. John Forrester and Police Commissoner Davies decide to try some fresh blood on the case - meaning Forrester's son, Michael.

Michael's girlfriend, Tuck, has her transcription office burgled. Professor Seeley had just turned in a manuscript to her for transcription, describing the Casket of Queen Catherine; stating he saw it in a local antique shop. Seeley is then found dead.

Michael realizes Seeley was murdered due to his knowledge of the artifact, and reports this to the authorities. Michael begins looking into the heist/murder officially, much to the professional jealousy of Det. Grey. He starts by looking up Seeley's attorney, Fraser Laurence - to find him murdered in his apartment - just as Tuck walks in the door. Michael and Tuck team up in the investigation, which is likened to a spider's web. The strands of the web lead to Fraser Laurence, actress Eve Levasseur (girlfriend of Fraser Laurence), Benjamin Lehmann, Roger Mills, and others.

Soon a second jewel heist occurs and Mrs. Merriwell's rubies disappear also. Michael and Tuck follow the trail to the antique shop, where they discover some hidden rooms. All the strands of the web converge there.

I'm in the book, too:





Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#11 - Peril! by Sydney Horler (1930)

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About this edition: This edition has just the novel, with no promotional or preview material. This is one of five titles released simultaneously in a Christmas boxed set. These are the only five titles appearing in the green cloth binding.



Sydney Horler (photo: vintage45.wordpress.com)

About the author: Here is a Wikipedia article about Sydney Horler. He has two other titles in the Mystery League series: The Curse of Doone and The False Purple.

Characters:

  • Jimmy Hannay, former officer and gentleman; now down and out
  • Delia Miller, target of attempted theft
  • Sebastian Miller, Delia's father; wealthy stockbroker
  • Adele Miller, Sebastian's trophy wife, stepmother to Delia
  • Horace Bray - Miller's financial secretary
  • William Simmons - Miller's servant
  • Kurt Zweig, master criminal, enemy of Sebastian Miller
  • Hubert Dorman, wealthy criminal who works for Zweig
  • Oscar Scanlon, a muscle who works for Zweig
  • Johnson, another henchman
  • Inspector Richard Pudan, Scotland Yard

Locale: England

Synopsis: Jimmy Hannay is destitute and homeless. Hubert Dorman picks him up one night with an offer of a job, which turns out to be an accomplice in an attempted jewelry theft from Delia Miller. Hannay realizes what is happening, thwarts the theft, and escapes from Dorman. Delia's father, Sebastian Miller, now offers him employment. Adele Miller, Sebastian's trophy wife, is used to getting what she wants. She makes a pass at Jimmy who rejects her.

Sebastian Miller is worried for his daughter's safety, and moves out to his country place, Steep Holm, along with Hannay. He hopes to keep her away from his enemy, Kurt Zweig, and his henchmen. Miller is working on a financial plan which is valuable to Zweig, and one of the henchmen is electrocuted while trying to enter the estate to steal it. 


Hannay is injured when he catches Adele Miller and an unknown man trying to steal the financial plan. He and Delia work to recover the plan and catch the culprits, falling into various distresses.


Yikes! This title needs more readers!





Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#10 - The Hardway Diamonds Mystery by Miles Burton (1930)

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About this edition: This is one of five titles released simultaneously in a Christmas boxed set. These are the only five titles appearing in the green cloth binding.



collectionimages.npg.org.uk

About the author: Miles Burton is a pseudonym of Cecil John Charles StreetMCOBE (3 May 1884 – 8 December 1964), who was known to his colleagues, family and friends as John Street. Here is a Wikipedia article about him. He has one other title in the Mystery League series: The Secret of High Eldersham.

Characters:

  • Lord Hardway
  • Lady Daphne Hardway, his wife, owner of the diamonds
  • Dick Penhampton (a.k.a. Captain Blackwood) - Lady Daphne's brother
  • Jerry Gould (a.k.a. Sid Evans) - Dick Penhamton's service buddy
  • Alison Weatherleigh - Dick's girlfriend
  • Dr. Weatherleigh -   Alison's father, of Lestridge Hall
  • Thomas "Pussy" Herridge - second story thief
  • The "Funny Toff" - legendary master criminal
  • Ibbotson, retired money lender, second theft victim
  • Detective Inspector Brooks - of the C.I.D.
  • Sir Edric Conway - of Scotland Yard

Locale: England

Synopsis: Pussy Herridge breaks into Lord Hardway's home one foggy night and makes off with a valuable diamond necklace. On the street, he is immediately nabbed by an apparent plain-clothes man, who handcuffs him and relieves him of the necklace. Pussy manages to escape and flees, still in handcuffs. A local constable grabs him on suspicion, and it turns out the plain-clothes man was likely a fake.

Detective Inspector Brooks investigates his sources at the waterfront, trying to find who the fake was. Shortly after, he turns up dead.


Lady Daphne's brother, Dick Penhamton, decides to investigate on his own. He and his buddy, Jerry Gould, take a room at the waterfront and assume new identities (Dick = Captain Blackwood, Jerry = Sid Evans). Dick gets a lead on the "Funny Toff", the criminal who is rumored to be behind the theft. Dick gets a summons to a night meeting, and arrives to find the only person present is Pussy Herridge - dead.

Next Ibbotson, retired money lender, has jewels stolen from his home. This is followed by a theft from Seccombe & Armitage, diamond merchants.




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#9 - The House of Terror by Edward Woodward (1930)

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About this edition: This is one of five titles released simultaneously in a Christmas boxed set. These are the only five titles appearing in the green cloth binding.


About the author: Not much is known about Edward Woodward. The frontispiece of this book lists three of his other novels: The Pigeon Wins, The Gamblers, and Black Sheep. Note that both Goodreads and Google confuse him with the English actor by the same name (born 1930, obviously not this author) and attribute various other works (incorrectly) to him. 

Characters:


  • Dr. Cuthbery Merrivale, the local doctor
  • Hester Merrivale, his sister
  • George Fenchurch, the man with the limp - an artist intent on painting scenes at Cleeson Manor
  • Jacob Martuke, local inn owner
  • Deborah Martuke, his wife, who becomes housekeeper at Cleeson Manor
  • Rupert Dykeminster, owner of Cleeson Manor
  • John Pedmore, Dykeminster's servant, a hunchback
  • Alicia Dykeminster, sole heir of Rupert
  • Veronica Starling, Alicia's roommate
  • Charles Nicholson, attorney for the Dykeminsters
  • Carlos Tenodo, Spanish newspaper man, friend of Rupert
  • Andrew Fleeson, houseman at Cleeson Manor
  • Sir Ronald Deepwood, a neighbor
  • Police Constable Haynes
  • Detective-Inspector Lattimer
  • Detective-Superintendent Minchin of Scotland Yard

Locale: Cleeson, Yorkshire; on the moors of England

Synopsis: Dr. Merrivale picks up wandering George Fenchurch one night on the moors, and treats him for an ankle injury. Fenchurch is an artist who has come to paint scenes of old Cleeson Manor. However, it turns out the owner, Rupert Dykeminster, has gated off public access to the Manor grounds and set vicious dogs loose inside the gates. Fenchuch is determined to access the grounds. About the same time, Rupert is found dead from a poisonous blow dart, and the dogs found dead also. Fenchurch is the obvious suspect but willingly provides evidence it was not he.

Alicia Dykeminster is the sole heir to the estate (along with a list of strange conditions), and moves in to Cleeson Manor with her friend Veronica Starling despite various warnings. The manor holds a secret that many people want.

Friday, October 13, 2017

#8 - The Monster of Grammont by George Goodchild (1930)

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About this edition: This is one of five titles released simultaneously in a Christmas boxed set. These are the only five titles appearing in the green cloth binding.


wikipedia

About the author: Here is a Wikipedia article and a Goodreads article about George Goodchild (1888-1969).

Characters:


  • Ralph Wallace
  • Julian "Connie" Conrad - war veteran
  • Monsieur Fallières - owner of Château Grammont
  • Yolande Fallières - his daughter
  • Monsieur Severin - servant at Château Grammont
  • Arnard Fouchard - of the police
  • Heinrich
  • Niels

Locale: France

Synopsis: Ralph Wallace and Connie Conrad are touring France and encounter Monsieur Fallières and his daughter Yolande, who own the massive Château Grammont; where Connie was billeted during the war.

It turns out the château is also home of a 'monster' who appears periodically, breaking mirrors, and is suspected in the death of a servant a year ago. Monsieur Fallières goes missing, then is found murdered, soom the servant Monsieur Severin is murdered also.

Meanwhile, young Ralph Wallace is attracted to Yolande, while Connie is interested in parlour maid Bertha - who has a couple of seedy associates, Heinrich and Niels, whom she secretly allows access to the house. Both they - and the 'monster' - are after something, but what?


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

#7 - The Day of Uniting by Edgar Wallace (1930)

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About this edition: This is one of five titles released simultaneously in a Christmas boxed set. These are the only five titles appearing in the green cloth binding.





Edgar Wallace (photo: wikipedia)


About the author: Here is a Wikipedia article on Edgar Wallace. He also authored The Hand of Power in the Mystery League series.

Major characters: 

  • Jimmy Blake, 27, wealthy happy-go-lucky war ace
  • Gerald Van Roon, Jimmy's cousin, roommate, and scientist
  • Joe Sennett, foreman at Ponters Ltd.
  • Delia Sennett, Joe's daughter
  • Tom Elmers, employee at Ponters Ltd.
  • John Stamford Chapelle, Prime Minister of England
  • John Stope-Kendrick, Secretary of State
  • Walter Maggerson, mathematician and explorer
  • Lord Harry Weltman, Minister of Defence
  • Tyrhitt Palythorpe, ex-con, printer of Spice, a scandal sheet


Locale: England

Synopsis: Ponter's Ltd. is a commercial print shop, specializing in scientific texts. They also have a contract to printing government documents. One night foreman Joe Sennett catches Tom Elmers fooling around with the type.  It is found that someone is sabotaging the books being printed by inserting erroneous or nonsense text after the proofs have been approved. Highly embarrassing. 

Jimmy Blake, wealthy happy go lucky war ace, meets and is taken with Delia Sennett; daughter of foreman Joe Sennett. Blake gets an invite from his lodger, Gerald Van Roon, to a dinner of scientific types hosted by Prime Minister Chapelle. At the dinner, explorer Walter Maggerson staggers in begging the PM to stop "The Terror" (but no one knows what "The Terror" is).

Tyrhitt Palythorpe, ex-con and printer of a seamy scandal sheet, tries to lure Tom Elmers away to work for him. 

One night Gerald Van Roon is called away, and is soon found dead on the nearby heath. Soon John Stop-Kendrick dies also by his own hand, while running from "The Terror".

Whatever "The Terror" is, it is the main focus of a group of officials who meet at night in a vacant building and engage in a frenzy of activity to stop it.