Nobody runs over a child if he can help it. Even a thief will bring you back your pocket-book if you trust him to take care of it. It is the trusting that does it. Few men, no matter how crooked, can resist the temptation of reaching, if only for a moment, an honest man’s level.

Peter is a romance, albeit with twinges of philosophy, but Peter is not one of its lovers.

Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero

by F. Hopkinson Smith. 1909 bestseller #9. Project Gutenberg eBook #4516.
My grade: B-.

Peter Grayson, a bald, 60-year-old banker, meets a young Marylander working in his uncle’s stock brokerage company.

Jack Breen has no love for Wall Street, but he has no training for any other white-collar work and thinks himself above manual labor.

Birdseye view of Lower Manhattan painted

Birdseye view of Lower Manhattan in 1914 by artist Richard Rummell.

When Jack learns a friend was bankrupted by a dirty deal his uncle put over, he resigns and moves out of Uncle Arthur’s home.

Peter gets Jack a job working for an engineer with a beautiful daughter.

Jack is smart and brave, but inclined to put his brain into neutral where people he likes are concerned.

When Jack’s friend Garry Minott commits suicide after unwise speculation leads him to embezzle, Jack rushes to save his friend’s reputation for the sake of Garry’s infant son.

F. Hopkinson Smith starts out well with plot and characterization, but he never lets either develop their potential.

Smith doesn’t let Jack learn, for example, how his lame-brained attempts to raise cash affect his future father-in-law’s business, though Smith lays all the groundwork that lesson.

Peter remains nothing more than a pleasant diversion, albeit one with very intriguing “what ifs.”

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

I initially thought The Goose Girl was going to be a Graustark knock-off, but Harold MacGrath’s plot contains complex characters that George Barr McCutcheon can’t match.

The Goose Girl revolves around two girls of approximately the same age, Hildegarde and Gertrude.

The Goose Girl by Harold MacGrath

Andre Castaigne, illus. Bobbs-Merrill. 1909 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg  eBook #14598. My grade: B.

Princess Hildegarde interviews the goose girl

Princess Hildegarde interviews Gertrude, the Goose Girl.

Abducted as a toddler, Princess Hildegarde is reunited with her father at age 16 after experiencing hardship and freedom.

Hildegarde wants to marry Arthur Carmichael of the American consulate, but she’s ordered to wed King Frederick of Jugendheit for reasons of state.

Youthful King Frederick has also been given much freedom.

He rejects Hildegarde in favor of Gertrude, a beautiful goose girl with socialist sympathies.

Although the Grand Duke hates the idea of Hildegarde marrying his enemy’s son, he’s ready to go to war with Jugendheit when Frederick refuses to wed her.

Such irrationality is all too human.

Anyone who ever read a fairy tale knows how the romance is going to end.

The interest is in who engineered Hildegarde’s abduction and why.

The denouement is dramatic because the culprit is so believably the last person anyone would suspect.

No one would mistake The Goose Girl for literature, but neither can anyone deny that MacGrath’s characters are a far cry from the stilted cardboard pieces of McCutcheon’s romances.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni


You can not tell how large a trouble may be started by a small politician.

Emerson Hough’s 54-40 or Fight takes a great story and renders it dull as dishwater.

The story is told by Nicholas Trist, confidential aide to John C. Calhoun. It opens as Calhoun becomes Secretary of State in President Tyler’s cabinet.

54-40 or Fight by Emerson Hough

Arthur I. Keller, illus.  A. L. Burt Co. 1909 bestseller #7. Project Gutenberg EBook #14355. My grade: C+.

Calhoun believes it is in America’s interests to annex Texas, which has declared its independence of Mexico. Calhoun would also like to get the entire Oregon Territory for the US, including land above the 49th parallel—if it can be done without fighting Britain.

Britain would like to get access to Texas’s cotton and silver if it can do so. And Britain wants to hold on to Oregon for its valuable fur trade.

Mexico wants to hang on to Texas.

Texas President Sam Houston would like to make Texas a nation to rival the US.

And Americans on each side of the Mason-Dixon line fear what could happen if a slave-holding Texas becomes a state.

The historical facts need no glamorous double-agent to make them exciting.

They do, however, need better context to be intelligible to today’s reader.

The real life Nicholas Trist studied law under Thomas Jefferson and married Jefferson’s granddaughter.

In defiance of orders from the President, Trist negotiated the treaty which ended the Mexican-American War and added Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of three other states to the U.S.

Trist reflects:

Now our flag floats on the Columbia and on the Rio Grande. I am older now, but when I think of that scene, I wish that flag might float yet freer; and though the price were war itself, that it might float over a cleaner and a nobler people, over cleaner and nobler rulers, more sensible of the splendor of that heritage of principle which should be ours.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Truxton King is the third of George Barr McCutcheon’s novels about Graustark, a tiny East European monarchy.

Graustark’s fairy-tale existence is threatened by forces making their presence felt worldwide at the dawn of the 20th century.

Truxton King talks with 7-year-old Prince Robin, who leads a collie.

Truxton King talks with Prince Robin, heir to the throne of Graustark.

Truxton King by George Barr McCutcheon

Harrison Fisher, illus. Dodd, Mead 1909. 1909 bestseller #3.
Project Gutenberg EBook #14284. My grade: B-.

Graustark’s titular head is 7-year-old orphan Prince Robin. Three regents rule for the Prince.

The task of raising Robin belongs to his father’s American friend John Tullis.

Truxton King stops in Graustark hoping to find romance so he won’t have to settle down to “domestic obsolescence” when he gets back to New York.

King finds romance.

He also uncovers a double conspiracy: One is by malcontents intent on killing the Prince and establishing a socialist state. The other is by exiled “Iron Count” Marlanx to use the Reds’ assassination of the Prince to make himself king of Graustark.

McCutcheon develops his characters only to a level of realism suitable to fairy-tales. He covers that shortcoming by a story replete with secret passages, spies, double crosses, and dark-of-night adventures by the intrepid hero and the less intrepid, but well-informed, travel agent who aids in his escapades.

The novel’s strength is its weakness: Abhorrent topics are treated with a light touch so they don’t seem abhorrent at all.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni



Rex Beach’s The Silver Horde is a breathless story of competition to make a killing in the short salmon spawning season.

Engineer Boyd Emerson and “Fingerless” Frasier, whom he rescued from police on an ice-floe in Norton Sound, arrive in Kalvik, Alaska, just barely alive.

Salmon spawning

Salmon spawning

The Silver Horde by Rex Beach

1909 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg E-Book #6017. My grade B+.

All doors but one are closed to them.

Miss Cherry Malotte, a lovely young entrepreneur living alone, takes the men in.

She convinces Emerson to start a salmon canning company to compete with her arch enemy, Willis Marsh.

Emerson has a girl in the States whose rich father disapproves of penniless engineers and wants his Mildred to marry Willis Marsh.

Even without peeking,  readers know how the romance will end.

What they don’t know is how bloodthirsty salmon fishing can be.

Beach makes sure they don’t remain ignorant.

Cherry has a past; Boyd has depression. Those traits make make them miserable.

Frasier is another matter.

The good-hearted crook talks incessantly to fill Boyd’s morose silence. Frasier tells Boyd:

If you prefer to swallow your groans, you do it. I like to make a fuss when I suffer. I enjoy it more that way.

And readers will enjoy The Silver Horde: Beach doesn’t let any character’s misery get in the way of his story.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: “Salmon Spawning at Hood Canal” by Hood Canal


Katrine, according to its author, is the story a woman who threw a world away for love.

Unfortunately, Elinor Macartney Lane adds nothing to her preview.

Katrine by Elinor Macartney Lane

1909 bestseller # 2. Project Gutenberg E-book #14263. My grade: B-.

Frank Ravenel, home at Ravenel Plantation from his philandering, is attracted by his overseer’s pretty, young, tuneful daughter.

Dermott McDermott, a friend of Katrine and her father, is Frank’s competitor.

Frank realizes Katrine is too pure for dalliance, too socially inferior for marriage.

Katrine goes off to study vocal music in Paris.

Frank takes up business to occupy his time.

Unknown to Frank, his father had married a woman in Europe prior to meeting his mother. That woman was Dermott’s aunt and, he believes, is the rightful heir to the Ravenel estates.young girl crying alone in yard

The novel is syrupy and silly. Katrine, Frank, and Dermott are stick figures whose behavior is implausible from start to finish.

The defining story of Katrine’s life — the lesson she gleaned from the different reaction of a boy and girl to a painful experience — is buried:

Afterward the girl cried all the rest of the morning, but the boy went out and made a swing, and in a little while was quite happy.…

I don’t want to cry; I want to make swings.

Now that’s a story.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

American George Evelath uses a duel over his wife’s honor to stage his suicide in Paris.

Friends conceal the details from George’s mother and his wife, Diane, but it’s soon clear George had lost his fortune.
Diane at her desk holding a telegram.

The Inner Shrine: A Novel of Today by Basil King*

Frank Craig, illus. ©1908, 1909 Harper & Brothers. 1909 bestseller #1.
Project Gutenberg Ebook #14393. My grade B.

Sure that George trusted her, and sincerely repenting her extravagance, Diane secretly makes over her dot to her mother-in-law.

The women go to New York.

Mrs. Evelath unwittingly lives on Diane’s dowry while Diane becomes companion to a spoiled debutante whose widowed father, Derek Pryn, proposes marriage.

Pryn meets a Frenchman who says he shot his lover’s husband in a duel. Since Diane’s husband was shot in Paris, Pryn concludes Diane was the lover.

Pryn is willing to marry Diane anyway, but she doesn’t want to marry anyone who thinks she’s promiscuous, though she realizes she gave that impression:

George always knew that I loved him, and that I was true to him. He trusted me, and was justified in doing so. …I played with fire, and while George knew it was only playing, it was fire all the same.

Basil King tangles personalities into an exploration of whether behavior observers interpret as a sexual liaison is actually a “harmless flirtation.”

King does it admirably while dropping a trail of bon mots, such as: “There are times in life when words become as dangerous as explosives.”

If only King didn’t shift focus from one character to another with such unconcern, there would be nothing in The Inner Shrine for me to complain about.

*The author’s name does not appear in the text, nor does the name of the illustrator, Frank Craig, but the drawings are signed.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni


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