Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Vicky Van by Carolyn Wells (1917)

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.

Major characters:
  • Victoria Van Allen ("Vicky Van"), wealthy party girl
  • Julie, her maid
  • Mrs. Reeves
The party guests:
  • Chester "Chet" Calhoun, our narrator, a lawyer
  • Cassie Weldon, a concert singer
  • Ariadne Gale, an artist
  • Jim Ferris, actor
  • Bailey Mason, actor
  • Bert Garrison, architect
The Schuylers:
  • Randolph Schuyler, a.k.a. Somers, murder victim
  • Ruth Schuyler, his wife/widow
  • Miss Sarah, his maiden sister
  • Miss Rhoda, another maiden sister
  • Norman Steele, Somers' companion
  • Inspector Mason
  • Aunt Lucy, Chet's aunt
  • Winnie, Chet's sister
  • Fleming Stone, private detective
  • Fibsy, Stone's "irregular"
Locale: New York City

Synopsis: Narrator Chet Calhoun introduces carefree Vicky Van as she hosts one of her regular dinner parties. The guests arrive, and one of them, Norman Steele, brings along an extra uninvited stranger - Somers. Before the caterers can serve the meal, Somers is found stabbed in the dining room.

In the ensuing commotion, Vicky Van and her maid Julie have disappeared. Luigi, a caterer, states he saw her standing over the body with blood on her dress. The police arrive and soon "Somers" is found to be an assumed name for millionaire Randolph Schuyler, who lives around the corner on Fifth Avenue.

The search is on for Vicky Van and Julie. She cannot be found, but she communicates with - and visits with - Chet Calhoun - who is conflicted between loyalty to her, and revealing his knowledge to the police. Chet also has conflicting love interests - the widow Ruth, and Vicky Van herself.

The maiden sisters call in Fleming Stone to find Vicky Van and bring her to justice. Stone brings his irregular, Fibsy, to do the legwork.


Thoroughly enjoyable and unique book. The narrator, Chet Calhoun, is in a precarious and unique position - having some knowledge of Vicky Van's whereabouts but hesitant to disclose anything to the authorities. 

The book focuses on the search for Vicky Van. She mails little messages here and there, but otherwise has disappeared with no trace. Fibsy, the young assistant to Stone, manages to find the solution by compiling an impressive list of  circumstantial evidence. The solution is a total surprise, turning the plot on end completely. 

The best Carolyn Wells I have read thus far.

Note: contains pejorative term used for persons of Italian ancestry.

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