A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew A. Henson (1912)

I’ll be honest. I don’t know much about the North Pole. Ever since I was little my parents filled me with lies about Santa Claus. For a while I thought that the North Pole was a real place, an identifiable landmark. Reality is more complicated than my seven year old self could have understood or imagined. It turns out that there is no landmass known as the North Pole. The South Pole, or Antarctica, is a continent covered with ice and snow; the North Pole is just a floating mass of ice and snow which connects with the northernmost parts of Scandinavia, Greenland, Russia, Canada, and Alaska. The actual point known as the North Pole is up for debate. Is it related to magnetic north? Nope. When people refer to the North Pole they usually mean the geographic North Pole. A quick wikipedia search reveals that the geographic North Pole is the position opposite the South Pole. The North and South Poles are the axis’s that the Earth rotates upon. Since, the North Pole lies in the middle of the ocean between the northernmost points of multiple continents it can be hard to pin down where the North Pole lies at any one time. Either way it is clear that Matthew A. Henson and The Explorers Club, under the command of Robert Peary, sailed up past New England and traversed northward through Greenland to reach if not the true geographic North Pole close enough to gain the credit.

Matthew A. Henson has got a spot on my A-Team. Not only did he and Peary reach the North Pole first but he did this as a black man in America during the early 1900’s. This was a difficult time for black people in America caught in limbo between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Slavery had been abolished but lynchings were still common and segregation was in full force. Henson had to grow up quickly because many of his family members passed away when he was young. He joined a trade ship as a cabin boy at the age of 12. Through his travels he met Peary who took him on as an associate when Henson was in his early 20’s. Henson proved a reliable companion on the harsh northern expeditions. He learned to live like the Inuit people. After living with the Inuit people, he gained great respect for them, their customs, and their fortitude in the harsh conditions. This story is a memoir recording the final expedition in 1909 about A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.

 

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The Hampstead Mystery by Arthur J. Reeves and John R. Watson (1916)

The life of an orphaned teenager is incredibly difficult. I cannot pretend to understand its difficulties having never lived through it. In this book, the main detective, Mr. Crewe has an assistant sleuth on his payroll, an orphaned teenager named Joe Leaver. Joe is the sort of kid who lives half in fiction and half in reality. That last sentence could describe any number of kids who lapse into exciting fiction when they are bored or otherwise unoccupied. That is not the case with Joe who works half the time as Crewe’s assistant and the other half watches movies and dreams of acting. Crewe has found that Joe has a talent for sleuthing. Joe can tail people along the street, watch suspicious characters, and notice important clues that might escape the eyes of his rich benefactor. In my mind, he is the most fascinating character in the whole mystery. The ability to continue the daily grind in the absence of any familial relations would be difficult to say the least. He seems relatively unaffected, smart and put together. I hope I have those qualities when times get tough.

A judge, Sir Horace Fewbanks, is found murdered in his empty mansion. The judge had been out of town and was not expected back for some weeks. His family and friends had not been informed why he came back to London from his country estate. The police are called in but appear useless so the daughter of the murdered man calls in Mr. Crewe, a private detective known for solving tough cases. The biggest suspects are the butler, and two of the judge’s close friends, Mr. and Mrs. Holymead. Yet, none of these three suspicious characters seem callous enough to commit murder and none of them have any motive. The chase is on to solve The Hampstead Mystery.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10082

The Room with the Tassels by Carolyn Wells (1918)

Sometimes a bad idea in real life is a great premise for a novel. This book entirely relies on one such ridiculous premise. In the early 1900’s the interest in ghost and spirits through the movement called spiritualism was still front and center in the public mind. The height of the spiritualism craze had already passed but its effects lingered in popular culture. Some people fervently believed in the existence of ghosts and their ability to manifest in the human world. Spooky sounds, sudden temperature changes or even sighting were considered evidence of a ghosts presence. In this book, a group of friends stumbles upon the stupid idea of renting a haunted house for a month to find out wether ghosts exist for once and for all. They imagine spending their days frolicking in the sun and their nights investigating the supernatural. The majority of the guests thought this would be a fun romp. To me it sounds like begging for trouble. I don’t believe in ghosts yet I don’t feel the need to confront dark spooky places to prove they don’t exist.

A group of family friends and acquaintances joke their way into a spooky summer vacation. Believers, skeptics and everyone in between decide to rent a haunted house for a month to see if they can prove or disprove the existence of ghosts. Hauntings start almost immediately. People are scared and even consider leaving the house before the month is up. Then, a ouija board predicts that two people will be killed at four. This vague warning comes to fruition and the chase for the murderer, physical or spiritual, begins in earnest. Take my advice. Don’t sleep in The Room with the Tassels.

 

free ebook download: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46008

Arsene Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes by Maurice Leblanc (1910)

Meeting my old friends, Lupin and Holmes, is incredibly refreshing. This novel packs two of my favorite characters into one delicious novel. Like ordinary foods wrapped in bacon this novel is greater than the sum of its parts. At first glance, you might assume that Leblanc would favor the character he created by making Holmes look like foolish. Leblanc is too good of a writer to stoop to corrupting the classic Holmes character. Rather you find that Holmes and Lupin both show remarkable insight, intelligence and cunning. Ultimately neither character triumphs because they never play by the same rules. Lupin has access to his vast criminal network alongside the home field advantage of Paris and France in general. Holmes is restricted by the law and his relative unfamiliarity with the region and its people. It is a rollicking good time though.

A mysterious jewel has been stolen, a man murdered and Lupin has evaded capture in a most mysterious way multiple times in a row. The French police force alongside its most celebrated detective is at a complete loss of where to go next. The clues seems to dissolve into thin air and Lupin has apparently managed the scientific marvel of teleportation. In these humbling circumstances Herlock Sholmes(name changed for copyright reasons) is called to Paris to solve the case. Arriving in Paris, Sholmes and Lupin have a chance meeting at small restaurant. Lupin chides Sholmes who appears flustered by the encounter. In his British matter of fact way, he explains to Lupin that he will wrap up the case in 10 days because he has other mysteries to unravel back home in England. Lupin laughs at this hubris and the dash is on to solve the mystery of the blonde lady. Sit courtside at the match of the century: Arsene Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes.

 

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Nothing But the Truth by Fredric Stewart Isham (1914)

I believe that most people do not want to tell the truth. The live constantly doling out white lies and half truths. Continuous honesty may seem stressful but it is only a slight adjustment from my normal blunt, sarcastic sensibilities. Bridges would no doubt be burned but I doubt any would fall into complete disrepair and break completely. Likely I would only ruffle some feathers and singe some wings leaving my personal relationships largely intact. The most difficult interactions would likely be those with pure strangers that I had never met previously. At worse they would find me standoffish and unhelpful. Any of my future success in extreme truth telling would lie with my philosophy that one should have strong opinions about silly things and have moderate opinions about things others take seriously. In other words, I am more likely to be annoying arguing about old books and be more tempered while discussing religion.

Bob and his friends at the rich peoples club have had a few drinks each and are proposing a silly little bet. They don’t believe that someone could say the strict literal truth for a week. With a few pints already in him, Bob ups this bizarre bet to three weeks. Later that night with his friends goading him on he begins to realize the error in his reasoning. This will be tough on Bob whose honesty will likely confuse and upset his high class friends. These rich people are regularly coddled with white lies and half truths. They are less equipped to handle strict literal truth than the average man or woman on the street. But his friends have stipulated that he must act as he would before the bet. That means he cannot become a hermit for a month. This is a rollicking adventure where each chapter tries to best the previous one in bringing fresh hell to Bob’s life. Poison the dog and arrest the psychiatrist before reading Nothing But the Truth.

 

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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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free ebook: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/44872

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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