Wednesday, January 31, 2018

#20 - The Hunterstone Outrage by Seldon Truss (1931)

About this edition: This edition contains Baffle Case Number One, The McCumber Murder by Lassiter Wren and Randle McKay. Readers were invited to submit their solution to this short, self-contained mystery for a chance at one of the prizes to be awarded in gold. The solution would appear in #22, Bungalow on the Roof by Achmed Abdullah. There would be two more Baffle Cases in the future.

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. He has one other title in the Mystery League series:  Turmoil at Brede.

Principal characters:

  • Daniel Harland, dead on page one, of Hunterstone estate
  • Rev. Mr. Hemingway, vicar
  • Dr. Henry Gould, doctor and choir member
  • Ivor Gould, his son
  • Ezra Apps, verger (usher) and sexton
  • Joyce Wynnford, niece of Daniel Harland
  • Captain Martin Treherne, manager of Hunterstone estate
  • Symes, butler of Hunterstone estate
  • --- Malchus, traveling lingerie salesman who is quite interested in the case
  • Mrs. Farley, landlady of the Hunterstone Arms inn and tavern
  • P. C. (Police Constable) Goble
  • Police Sergeant Grimwade 

Locale: England


Daniel Harland did not move during Rev. Hemingway's evening service, and when usher Ezra Apps went to poke him, found him to be dead. Dr. Henry Gould, choir member, checks him and finds he has been dead since before the service. The authorities are called. Rev. Hemingway and Apps wait for them in the vestry, leaving the body unattended. When Sergeant Grimwade arrives on scene, they enter the sanctuary to find the body gone!

Ivor Gould, the doctor's son, goes to Hunterstone estate to inform Harland's niece, Joyce Wynnford, of the death (Ivor is sweet on her). No one grieves too much, as no one liked him anyway. When Sergeant Grimwade investigates, it is found that estate manager Martin Treherne (Joyce is sweet on him) was outside the church in the cemetery at the time of the murder, and does not provide any explanation.

Mr. Malchus comes to stay at the Hunterstone Arms. He is a "commercial traveler" (salesman) of ladies' lingerie, yet never seems to be selling any. He is much more interested in interviewing parties to the case and examining the scene of the crime; and comes up with an astounding revelation.


I have greatly enjoyed the two Mystery League selections by Seldon Truss. His thriller style turns the story into a real page-turner, with several unexpected twists and turns along the way. Once the action starts, it just multiplies with all-hell-breaking-loose on several fronts simultaneously. I am looking for additonal Seldon Truss titles - not too common in the US, and showing up periodically on eBay.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

#19 - The Mystery of Villa Sineste by Walter Livingston (1931)

About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Hunterstone Outrage by Seldon Truss).

About the author: Walter Livingston is also the author of The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor, #5 in the Mystery League series.

Principal characters:

  • Jack Winant, American architect
  • Timothy Delancey, Irish, professional photographer
  • Vincenza di Ponari, surgeon, owner of Villa Sineste
  • ---- di Ponari, his wife
  • Elaine di Ponari, his stepdaughter
  • Guiseppe, his assistant/butler

Locale: Italy


American architect Jack Winant is on a commission to document and disassemble an Italian villa and relocate it to the US. Irish photographer Timothy Delancey is along to photograph the villa for the construction documentation. 

On the flight to the villa (they never get there), the plane develops engine trouble and has a hard landing on the grounds of the legendary Villa Seneste. The two pilots are badly hurt, Winant and Delancey receive minor injuries. Di Ponari, a retired surgeon, brings the pilots to a separate building in the woods, called his 'sanitorium' for treatment. Winant and Delancey, are brought into the villa to recover for a day or two.

The locals avoid the place, legend has it that Villa Seneste has a bedroom in which all its occupants die mysterious deaths. 

Di Ponari's wife and stepdaughter, Elaine, reside in the villa also; and appear to be held captive. The wife is very ill, confined to bed, and dies quietly. 

Di Ponari reports the two pilots have died from their injuries; and defeats attempts by Winant and Delancey to contact outsiders for help.

Winant and Delancey seek to rescue Elaine, and find out what is going on in the 'sanitorium'. Di Ponari is working on a gruesome secret project there.


The book starts out strong and constructs a solid mystery despite having so few characters. However, after a while some help arrives from the outside - the Italian army (!), along with airplanes and trucks - definitely out of scale to the problem - and what is the problem anyway? A girl locked in her room, in no immediate danger. It goes downhill from there. The story turns into an Italian version of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" with grotesque medical experiments staggering back from the dead. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#18 - The Tunnel Mystery by J. C. Lenehan (1931)

About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Mystery of Villa Sineste by Walter Livingston).

About the author: Not much is known about J. C. Lenehan, other than he was a British writer. His series characters are Inspector Kilby and Charlie Ryan. Here is his bibliography.

Principal characters:

  • Sir Joshua Jordan, victim of theft of a valuable necklace
  • Sam Grundy, rough-looking butler to Sir Joshua Jordan
  • David Hyde, diamond merchant
  • Connie Hyde, his daughter
  • Jack Davis, recently fired assistant to David Hyde, engaged to Freda Lowe
  • John Lofthouse, witness to murder
  • Freda Lowe, witness to murder
  • William Ernest Pardoe, a young boy, witness to murder
  • Reggie Robinson, a.k.a. "Light-fingered Freddie" Wilson, witness to murder, a pickpocket
  • Richard "Dick" Lowe, a potter, uncle of Freda Lowe, amateur detective
  • Dr. Victor Peters, who showed up at a convenient moment
  • John Smith, the jeweler
  • Abie, the Mole, notorious gang leader
  • Police Constable George Brent
  • Inspector Kilby of Scotland Yard
  • Inspector Parker

Locale: England


David Hyde, diamond merchant, is shot in a train compartment while the train passes through a tunnel. (Note that British trains are unlike American trains - there is no central corridor, each separate compartment, seating 8, has its own exterior door). Sharing the compartment at the time: John Lofthouse, Freda Lowe, Reggie Robinson, young student William Ernest Pardoe, his sister, and two collier's wives. As soon as the train stops, Dr. Peters steps out of the crowd in order to treat Hyde, but he is already dead. None of the other seven in the compartment noticed the shot, and the murder weapon is not in the compartment.

Hyde had been returning from a trip to purchase a valuable necklace from Sir Joshua Jordan. However, Jordan claims he was overpowered by Hyde and robbed of the necklace. The necklace is nowhere to be found.

It turns out the late David Hyde's assistant, Jack Davis, had planned to marry Hyde's daughter Connie. David Hyde opposed the idea, fired Davis, and threatened to cut her out of his will if they did marry.

Investigation begins by Constable George Brent, who also becomes enchanted with Freda Lowe. Several others jump in to "investigate": Dick the Potter has his own theory, Jack Davis lurks around in the tunnel, and the student William Ernest Pardoe has a knack for hanging around the rail yard and observing aspects that are overlooked by everyone else. It soon comes to light that "Dr. Peters" was a fake.

As Jack Davis continues to search for "Dr. Peters", he is captured and held prisoner. Sir Joshua Jordan receives a package and winds up dying in a mysterious manner.


The Tunnel Mystery involves a shooting inside a passenger train compartment as the train passes through a tunnel. The other occupants of the compartment are investigated at length. Much time is spent on trying to figure out just what happened. There are two love stories going on at the same time (Jack Davis/Freda Lowe, George Brent/Connie Hyde) and it is a bit difficult keeping them straight. The action progresses until the very end, and when the murderer is revealed it seems a bit like "Murder on the Orient Express" by Agatha Christie (although that didn't come out until 1934). All the various threads get unravelled on the last few pages. All in all, there are way too many people investigating the crime - official and unofficial. One especially good character is William Ernest Pardoe, a schoolboy who was a witness to the crime. He has a knack of hanging around the rail yard and observing things that the pros overlook.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#17 - The Merrivale Mystery by James Corbett (1931)

About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Tunnel Mystery by J. C. Lenehan).

About the author: James Corbett (1887-1958): Be careful - there are least three authors named James Corbett. This is not the one who wrote about hunting in Africa, or the history of football. states Corbett is the "author of popular thrillers for the lending-library market ... his identity has not been clearly established.This James Corbett is the subject of the article Thriller Author James Corbett’s Mystery Writing Genius by William F. Deeck; which provides a list of many of Corbett's amazing sentences. 

Principal characters:

  • Sir Philip Merrivale, the baronet - dies in the first sentence of the book
  • Lady Sybil Merrivale, the beautiful young widow
  • Stephen Merrivale, brother of Sir Philip
  • Henry Merrivale, lawyer
  • George Merrivale, an invalid confined to his room - or is he?
  • Dr. Frank Merrivale, the only Merrivale who lives off-site
  • Proust, the French servant, who listens at keyholes
  • Tabitha, sister of Lady Merrivale
  • Cecil Merrivale, drunkard brother of Lady Merrivale
  • Lillian, cousin of Lady Merrivale
  • Victor Serge, the famous detective
  • Ralph Moreton, novelist, friend of Serge
  • Frank Bancroft of Scotland Yard

Locale: England

Synopsis: First off, this book has nothing to do with Sir Henry Merrivale, a fictional detective created by "Carter Dickson", a pen name of John Dickson Carr.

Detective Victor Serge is called in to investigate the death of Sir Philip Merrivale, found shot to death in Merrivale Hall. He brings along his friend and companion Ralph Moreton. Merrivale Hall is chock full of various relatives, and the word is that they all hate each other. He interviews Lady Sybil Merrivale, now a beautiful young widow; who immediately claims he was shot by his brother, Stephen. Stephen, in turn, accuses Sybil. Stephen himself is likewise shot, even before the body of Philip can be removed.

No one wants to discuss why all the Merrivales live together, other than there is a 'secret arrangement' by which those in residence receive lavish monthly allowances; and no one will discuss who really owns Merrivale Hall, or pays for its operation and the allowances. 

Review: Oh my, this book should be read not as a serious mystery; but if you would enjoy a writer who has fun with the English language this is for you. It is an improbable mystery (and the author repeatedly tells you what a mystery it is throughout) with the dark English manor, a beautiful young widow, eavesdropping servants, hidden passages, and so on; with the obligatory love story running through it as well. Be sure to read the linked article above for a taste of his writing. Words are used in completely new ways, with several exclamation points per paragraph, and off-topic sentences thrown in at random. "Curse the whole press of the kingdom, Dawson. The sooner you and I start growing oranges in Spain the better!" and "I was tired to death hearing them call me insane. I took two arsenic pills (do they really make arsenic pills?) which I keep in case of emergency..."

As for the mystery of the three murders (which all occur at the very same spot - #2 occurs before the body of #1 can be removed), it is revealed at the end, but several rules of fair play with the reader are tossed out the window. 

Don't read it for the exercise of matching wits with the detective. Just read it and hold on tight!