Satan Sanderson a patchwork of implausibilities

Called to witness a dying man’s will, the Reverend Henry Sanderson learns college friend Hugh Stires, is being disinherited as a wastrel.

Sanderson intercedes on Hugh’s behalf. He confesses his college nickname was “Satan” and that it was he who led Hugh to drink and gamble.


Satan Sanderson by Hallie Erminie Rives (Mrs. Post Wheeler)
A. B. Wenzell, Illus. 1907 bestseller #6. Project Gutenberg ebook #39689. My Grade: B-.

As he pleads for Hugh, however, Sanderson tries to recall something—anything—to suggest Hugh is capable of reversing his downward spiral.

There is none. Hugh is “a moral mollusk.”

An elderly man and blind young woman in Victorian dress sit in drawing room.
Mr. Stires with his ward, Jessica.

David Stires says he wishes the resemblance between his son and Sanderson extended to more than physical appearance.

He agrees to think again before he signs his will leaving his fortune to his beautiful, blind ward, Jessica Holme.

The reprobate son reappears ready to be good long enough to woo and wed Jessica, thereby insuring he gets his father’s money one way or the other.

Sanderson realizes he not only started Hugh downhill, but aided his masquerade as reformed character.

From that set up, Hallie Erminie Rives could have aimed the plot in any of several directions.

She chose to take them all.

The novel is a patchwork plot of implausibilities performed by manikins.

Rives did give Sanderson a nice dog; he, at least, stayed in character.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Brass Bowl: A mystery for the least discerning reader

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

In The Port of Missing Mentwo cultures clash

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.

Emperor Franz Joseph looks frail in this 1901 photograph of him at a bridge dedication.
Aging Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I dedicates a bridge in 1901

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.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Beverly of Graustark Isn’t Even Graustarkian

Bridge in rough forest setting.
Does that bridge look safe enough to bear the coach of a princess?

Beverly of Graustark picks up the story George Barr McCutcheon began in his 1901 bestseller, Graustark.

Since their marriage Graustark’s Princess Yetive and her husband, Grenfall Lorry, have lived in Washington, D.C., but threats of war by neighboring Axphain brings them home to lead the defense of their East European kingdom.

Yetive’s good friend Beverly Calhoun, daughter of a US congressman, and her maid follow close behind. In the Graustark mountains, their coach is stopped by a band of ragged men, led by a handsome, English-speaking goat-herder who mistakes Beverly for Princess Yetive.

Beverly allows the misunderstanding because it suits her; Boldo pretends to believe it because it suits him.

Once in Edelweiss, Beverly learns there are actually three royal princes hiding out in Graustark. Surely the handsome Baldo must be one of them in disguise, mustn’t he?

McCutcheon says Beverly has a “graceful form” and Baldo has a “splendid figure.” That basically takes care of character development.

For plot development, there’s a lot of running about in cloaks in the dark, but nothing actually happens. Even the war ends without a skirmish.

Graustark’s leaders, so sensible and dedicated in the earlier novel, are frivolous and incompetent here.

Perhaps that comes of living in Washington, D.C.

Beverly of Graustark
by George Barr McCutcheon
1904 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #6801
My grade: C-

Photo credit:  Forest Bridge by Colin Broug

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Masquerader Is Bold-Faced Entertainment

QR code for The Masquerader
Masked link to The Masquerader

Within the first 1000 words, The Masquerader plunges from the back benches of Parliament to the backstreets of London, setting up a psychological thriller that readers won’t soon forget.

In a dense fog, John Chilcote bumps into a man who could be his twin. John Loder’s resemblance to him offers Chilcote a way to maintain his position without giving up his morphine addiction.

He hires John Loder to exchange places with him.

Loder had at one time eyed a political career. The opportunity is too good to be passed up.

Thanks to Chilcote’s reputation for eccentricity and Loder’s interest in politics, the masquerade works smoothly, until women get involved.

Though married, Chilcote has been flirting with a woman with whom Loder had had a brief affair years before. But Loder find’s Chilcote’s wife, Eve, far more to his current taste.

The personalities of the characters make the outcome inevitable.

Katherine Cecil Thurston doesn’t give readers time to realize the absurdity of the look-like theme before she sweeps them away into the plot.

The Masquerader may not be great literature, but you can’t beat it for entertainment.

The Masquerader
by Katherine Cecil Thurston
Harper & Brothers, 1904
328 pages
1904 bestseller # 3
1905 bestseller # 7
Project Gutenberg ebook #5422
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Lord Loveland Discovers More Than Just America

If the 13th Marquis of Loveland “had been a plain or stupid boy he might have grown up to be an estimable young man.” Neither plain or stupid, he becomes both broke and insufferable.

He’s forced to go to America in search of a rich wife.

Loveland accepts free passage on the Mauritania in place of a man who cannot travel for health reasons and authorizes his former valet to sell his ticket for the Baltic. On board ship, Loveland attracts attention for his looks, hauteur, and all-too-obvious fortune-hunting.

Loveland would willingly wed Miss Lesley Dearmer, an American author whose looks and personality intrigue him, but the grapevine says she has no money.

Through accidents compounded by his insolence, Loveland finds himself in New York broke, friendless, without even a change of clothes, and charged with impersonating Lord Loveland.

A series of madcap misadventures, teaches Loveland  the world does not revolve around him.

Lord Loveland Discovers America is by the husband and wife team of Charles Norris Williamson and Alice Muriel Livingston. They leave little doubt how the romance will end, but they keep readers hooked to the last chapter to learn what led to the accusation that Loveland was an imposter.

Despite a predictable plot and hackneyed characterization, Lord Loveland is irresistable.

Lord Loveland Discovers America
By C. N. Williamson and A. M. Williamson
Illustratrations by George Brehm
Project Gutenberg EBook #39984
1910 bestseller #7

The Two Vanrevels Tax Credulity

The Two Vanrevels is romantic melodrama set in the Ohio Valley in the hoop-skirted days before the Civil War.

When beautiful Miss Betty Carewe comes home from convent school, the first to see her, lawyer Tom Vanrevel, is immediately smitten. Tom’s profligate law partner Crailey Gray also succumbs to Betty’s charms.

Being unfamiliar with the town, Betty thinks the man she saw with her school chum, Franchon Bareaud, was Franchon’s fiance, Crailey. When Crailey comes courting, Betty thinks he’s Tom, the man whom her father hates for his abolitionist views.

Long used to covering for his parter, Tom continues to protect him even after he realizes Betty thinks he is Crailey.

The story ends in a dramatic denouement in the mode of the silent movies of the turn of the century.

Even readers who appreciate the mores that governed polite 19th century society will find it hard to swallow Booth Tarkington’s plot or believe his characters.

Wouldn’t a young girl who has only one friend in town naturally say to that friend, “Who was the man with you?”

Leave this novel lie with the frock coats and hoop skirts. It doesn’t deserve an airing.

The Two Vanrevels
By Booth Tarkington
A. L. Burt, 1902
351 pages
1908 #8
My Grade: C –
Project Gutenberg ebook #3428
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni