Monday, November 23, 2020

Faulkner's Folly by Carolyn Wells (1917)

 



About the author:


Major characters:

  • The late James Faulkner, builder of Faulkner's Folly
  • Beatrice Faulkner, his widow
  • Eric Stannard, artist, dead as story opens
  • Joyce Stannard, his wife
  • Barry Stannard, his son by previous marriage
  • Natalie Vernon, the voluptuous model
  • Blake, the footman
  • Annette, the maid
  • Eugene Courteney, neighbor
  • Mr. Wadsworth, widower
  • Mr. & Mrs. Truxton
  • Coroner Lamson
  • Detective Bobsy Roberts

Locale: Long Island, NY

Synopsis: James Faulkner had built an opulent mansion. He ran out of money doing it, and so it became known as Faulkner's Folly. He passed away two years ago, and his widow, Beatrice, had sold the mansion to Eric and Joyce Stannard.

Eric Stannard is an artist and employed Natalie Vernon, a cute blonde thing as his live-in model. Stannard was working on a portrait of Beatrice Faulkner. She comes down the staircase to find excitement in the studio: Eric is found stabbed to death in his chair, with his wife and model Natalie standing behind him looking at each other.

Review:

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Case of the Backward Mule by Erle Stanley Gardner (1946)

 

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This is a continuation of my reviews of Gardner's non-Perry Mason novels. This is the second (and last) of two Terry Clane novels (the first is Murder Up My Sleeve).

Major characters:

  • Terry Clane, attorney, in tight with the Chinese community; a.k.a. First Born, and Owl
  • Yat T'oy, Terry's servannt
  • Alma Renton, a widow, Terry's love interest
  • Cynthia Renton,  Alma's sister, a.k.a. Painter Woman
  • Horace Farnsworth, E.A.I.T.C.*, already dead 
  • Stacey Nevis, E.A.I.T.C.
  • George Gloster,  E.A.I.T.C.
  • Ricardo Taonon, E.A.I.T.C.
  • Daphne Taonon, his wife
  • Bill Hendrum 
  • Edward Harold, convicted of Farnsworth's death
  • Sou Ha, a.k.a. Embroidered Halo
  • Inspector Malloy
* Eastern Art Import and Trading Company

Locale: San Francisco

Synopsis: Terry Clane returns to San Francisco from studying concentration in the Orient. No sooner does he step off the boat, when  the police bring him in for questioning. Edward Harold is on death row for the murder of Horace Farnsworth (boyfriend of Cynthia Renton after Terry broke up with her). Now Farnsworth has escaped, Cynthia is nowhere to be found, and the police think Terry knows their whereabouts. The police show him a wooden figure of a Chinese man riding a mule backwards, and ask if he recognizes it. He does. It belongs to Cynthia Renton, and now it has blood spots on it.

Terry is convinced that Harold is innocent of the charges, and seeks to find him. He is called to a meeting at a warehouse of the Eastern Art Import and Trading Company (E.A.I.T.C.), whose owners are George Gloster, Stacey Nevis, Ricardo Taonon, and the late Horace Farnsworth. Terry enters the warehouse to find someone has been living there. Then he finds the body of George Gloster.

Review: It is too bad there were only two Terry Clane books, they are excellent; especially for their descriptions of the Chinese community. After reading these, one feels as if he could go to Chinatown and feel right at home.

Sou Ha is a great character, well developed and believable as she guides Terry (and the reader) through the mysteries of Chinatown. Cynthia Renton has the leading mysterious where-is-she woman role, her sister Alma is relegated to a brief mention.

Terry Clane's identity is vague - in the first book he is referred to as a lawyer, but his life seems to circle around his trips to China to study with the monks. Bill Hendrum is a puzzle, his role is never explained. Inspector Malloy can be annoying, but that's his job.

A final little mystery - why did nine years elapse beween book #1 (1937) and #2 (1946)?

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Mystery of the Folded Paper by Hulbert Footner (1930)

 

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Also published as "The Folded Paper Mystery"

About the author: See this Wikipedia article

Major characters:
  • Finlay Corveth, news feature writer
  • Nick Peters, watchmaker
  • Henny Friend, owner of Boloney Bar
  • Nick Casino, a hit man
  • Kid River, small time hoodlum
  • General Diamond, a mercenary, a.k.a "The American"
  • Nipperg, a.k.a. "Robespierre"
  • Milly, Kid River's girlfriend
  • Mariula Peters, a.k.a. Mary Dare
  • Amos Lee Mappin, crime writer
Locale: Manhattan NY and Hoboken NJ (on opposite sides of the Hudson River)

Synopsis: Finlay Corveth, freelance feature writer, visits his old friend Nick Peters in his tiny Manhattan watch repair shop after hearing he had been burglarized. Peters had been hit on the head by a brass ball removed from his bedpost, and the shop ransacked; apparently by someone looking for something they could not find - but they took the brass ball away with them. Peters reveals he has a precious emerald locket hidden away somewhere safe, and says it is intended to be security for a young girl, Mariula Peters, who is away at school.  

Finlay suspects the emerald locket may be in the brass ball, and follows the trail of the ball as it passes through several hands, including a couple of small time thieves Nick Casino and Kid River. He recovers the ball at a scrap metal dealer. Finlay goes to Peter's shop to return it, but finds him strangled to death.

With the help of his friend, crime writer Amos Lee Mappin, they open the ball to find the emerald locket, and inside it a folded up piece of blank paper. They suspect General Diamond is behind the crooks trying to steal it, and strike up a friendship with him.

Mariula Peters, now kicked out of boarding school, is brought to Hoboken and gets an acting part in the theatre, under the stage name Mary Dare. Finlay and Mappin decode the blank paper, and seek out an unknown treasure.

Review:

This story is fast-paced and is fascinating for its look at 1930's Manhattan/New Jersey. It gets a bit dizzying with the constant trips through the Lincoln Tunnel to go back and forth. I am familiar with some of the neighborhoods in which the story is set (Inwood, Kingsbridge, Riverdale); and a map such as on a Dell Mapback would have been helpful. You may wish to get out a map of Manhattan to help you enjoy the story.

I had expected the two-bit hoodlums from the first part (Nick Casino, Kid River and Milly) to reappear, but they never did. Instead we get a couple of arch-criminals which Finlay and Mappin identify by nicknames (The American and Robespierre) as they do not know their real names. We eventually get the real names (General Diamond and Nipperg, respectively). 

Two especially good characters are young Mariula Peters, who gets a surprise ending; and Nipperg's wife, Diasy; who enjoys flirting with with Finlay.

A most amusing scene is when Finlay and Mappin throw General Diamond off the track to the treasure, by substituting a map with fake directions. 

The ending is a satisfying, surprise turn of events.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Body on the Floor by Nancy Barr Mavity (1929)

 

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About the author: Nann "Nancy" Barr Mavity (1890 - 1959) is the author of a series of mystery novels about crime reporter James Aloysius "Peter" PiperNancy Barr Mavity taught philosophy at Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut. She was a newspaper woman. She was a feature writer of the Oakland Tribune. In this capacity, she was the first woman to spend a night in Folsom State Prison, where she had gone to cover the pardon hearing of Warren K Billings. She lectured extensively and contributed to magazines. (from a Wikipedia article).

Major characters:
  • Natalie Cole, a.k.a (incorrectly) Mrs. Asbury - the body on the floor
  • Clarkson L. Cole, her estranged husband, the "Tire king of Detroit"
  • --- Asbury, her estranged lover, a forest ranger, then a trucker and bootlegger
  • Allison Cole, her daughter
  • Elsie Cole Lawrence, her other daughter
  • John Lawrence, Elsie's husband
  • Edythe Grainge, telephone operator
  • Edward Comstock, elderly legatee
  • Winifred Newell, Asbury's secretary and lover
  • Peter Piper, reporter for The Herald
  • Barbara Piper, his wife
  • Emil Kurtner, expert witness #1
  • Chester Mason, expert witness #2
  • Jerry Dean, cub correspondent for The Herald
  • Sheriff F. M. Rondel

Locale: not stated

Synopsis:

Following an item submitted by cub correspondent Jerry Dean; Peter Piper, ace reporter for The Herald, is assigned to cover a woman's death under mysterious circumstances, having been killed with a shotgun - but was it murder or suicide? The woman, known locally as Mrs. Asbury, was actually Natalie Cole - estranged from her husband Clarkson L. Cole. She had been living with young, attractive --- Asbury as husband and wife, although not married. Recently they, too, became estranged when he took up with his secretary, Winifred Newell. She wanted him back, but he was more attracted to a string of young ladies more his age.

Her daughter, Allison Cole, had found the body and was in the process of falling apart. Jerry Dean takes her under his wing until Peter's wife, Barbara Piper, arrives to comfort her.

As Piper and sheriff F. M. Rondel try to determine if it is murder, it is found that she had made a will the day before, leaving her rance to elderly indigent neighbor Edward Comstock. The situation escalates at the inquest, when two expert witnesses, Emil Kurtner and Chester Mason, offer two totally contradictory versions of events.

Review:

This fast-paced story is set in the frenzy of a 1920's newspaper office, complete with chaotic press rooms, shouting editors, race-against-time telephoned reports, and star reporters taking notes on folded pieces of newsprint. The author knows her subject, being a newspaper reporter herself; and brings the excitement of reporting to the reader.

Oh, her use of words! Listen to this gloomy passage as the townspeople arrive at the inquest! What a scene:

The crowd had poured slowly, steadily into the dark interior of the undertaking parlors in a viscous, flowing mass. The porch still overflowed with those who had found no room inside, coagulating at the windows and doors, clotted on the steps.

There are two outstanding characters:
  • Edythe Grainge, the wallflower telephone operator who sees her role as an inquest witness as her big break, and 

  • Edward Comstock, with his philosophies about life, death, and morals. He reminds me oex-preacher Jim Casy (as played by John Carradine) in The Grapes of Wrath.  

The middle portion of the book drags a bit with various theories being hashed out, but that is common to most mysteries. A crime scene map is provided (p. 33). This book is the second about Peter Piper, the first being The Tule Marsh Murder.