My favorite of the 1911 bestsellers is Queed by Henry Syndor Harrison. I don’t know any novel with such an emotionally inept leading man that manages to be so endearing. Harrison makes Queed believable by not letting him totally overcome his emotional tone-deafness.
The Broad Highway by Jeffery Farnol is a sunny, romatic tale with a lightweight hero and lightweight plot. It’s a charming diversion for an summer afternoon in a hammock or a winter evening with tea and scones by the fire.
The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright is not particularly interesting as a romance, but it’s fascinating in its description of geology of the West. The clash between local Imperial Valley interests and eastern financial interests is an “Occupy Wall Street” event, circa 1911.
I’m tempted to add The Prodigal Judge by Vaughan Kester to my list. It isn’t a particularly good novel, but Kester makes an absurd a plot and ridiculous characters come together in a tale that shows the best in people you wouldn’t have thought had a best side.
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Linda Gorton Aragoni
Thrilling adventure, tender romance, pathos and humor combine to give The Prodigal Judge the sweep and cinemagraphic qualities of Gone with the Wind without that novel’s sexiness.
But what it lacks in sexiness, The Prodigal Judge more than makes up for its humanity.
In the opening pages, Vaughan Kester hooks readers with a mystery: why did General Quintart give a home to Hannibal Wayne Hazard yet refuse to ever see the boy?
The novel’s unlikely hero, 60-year-old Judge Slocum Price, a destitute drunk, doesn’t appear until chapter 9. By that time:
- the General is dead;
- 10-year-old Hannibal has survived two kidnapping attempts;
- the lad’s trusted companion, Bob Yancy, has been saved by an English lord from certain death in the waters of the Mississippi;
- a dastardly villian is plotting a slave uprising; and
- the lovely Miss Betty Maloy has agreed to marry a man she doesn’t love.
By rights, Kester’s book should be a dismal failure. The book’s premise is far-fetched. The plot is hopelessly complicated. The characters are an odd lot of rejects from other novels. And yet the whole book works.
The Prodigal Judge is proof a great read need not be a great book.
The Prodigal Judge
By Vaughan Kester
1911 bestseller # 2
Project Gutenberg EBook #5129
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni