The Man Who Fell Through the Earth by Carolyn Wells (1919)

How much can one trust oneself amidst confusing circumstances? At what point does someone dismiss the talking flamingo as a hallucination? At what point does ones sanity become suspect? I suffer from a persistent case of deja vu. A small part of me suspects that I am in a coma in some hospital with loved ones and trained professionals watching over me unmoving body. What can I do to confirm that I really am in a coma? Nothing obvious comes to mind so I continue living as before hoping that my reality is real and that I am not in a coma. For these reasons witnessing a murder and finding the killer and the dead body gone would confuse me. Very quickly I would dismiss my own perceptions and give myself the benefit of insanity. Those prone to paranoia frequently dismiss their wildest assumptions. Luckily in this novel Mr. Brice trusts his initial observations.

Mr. Brice has just witnessed a murder. He saw what appeared to be a struggle through the obscuring, tempered glass across the hall and he heard a shot. Rushing in as quickly as he could he finds no one. He also finds no guns or blood around the office. He can’t even locate the secretary. The only evidence to back up his assertion is the smell of smoke from a freshly fired pistol. Where is the dead man and who killed him? Find out with The Man Who Fell Through the Earth.


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The Hand in the Dark by Arthur J. Rees (1920)

Criminals frequently think themselves clever. Not only do they hope to get away with murder or robbery but they intend to do it without any suspicion under the scrutinizing eyes of the police. There is immense hubris in this attitude. One has to work much more carefully to break rules than to follow them. To think that one is above rules and can masterfully weave a convincing story to fill in the lying gaps shows an absurd level of confidence. I admire criminals for their bold and uncompromising attitudes but I don’t admire their endeavors. I admire criminals the same way I admire people who attempt to eat five pound burgers in one meal. They are ambitious yet foolhardy and are prone to failure. If they succeed, it will be a close scrape and fun to watch.

A murder is committed in a English manor house out in the countryside. Friends from London had been invited down to the old moat-house. This house is full of many people who would normally be suspects. In this case, they all seem to have alibis. The shot was heard while all were listening to a fantastic story of adventure set in the far off land of New Zealand while passing the time after dinner. Each person can account for everyone else because they all waited at the dinner table to hear the end of the story. When the tale ended, a scream quickly followed by a shot came from upstairs. Rushing up the stairs Violet, the newly married lady of the house, is found shot through the lung causing internal bleeding, hemorrhaging, and finally death. The police are immediately called in to investigate. Watch out for a late appearance from well-known crime solver Grant Colwyn. Will Colwyn and the police find the true murderer or will they be grasping about blind like The Hand in the Dark?


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Mademoiselle Ixe by Mary Elizabeth Hawker (1890)

Secretive, overqualified characters are always my favorites. When best executed these characters have all the skills and none of the motivation. They are thrust by extreme circumstances to show some of their vast knowledge. With these characters a sense an increased depth lingers over every thought and movement which is exciting alongside an overbearing humility and modesty. I envy these qualities in others because I am neither deep nor mysterious. It is easy to revere heroes in fiction. Much easier than real life as fictional heroes are much less likely to let one down. There is a lone ranger quality of the person of the world, the jack of all trades, the renaissance man. Even classic western stories have mysterious characters whose reactions become more logical as there backstory slowly unravels. What makes this character archetype so entrancing?

Mademoiselle Ixe’s task as the new governess is to keep the children in order, teach them, care for their wants and generally keep them happy. The small town in the English countryside is unsure of Ms. Ixe. She is clearly foreign but her country of origin is unclear. Even more disturbing is that she may not even be Christian. Unclear religious affiliations aside she fits into the family like an old worn baseball mitt. She instantly makes a connection with each troublesome child. Harsh during their lessons and friendly in leisure time she instantly becomes a favorite. She also has a weird knack for indirectly getting her way. When confronted with questions about her religious leanings, she innocently asks wether the Anglican Church has the religious mandate. An argument among amateur religious scholars breaks out and she is not forced to answer the original question. The original askers have completely forgotten. The eldest daughter wonders to herself. Who is Mademoiselle Ixe?


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The Shrieking Pit by Arthur J. Rees (1919)

One difficulty every detective faces is when the interpret clues and convict the wrong person. How you react under this foreseen difficulty defines your worth as a crime solver? A crappy detective looks at the available clues and creates one possible version of the murder. A better detective looks at the available clues and finds a highly likely version of the murder. An ace detective looks at the available clues and finds the only possible version of the murder. Grant Colwyn lies somewhere between the better and ace detectives in the rankings. He is unable to instantly and smoothly cut through the bullshit and arrive at the only possible right answer. At the same time, he is able to cut out most of the unimportant details and focus on the vital facts of the case. As someone who doesn’t like to be wrong, even momentarily, the detective business is not for me. I sure do enjoy watching others take a try at it.

Grant Colwyn is vacationing along the Norfolk coast at a large hotel. At breakfast Colwyn and a doctor see a young man acting strangely. The doctor quickly diagnoses the young man with a rare nervous disease that can cause unremembered fits of violence. He moves to stop a senseless act and confront the young man as he quickly rises from the table. Upon confrontation the young man promptly faints and must be carried to his room by Colwyn and the doctor, a famous nerve specialist. Upon waking up the young man leaves the hotel quickly, clearly embarrassed and annoyed with the whole ordeal. A day later, the young man is the lead suspect in a murder occurring at a small inn not too far away. The doctor takes this as conclusive proof of his correct diagnosis but Detective Colwyn is unsure. Soon we find that the unimpressive young man is actually the youngest member of an eminent British family. And what do the ghostly rumors have to do with it? Close your eyes when you hear noise from The Shrieking Pit.


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Cecilia de Noel by Mary Elizabeth Hawker

The ability to cloak oneself in others desires, fears, and preconceptions is difficult. Wearing another persons point of view is frequently uncomfortable and cumbersome. Occasionally one may lose oneself in another’s persona and not be able to fully return to their own. The man of the house in this quirky little novel has this astounding ability. Not only can Mr. Atherley jump into another’s mind but he is seemingly able to work the controls and review the memories of another’s brain. In a fractured world, where “others” are ostracized a little mind jumping may do us all some good. Once we realize our motives and bias we can bring additional patience to our interactions with those we disagree. Patience and sincerity in discussion may lead to additional insights and occasionally collaboration.

Remember the old saying: “Ghosts are in the eyes of the beholder.” Guilty as charged. That was made up but it does accurately portray this fun little novel. You arrive at a British country house with a large raucous family and apparently an old ghost. This ghost appears to people from time to time especially in one rarely used bedroom. Six different people see the ghost and tell of its shape and form. Each time Mr. Lyndsay and the man of the house, Mr. Atherley, discuss each new insight weighing the differences and similarities between each new ghost encounter. Like witnesses at a crime scene each person describes a vaguely similar creature through their own lens. In time Mr. Atherley tries to convince us that ghosts are not real but rather created by imaginative people and each ghost story tells us more about the individual seeing the ghost than the ghost him or herself. Like a mirror each story peers into the tellers soul. Peer into six souls by reading Cecilia de Noel.


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Uncle William: The Man Who Was Shif’less by Jennette Lee (1906)

The current rapid pace of technological change has created the idea that human beings are also evolving to be faster and more efficient. That is unfortunately not the case. Most human beings are stuck living and learning at the same slow pace at which humans have always learned. Collectively we can make discoveries more quickly but individually we are still stuck in the slow lane. Keep in mind that those discoveries will not occur more rapidly because human beings are able to think more quickly or multitask better than previously. Instead advancement in human ideas has largely picked up because the speed of information has increased dramatically. International communication is near instantaneous and machines make testing new ideas much easier. Audiences can read books sooner allowing them to comment and expand upon ideas with greater speed. Keep in mind that humans are still slow thinkers. It’s best not to rush because the rushed get stressed and may not even beat the tortoise to the finish line.

Uncle William is a funny old sailor living in the sparsely populated region of Nova Scotia called Arichat. He lives with his cat, Juno overlooking the formidable Atlantic Ocean, and is neighbors with his lifelong friend Andy. He is not a wealthy man nor is his life easy though he makes it seem so. He is shif’less eschewing work and toil until necessary moving through life slowly but surely. His major fault, as Andy would attest to, is that he helps others too willingly without obvious hope of reward or profit. At the moment, he and his cat are not alone in the tiny, cozy shack by the seas he calls home. Perched on high rocks overlooking the ocean this little house is a temporary refuge for another younger man. A much different man it would be hard to find. Hailing from New York City and specializing in painting, one can’t call oneself a professional until ones been paid, one might assume Alan Woodworth has nothing in common with the old sailor other than a lack of funds. The young man enjoys the sea and the weather painting and sailing alongside Uncle William in the day and enjoying fresh chowder every supper. The eve before returning to New York the Alan ignores Andy’s advice and sails out into calm seas with evil looking clouds. Hours later Andy and Uncle William are obliged to save the struggling painter from a colossal storm. The painter lives another day but Uncle William’s boat dies in the process. What will the poor old sailor and the poor young painter do about the boat? Don’t worry about Uncle William: The Man is Shif’less.


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A Master of Mysteries by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace (1898)

For every mystery in the world there is a skeptic. Some skeptics scoff at each new invention or discovery while others actively try to illuminate the truth. If history has proven anything, its that skeptics are frequently annoying and upsetting people to be around. Human beings inherently love illusions wether theatrical or mundane. Superstition, religion, folklore, and home remedies have their detractors who for the most part enrage the true believers. It takes tremendous tact and self belief to work professionally or as a hobbyist in the exposure business. The comfortable and the lazy would never seek such a controversial way of life. In fiction, many great examples of polite mystery solvers abound. This book deserves to sit on the shelf with the best of the genre.

John Bell is an exposer of ghostly phenomena, curses and superstitions. With a concrete knowledge of the limits of the physical world alongside an encyclopedic knowledge of every type of fakery Bell investigates unusual, spooky phenomena. The culprits are sometimes people other times nature herself. In the first case, Bell is called upon to investigate the queer death of a rich artist. It has all the signs of an intriguing mystery. A circular room, an enduring legend, and three unaccountable deaths. Bring your wits and your intelligence while you stay up late with A Master of Mysteries.


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