Thursday, February 15, 2018

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

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


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.


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.

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