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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Poem from frontpiece to The Red Planet superimposed on NASA photo of Mars

Poem from the front piece to The Red Planet

The Red Planet is a memoir narrated by Duncan Meredyth, a widowed Boer War veteran living in a small English country village in 1914. Duncan is cared for my his ex-sergeant who was disfigured in the same shell blast that took Duncan’s legs.


The Red Planet by William J. Locke
1917 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg eBook #4287. My grade: A-.

As friend to his peers and “Uncle” to local young people, Duncan gets to know nearly every thing that happens in Willingsford.

As the story opens, Duncan’s neighbors, the Fenimores, learn their son has been killed in France.

Less than a year earlier their daughter had drowned.

No one had asked aloud why Althea was on the tow-path at midnight.

While Fenimores mourn, Duncan learns Betty Fairfax, who had been engaged to the heroic Major Leonard Boyce, is going to marry Capt. Willie Connor, whom Duncan thinks a nonentity.

Duncan is also surprised to see upper-crust Randall Holmes with his arm around Phyllis Gedge, daughter of a socialist builder.

As Duncan hears village gossip, observes who is with whom, and puts two and two together, William J. Locke develops and redevelops the novel’s characters.

By turns funny, morose, sympathetic, and dogmatic, Duncan always seems like a real person whose opinions on patriotism, heroism, and human nature need to be taken seriously.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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If you want to know why The Daughter of Anderson Crow was a bestseller, look at B. Martin Justice’s illustrations.

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If you want to know what’s wrong with the novel, look at Justice’s illustrations.


The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon
B. Martin Justice, illus. Dodd, Mead 1907. 1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook #14818. My Grade: B-.

George Barr McCutcheon’s starts out writing a funny novel about Anderson Crow, Tinkletown marshal, fire chief, and street commissioner who is just smart enough to not let Tinkletown see how dumb he is.

That first part of the novel is illustrated with cartoonish line drawings as funny as McCutcheon’s text.

The second part of the story is about Rosalie Gray, who the Crows raised like a daughter after finding her in a basket on their doorstep one winter night.

Her parentage was a mystery that even self-proclaimed super-sleuth Anderson Crow couldn’t solve.

A note in the basket said the Crows would receive $1000 a year to raise the child.

No one around Tinkletown had that kind of money.

The illustrations for Rosalie’s life as a young woman are lush scenes, suited to the Gothic romance style McCutcheon adopts whenever he focuses on her.

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Eventually McCutcheon gets Rosalie suitably married, and turns his attention back to Anderson Crow long enough to give readers one final laugh before the novel ends.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Millionnaire Daniel Maitland comes home as a young woman leaves his Manhattan apartment building whose other occupants are away.  Maitland senses someone has been in his rooms.

Nothing is missing, but there’s a small, woman-sized hand print on a table. Maitland sets a brass bowl upside down over it.

miscellanous brass bowls.

Any of these brass bowls would do to protect a woman’s hand print.


The Brass Bowl by Louis Joseph Vance
1907 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg ebook #8741. My grade: B-.

Warned by his lawyer the family jewels kept at his country home could tempt burglar Dan Anisty, Maitland goes to retrieve them.

On the ferry, he sees the same woman he saw leaving his building earlier and falls madly in love.

She’s on her way to steal Maitland’s jewels.

So is Dan Ainsty.

By coincidence, Ainsty and Maitland look like identical twins.

Who is the woman?

How does Ainsty know which houses are unguarded?

Could a beautiful woman possibly be a bad one?

It’s all very mysterious and very confusing, especially to Maitland, whose mental processes are, at best, lethargic.

Like the plot, the main characters are too familiar to be interesting.

The Brass Bowl might have worked as a movie — it has chase scenes and gunfights plus a janitor and a detective straight out of silent films — but there’s not enough substance to satisfy any but the least discerning readers.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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No one could mistake The Black Bag for literature with or without a capital L.

But for a puzzling mystery at a break-neck pace, The Black Bag is an unmistakable winner.A black bag with that title and author Louis Joseph Vance's name in gold type on the bag.


The Black Bag by Louis Joseph Vance
Illus. Thomas Fogarty. ©1908. 1908 bestseller #9.
Project Gutenberg ebook #9779. My grade: B.

Philip Kirkwood is preparing to leave London for San Francisco. A Mr. Calendar asks Philip to carry something to America for him.

Philip declines. He doesn’t trust Calendar.

In in the hotel dining room later, Calendar asks Philip to escort his daughter home, saying he expects to be arrested momentarily.

To spare the girl, Philip agrees.

Looking for a man with a girl, detectives stop Philip.

Calendar gets away.

“Home” turns out to be an unlighted townhouse with a “To Let” sign.

Walking to his hotel, Philip has second thoughts about leaving Miss Calendar there.

He returns, finds the door ajar, the building in darkness.

Within those events, Louis J. Vance has hidden all the prompts for Philip’s subsequent adventures—chases on land and sea by hansom, train, automobile, and boat—and the story’s dramatic denouement.

Discerning readers will see that within a year the besotted Philip will be bored stiff by Dorothy Calendar, but that’s a story for another novelist to tell.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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When she learns of her sister’s engagement, eight-year-old Bettina “Betty” Vanderpoel cries, “He’ll do something awful to you….He’ll nearly kill you. I know he will.”

Sir Nigel Anstruthers turns out as nasty as Betty predicts.


The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1908 bestseller #5.
Project Gutenberg ebook #506. My grade: A-.

Green, hilly English countryside with a few sheep grazing, no people in sight.When he realizes Reuben Vanderpoel won’t support him, Sir Nigel craftily isolates Rosalie from family back in New York, then bullies her into transferring her property to him.

While Rosalie withers, Betty is educated in France, Germany, and in company of her astute capitalist father.

At 20, Betty goes to England to see Rosalie.

Sir Nigel has thoroughly cowed Rosalie and Ughtred, his son to whom the estate is entailed.

Betty takes charge, using her charm and her father’s money to make the estate liveable and her sister comfortable.

Inevitably, the Vanderpoel heiress is swarmed by suitors.

Betty’s heart, however, throbs for Lord Mount Duncan, who scorns the practice of marrying American money to put a deteriorating English estate to rights.

Although Frances Hodgson Burnett gives the novel the love-interest of a romance and the suspense of a thriller, the novel is deeper than those categories.

Burnett explores personalities, digs into gender roles, and shows how England and America were separated by culture and reunited by money.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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The Lure of the Mask is a novel composed entirely of characters.

Readers must take them as Harold MacGrath drew them; their fascination never makes them believable people.

Lady in fancy evening dress lowers her mask and looks over her shoulder toward the reader.


The Lure of the Mask by Harold MacGrath
Illus. Harrison Fisher and Karl Anderson.
Bobbs-Merrill, 1908, 1908 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #22158. My grade: B-.

Italian-born American John Hillard hears a woman singing in classical Italian at 1 a.m. in January. He’s so charmed that he places an ad in The Times asking her to contact him.

She responds. They correspond. The woman refuses to reveal any personal details.

Finally she agrees to meet.

Hillard is blindfolded, brought to a home that seems familiar.

The lady is masked.

Hillard knows no more about her afterward than before.

Unable to locate the woman with whom he is infatuated, Hillard agrees to take his friend Dan Merrihew to Italy, where both can recover from the loss of their loves—or find them again.

They are accompanied by Giovanni, Hillard’s servant, who hopes his 7-year absence will have lessened the interest of the police in arresting him so he can finish the murder he botched earlier.

MacGrath’s complicated story is well-plotted and remains unresolved until the last page.

The Lure will catch and hold you for an entire evening.

You’ll be released untouched at bedtime.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In Jane Cable, George Barr McCutcheon gives readers a break-neck paced mystery with characters that make zombies look benign.

The mystery is the Jane Cable’s parentage.


June Cable by George Barr McCutcheon

1906 bestseller # 5. Project Gutenberg EBook #5971. My grade: B+.


David Cable’s wife led him to believe Jane was his own daughter. Jane was actually a founding Frances had adopted.

Frances has never told either David or Jane that Jane is adopted.

Jane, now 20, is devoted to the couple she calls her parents.

The lawyer who handled the adoption, James Bamsemer, learned Jane’s parents’ identity and blackmailed Jane’s father’s family.

When Bamsemer turns up in Chicago, Frances knows she has to tell her secret.

Bamsemer terrifies her, but she’s even more frightened of his law clerk, Elias Droom.

James Bamsemer develops a crush on Frances; his son Graydon and Jane fall in love.

The story gets more complicated and more exciting with every chapter.

McCutcheon gives his charming characters flaws and softens the dastardly ones with an occasional generous impulse.

Droom is worthy of Charles Dickens: Ugly and devious in aiding Bamsemer, Droom grows geraniums and loves Graydon like a son.

Droom also invents things, such as a do-it-yourself guillotine.

You’ll stay up past your bedtime to see how McCutcheon fits that into the plot.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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