Thursday, March 8, 2018

#27 - Spider House by Van Wyck Mason (1932)

About this selection:

F. Van Wyck Mason (

About the author: Wikipedia states in his biographyFrancis Van Wyck Mason (November 11, 1901 – August 28, 1978) (aka Geoffrey Coffin, Frank W Mason, Ward Weaver) was an American historian and novelist. He had a long and prolific career as a writer spanning 50 years and including 78 published novels, many of which were best sellers and well received.

Principal characters:
  • Ezra Boonton, paranoid owner of "Spider House"
  • Juan Boonton, his brother
  • Dora Delray, "bewitching" nurse in a short uniform and high heels
  • GrΓΌber, a male nurse
  • Terence Kelly, butler and bodyguard
  • Whang-Su, Chinese cook
  • Dr. George Lawes, neurologist
  • Captain Janos Catlin, of the State Police
  • Sergeant Matt McNulty, of the State Police
Locale: New Brunswick NJ


Eccentric Ezra Boonton, "Spider of the Street", is a retired financier who has swindled many to build his fortune, and now lives on the second floor of a house fortified with various gadgets to protect him from his supposed enemies. Captain Janos Catlin of the State Police has gone to see him on a request for protection. 

While Catlin is there, butler/bodyguard Terence Kelly is shot when no one is looking. Catlin and his team decide to spend the night. He winds up locked in a closet, and when he gets out finds that (Ezra) Boonton has been killed upstairs as well; and no weapon can be found.

Sexy Dora Delray is hesitant to talk, but invites Catlin to her place (wink, wink). While there, they are both abducted by a gang. Trooper Matt McNulty had been outside on guard, but he is found dead also. While investigating the gang, Dr. George Lawes is abducted; and held hostage on a beat-up houseboat tied up on the river.


This is a version of a locked-room mystery, which has turned into a locked-entire-second-floor mystery. A bit daring, with the killings occurring under the nose of the state police. Red herrings abound. It is remarkable that there is only one woman in the book - and this one is the one your mother warned you about.

The drug smuggling gang seems to be a popular theme of the 1930's. The action all culminates in a big fight on the houseboat, quite satisfying.

Note that the text uses stereotypes and pejorative terms for various nationalities, unacceptable today but common in writing of the time.

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