Monday, February 19, 2018

#23 - The False Purple by Sydney Horler (1932)



About this selection: This edition was supposed to contain Baffle Case Number Four, as well as the solution to Baffle Case Number Two, The Crime at Laurel Lodge. However, the Baffle Cases seem to be foundering in this ominous sign for the Mystery League. The selection only contains this brief mention on the dust jacket flap: "Due to the extreme length of Mr. Horler's tale, the Baffle Case [#4] planned for this month has been omitted and the results of the contests regarding The Crime at Laurel Lodge individually sent [to] all contestants."


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 Peril! 

Principal characters:


  • Elsie Spain, a.k.a. "Venetia", a clothing model 
  • Susy   , Elsie's roommate
  • Mrs. Sarah Goodbody, a.k.a. "Yolande", owner of the dress salon
  • Philip Wendover, owner of a newspaper The Messenger


Locale: London

Synopsis:

Elsie Spain, once rich and refined, finds herself destitute after the death of her parents. She lives in a rooming house with her roommate Susy. She takes a job modelling clothes (as a 'mannequin' named Venetia) in a swank salon ("Yolande's") owned by Mrs. Sarah Goodbody, who takes that name.

A married couple, patrons of Yolande's, take a shine to Venetia, and invite her into their home with a mysterious promise that they want to make her "a princess".



Review:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

#22 - The Bungalow on the Roof by Achmed Abdullah (1931)

dustjackets.com

About this selection: This edition contains Baffle Case Number Three, The Alexander Mystery 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 was never published, but would be mentioned on the dust jacket flap of Two and Two Make Twenty-two. Despite promotion to the contrary, this would be the final Baffle Case to appear.

This selection also includes the solution to Baffle Case Number One,  The McCumber Murder (presented in The Hunterstone Outrage) and a list of winners.

photo from the blog Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie by Lew Jaffe

About the author: Here is a Wikipedia article about Achmed Abdullah (pseudonym of Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff). Also see this biography.

Principal characters:

  • Stuyvesant Van Haagen, adventurer looking for jewels in Africa, returns wealthy.
  • Lillian Dorr*, Van Haagen proposed to her, she said no - oh wait, she was his cousin. Later, she marries, taking the name Hamilton. She has passed away before the story begins.
  • Lillian Hamilton*, daughter of Lillian Dorr, employed by distant-relation Van Haagen
  • Elliot Brooks, boyfriend of Lillian Hamilton, who assumes the identity of "Number Seven",  who stumbles into a secret meeting in the bungalow
  • James McGregor, the real "Number Seven", who was late and missed the secret meeting
  • The Donyo Sabuk, leader of the secret society
  • Sir James Arbuthnot, a proper English gent, complete with monocle
  • Rhinelander Winthrop, police commissioner


* The names used for these two women is inconsistent throughout the text. For clarity here, I will use their maiden names, referring to the mother as Lillian Dorr, and her daughter as Lillian Hamilton.

Locale: Africa (briefly), then New York City

Synopsis:

New Yorker Stuyvesant Van Haagen hears of a fabulous jewel in Africa, The Black Idol with the Emerald Eye; and sets off to find it. He doesn't, but he returns to New York a wealthy man - the source not revealed. He buys a skyscraper on Park Avenue, turns the entire top floor into his office, then sets about to build a "bungalow" home of the roof and jealously guards his privacy. He hires Miss Lillian Hamilton as his private secretary - she being the daughter of Lillian Dorr to whom he had proposed (and been rejected) many years earlier. 

Lillian Hamilton's boyfriend, Elliot Brooks, is mistaken for someone else ("Number Seven") and admitted to a secret society meeting in the bungalow; in which the participants use numbers to conceal their identities. The meeting appears to be preparing for a murder, when Brooks disrupts the meeting.

Review:

This book is notable for its lush, descriptive language. The early passage describing walking at night through Harlem is incredible in picturing the neighborhood and its residents; particularly a passage describing a church service in progress, heard through open windows, while a jazz band plays in the basement of the same building. The word picture of the area is exquisite.

As for the story itself, it is a thriller rather than a murder mystery. It moves right along, gets bogged down at the end with long, complicated explanations; and leaves us hanging with a few unresolved questions.

The fine language usage is marred by some pejorative terms for persons of various nationalities/races. Also, the speech of various nationalities is represented by phonetic spellings, i.e. "yessuh". Although unacceptable today as stereotyped, this was a prevalent writing style of the 1930's.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#21 - Murder in the French Room by Helen Joan Hultman (1931)

dustjackets.com

About this edition: This edition contains Baffle Case Number Two, The Crime at Laurel Lodge 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 was never published, but would be mentioned on the dust jacket flap of The False Purple. There would be just one more Baffle Case in the future.


About the author: The Golden Age of Detection web site says this about Helen Joan Hultman: Helen Joan Hultman was a largely forgotten US author who worked from the 1920s through to the 1950s. One of her detective characters was called Tim Archer. Another was Inspector Dan Braddon. The page also lists her bibliography.


Principal characters:

  • Joyce Terry, sales clerk
  • Phil Leonard, Joyce Terry's mysterious fiance
  • Madame Nordhoff, buyer
  • Otis Galway, general manager
  • Chester Penn, elevator operator
  • Jessica Brooke, store detective
  • Henry Knox, floor superintendent
  • Mrs. Ludlow Wilkinson, customer in dressing room F
  • Edith Pike, sales clerk assisting Mrs. Ludlow Wilkinson in F
  • Dan Bratton, police detective
  • Paula Pringle, reporter
  • Vivian Agnew Thayer, victim in dressing room E; 2nd wife of Rupert Thayer
  • Mary Whitford, 1st wife of Rupert Thayer
  • Rupert Thayer, husband of the victim
  • Ross Ingram, happened to be on the scene when it happened
  • Connie Kendall, Ross Ingram's girlfriend
  • Emily Scott, the mysterious "Emily" of a note
Locale: an unnamed US city

Synopsis:

Joyce Terry is a sales clerk at Line and Hollis, a large urban department store. She works in the French Room, a section devoted to ladies' dresses. She enters dressing room E (one of six, A-F) to find its occupant has been murdered. Jessica Brooke, store detective, is on the scene immediately and soon the police arrive, led by detective Dan Bratton.

Of the six small dressing rooms, E was occupied by the victim; C is believed to be vacant, and the others were occupied by customers; although some report hearing sounds from C ( which is adjacent to E - the murder room).

Two problems emerge: the victim's identity is unknown, and the murder weapon cannot be found. Word gets out and the press show up. Reporter Paula Pringle, acting on a hunch, deduces - correctly - the victim is Vivian Thayer. Soon the weapon is discovered concealed in the hosiery department of the store.

When the victim is identified, a photo of her and her husband appear in the newspaper. Joyce Terry (who found the body) is shocked to see the man in the photo - captioned as husband Rupert Thayer - is the man she is engaged to, but knows as Phil Leonard. If he is one and the same person, she has an outstanding A-1 motive for getting rid of his wife.

Review:

This starts out looking like a locked-room mystery, but not for long. The murder means are revealed almost immediately. It becomes of a puzzle of who-where-when as a parade of characters were circulating in the vicinity. And oh, the characters! There is no shortage. It seems every person popping into the story for however brief a moment gets a name, and keeping track of the various names arriving in each chapter will spin your brain. The list of principal characters provided above should suffice, and even that list is quite large.

It is refreshing to have the protagonist a strong female lead (store detective Jessica Brooke), unusual for the 1930's. She drives the action along throughout, with police detective Dan Bratton always lagging a bit behind. She does conceal certain information from him as she goes along, not quite playing fair with the authorities; but gets the job done.