Sunday, February 25, 2018

#24 - Two and Two Make Twenty Two by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning (1932)

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About this selection: This selection was scheduled to contain the solution to Baffle Case Number Three, The Alexander Mystery (presented in #22, The Bungalow on the Roof). However, there is only this brief mention on the dust jacket flap: "The results of the Baffle Case, The Alexander Mystery, have individually been sent to all contestants submitting solutions." This was the last mention of Baffle Cases in the series. 

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 HostThe Gutenberg Murders,  and The Mardi Gras Murders). 

Principal characters:
  • Brett Allison, owner of the Peacock Club
  • Major Jack Raymond, federal drug smuggling investigator
  • Andrew Dillingham, federal drug smuggling investigator
  • Linton Barclay, federal drug smuggling investigator
  • Daisy Dillingham, perky grandmother of Andrew Dillingham, amateur sleuth
  • Eva Shale, beautiful woman with a mysterious source of income
  • Imogen Cupping, guest of the club
  • Tracy Cupping, guest of the club, jealous husband of Imogen
  • Judith Garon, guest of the club, keeps busy with frequent changes of elegant clothing
  • -- Foster, potential buyer of the Peacock Club
  • Mrs. Penn, manager of the club, subject to hysterics
  • -- Warren, maitre d' and chaffeur of the club
  • Felicia Meade, telephone operator of the club
  • Beans, radio operator for the club
  • Pedro Artinza, crewman on Linton Barclay's yacht
  • John Smithcrewman on Linton Barclay's yacht


Locale: Paradise Island, in the Gulf of Mexico off Mississippi

Synopsis: 

A storm is approaching Paradise Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The island is the site of the Peacock Club resort owned by Brett Allison. Most of the guests have gone to the mainland for the duration of the storm but a few remain. Of those remaining are three men investigating drug smuggling into the US via the Gulf (Major Jack Raymond, Andrew Dillingham, and Linton Barclay). 

A private plane lands - on the golf course, no less - to discharge Daisy Dillingham, grandmother of Andrew.

Just as the storm arrives, Linton Barclay is found murdered in his cottage, with Eva Shale present, but disclaiming any knowledge of the murder. The mainland authorities empower Brett Allison to secure the scene and begin the investigation.

It turns out pretty much everyone has a motive, and everyone was in the vicinity of the cottage at the time of the murder. The interviews boil down to a exhaustive query into everyone's movements and accusations. 

To better understand the setting, here is a sketch of my conception of the cottage area which I reverse-engineered from the text. 




Linton Barclay's cottage at the time of the murder.
Numbers indicate page number references.

The investigation gets derailed when Pedro Artinza and John Smith, crewmen on Linton Barclay's yacht, come ashore and start a fight. Artinza is injured. On his deathbed, he tells Daisy that Barclay has committed other murders by using his cane as a weapon. His dying comments allow Daisy to figure out who Barclay's murderer is.

Review:

This is one novel which cries out for a map of the environs, S. S. Van Dine or Ellery Queen style - so I had to sketch my own in the process. This is a classic stranded-on-the-island murder which is supposed to limit the cast of characters, but somehow new ones keep popping in periodically. One character, "McPherson" just shows up in the action with no explanation, and I am still not sure who "Warren" is either. 

The solution lies in breaking down the alibis of everyone over the time of the murder, and gets a little tedious (as real detective work goes, I suppose). Feisty Daisy solves the case by her observations, and is a good solid character. When she reveals the solution, my eyebrows went up at the surprising development.

There are some fair play issues which put the reader at a disadvantage. Daisy keeps some observations to herself and does not share them with the reader. The final resolution of what-to-do-with-the-murderer is certainly not kosher legally, but in a sense satisfying to the reader.

In addition, may I refer you to this fine synopsis and review posted by Bev Hankins on Goodreads.com. 





Monday, February 19, 2018

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

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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 (presented in #21, Murder in the French Room). However, the Baffle Cases seem to be foundering in this ominous sign for the sustainability of the Mystery League. There is only 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; tricked into assuming the identity of Princess Corisande of Caronia.
  • Susy Jarvis, Elsie's roommate
  • Mrs. Sarah Goodbody, a.k.a. "Yolande", owner of the dress salon
  • Philip Wendover, who inherited a newspaper The Messenger
  • Beryl Trentham, a.k.a. "The Imp", 20, staff officer of the G.O.G. feminist group, cousin of Philip Wendover
  • Charles Zuberra, a.k.a. Charles Chapelle, Baron Fuipo
  • Sybil Trent, a.k.a. Sybil Chapelle
  • Millie Vandefield, a.k.a. Comptesse Lépiney, the "largest woman in Paris"
  • -- Vanelli, forger and blackmailer
  • Rafael Giraud, discredited backstreet doctor, a hunchback
  • Detective Inspector George Lomax of Scotland Yard, friend of Philip Wendover

Locale: London and Paris

Synopsis:


Refined Elsie Spain, used to life with a wealthy family, finds herself destitute after the death of her parents. She winds up in a cheap rooming house with her roommate Susy Jarvis. She takes a job modelling clothes (as a 'mannequin' named Venetia) in a swank salon ("Yolande's") owned by Mrs. Sarah Goodbody, who prefers using "Yolande" as her name.


At a dinner party, a Mr. & Mrs. Charles Chapelle take a shine to Venetia, and invite her into their home with puzzling comments that they want to make her "a princess". 


The Chapelles are not what they seem, it is an identity assumed by crooks Charles Zuberra and Sybil Trent. They have noticed that Elsie bears a resemblance to the late Princess Corisande of Caronia, believed to have been killed in a revolution. Zuberra and Trent hatch a plan to have Elsie pose as the obligatory rediscovered-with-amnesia princess in order to defraud her patron Comptesse Lépiney and claim the Corisande's estate.


The action moves to Paris, where Elsie is taken to Comptesse Lépiney's. A struggle ensues between those trying to convince her she is the lost princess, and those who know she is not.

Review:


First, keep a pencil handy to keep track of the players. By my count, five characters have two different names each, and two characters have three names! See above painstakingly-compiled list to keep them straight.


The scam of the beautiful commoner posing as the obligatory lost-princess-who-had-amnesia sounds like we will be in for some great fun, reminiscent of The Prisoner of Zenda and anything written by Manning Coles. Half of the fun is watching the characters trying to keep track of which name they are known by with various people.


Like other Sydney Horler thrillers, this is not a murder mystery (although one minor character is knocked off in an unusual and somewhat amusing manner) but rather a fast-paced adventure thriller.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

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

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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)

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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.