At the birth of the twentieth century, Americans were obsessed with European royalty, their own recently ended Civil War, and their rising status among nations.
In The Port of Missing Men, Meredith Nicholson takes all three obsessions and weaves them into thriller that can still keep today’s readers’ full attention.
The Port of Missing Men by Meredith Nicholson
1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook#13913. My grade: B.
Spies sent by the Austrian Prime Minister failed to recover an important document that can determine who will succeed the present ailing monarch.
Count von Stroebel meets in Geneva in March, 1903 with a young man calling himself John Armitage. Armitage owns a ranch in Wyoming but could easily make people believe he is the legitimate heir to the Austrian throne.
Von Stroebel shows Armitage a photograph of the thief, a man known to Armitage as Jules Chauvenet.
Armitage and Chauvenet are both pursuing Shirley Claiborne, the pretty daughter of an American ambassador.
Before they part, von Stroebel tells Armitage, “Do something for Austria.”
The novel has no more character development than necessary for a thriller: Nicholson puts all his energy into the complicated plot.
Needless to say, the story ends with criminals brought to justice and love triumphant.
The plot and characters are readily forgettable.
The tidbits of European and American cultural history Nicholson includes will stick.
The House of A Thousand Candles opens with John Glenarm learning the conditions of his grandfather’s will from Arthur Pickering, a man John dislikes “as heartily as it is safe for one man to dislike another.”
The House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson
An orphan, John was raised by his grandfather, who wanted him to be an architect. John chose engineering and dissipated the fortune his father left him.
The will confines John to occupying Glenarm House without leaving the rural Indiana county or having company for a year.
John agrees out of respect for his grandfather and shame for the grief he caused him.
If John violates the conditions, the property reverts to Marian Devereux, a young woman whose aunt runs the Catholic girls school on property adjoining Glenarm House.
Meredith Nicholson spins this opening into a mystery-romance that is as ridiculous as the will is eccentric.
There are rumors of treasure hid on the property, secret passages, attempts on John’s life, the grandfather’s butler-companion who knows more than he lets on, and one very attractive girl at the school next door.
The House will provide pleasant diversion, but both story and characters will be snuffed from memory within a few days of reading.
A Hoosier Chronicle has something for lovers of practically every novel genre except science fiction. Amazingly, Meridith Nicholson manages to blend romance, politics, mystery, philosophy, and history without compromising characterization.
Yale-educated Dan Harwood hand-delivers a letter to a math professor, which prompts the professor to take his granddaughter off to Indianapolis while he tries to raise money to send her to college.
The professor doesn’t know who Sylvia’s father was or if her parents were legally married. His friend “Aunt Sally” Owens, a feisty, rich old widow, says Sylvia is so promising that her background is no matter. She writes a check for Sylvia’s college expenses.
While Sylvia studies at Wellesley, Dan reports for The Courier and studies law. In his work he meets Morton Bassett, a rising state politician married to Aunt Sally’s neice. Though Bassett is rumored to be unscrupulous, Dan genuinely likes him.
When Morton offers him a job, Dan takes it. He thinks his moral principles enough to keep him from being co-opted if Bassett’s reputations turns out to be founded on fact.
Nicholon sets up the plot carefully. He makes all the things that you expect to happen, happen in surprising ways.
Dan is not as quick at unraveling Sylvia’s mysterious past as a shrewd lawyer should be, and the ending is too neat to be believable, yet not one of the 600+ pages of this novel is dull. Nicholson will keep you entertained and give you some ideas to chew on after you’ve finished reading.