Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Come Back by Carolyn Wells (1921)

Mike Gray / Ontos

About the author: Carolyn Wells (1862-1942) was married to Hadwin Houghton, the heir of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing empire. Like Mary Roberts Rinehart, being in a publishing family created an easy pipeline for getting her works into print. She wrote a total of more than 170 books, including 61 Fleming Stone detective stories. See this Wikipedia article.

Carolyn Wells

Major characters:

  • Peter Crane, a.k.a. Peter Boots
  • Julie Crane, his sister
  • Benjamin Crane, his father
  • Helen Crane, his mother
  • Carlotta "Carly" Harper, his girlfriend
  • Christopher "Kit" Shelby, his trip companion
  • Gilbert Blair, his trip companion, architectural student
  • Joshua, their guide
  • McClellan "Mac" Thorpe, architectural student, roommate of Gilbert Blair
  • Madame Parlato, a medium
  • Pennington Wise, detective
  • Zizi, his mysterious assistant

Locale: Labrador, Canada; and New York State

Synopsis: 27 year old Peter Crane, a.k.a. Peter Boots, decides on an adventure trip to Labrador, Canada; along with his friends Kit Shelby and Gilbert Blair. They hire a guide, Joshua, and set out. The trip out is uneventful, but on the return, Peter becomes separated from the group and is lost in a snowstorm, and believed dead. The parents reveal that long ago had a prediction from a gypsy that he would die on a trip, but would nevertheless return.

Kit and Gilbert return to New York state to break the news to his parents. His parents begin consulting a medium, Madame Parlato, who allows them to converse with Peter. During one séance, she produces Peter's tobacco pouch, last seen in Labrador.

Gilbert Blair and his roommate, McClellan "Mac" Thorpe, are architectural students, both in a competition which strains their relationship. One morning Thorpe finds Blair dead in his bed, having been poisoned; and he becomes immediately suspect.

The séances and materializations continue. Is Peter Boots really dead? Can Mac Thorpe be cleared of the murder, and free to marry Julie Crane? Detective Pennington Wise is called in, but he doesn't do much - assistant Zizi figures it all out.


The book is full of spiritism: Séances, mediums, Ouija boards; but unlike the Mary Roberts Rinehart books, they are presented in a matter-of-fact way and debunked one by one. The explanation of the workings of the Ouija board is quite revealing.

This Crane parents seem a bit too gullible, but this was the 1920's when this was all the rage. The reappearance of Peter Boots clears things up but the explanation was lacking. Overall, a nice tight little account of the hazards of the occult and everybody winds up happy at the end .. well, except the victim and the murderer.

Pennington Wise is a do-nothing, he lets Zizi do all the legwork, Archie Goodwin style. Wise could have been left out without affecting the story at all.

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