The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (1922)

Murder mysteries make death engaging and amusing. That is an amazing feat. Death especially in the states is almost a taboo thing. It has deep emotional and religious ties which make it hard to talk about seriously. If death is difficult, murder should an impossible conversation piece. One could reasonably argue that murder is the worst form of death. Murder exist in a dark cloud of resentment, revenge and fear. Yet I declare that murder mysteries are fun and entertaining. Somehow by focusing on the means and motives of murder we create the illusion of a puzzle and obscure the actual macabre nature of the killing. I have no doubt that a personal brush with murder would leave me confused and drowning with fear. Why then do books featuring brilliant detectives excite me? My hypocrisy is fascinating.

Antony Gillingham accidentally stumbles into a murder the same way you might accidentally step in a puddle coming home on a rainy night. A man is killed in a locked room without any indication of suicide or motive. The brother of the murdered man is missing and so is the revolver. Antony decides in a flippant way to try his hand at detecting. Convincing his friend Bill to play Watson while he channels Sherlock the pair attempt to get to the bottom of The Red House Mystery.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1872

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Hoofbeats on the Turnpike by Mildred A. Wirt (1944)

We’ve all imagined ourselves acting courageously in dangerous circumstances. Everyone of us likes to believe that we could keep a level head in a time of panic and make decisions that would save lives. Stepping out of the daydream and back into reality I humbly admit that I don’t believe I am capable of that level of heroism. My mind is not quick and precise. Instead, my mind plods along slowly and comes to conclusions by the process of elimination. There is a high likelihood that the shock of those dangerous circumstances would freeze me in my tracks making it impossible to help myself let alone others. Taking ownership of those split second decisions would also be difficult. I prefer to live life “hands off” and taking responsibility over the situation would give me nightmares for years after. On second thought, those nightmares would likely haunt me regardless. Penny Parker does not have these same fears. She instead acts first and worries about the results afterwards. She steps towards the unusual noise, I step away from it. For this reason she has my respect.

 

When Penny Parker sniffs a hint of a mystery, she can’t help but pursue it to the ends of the earth. This time her curiosity takes her to a small town with rumors of a headless horseman. She soon realizes that the town has another more credible fear; the local dam is need of repairs. As rumors swirl around the dam and the horseman, Penny and Louis put on there Sherlock cloaks to find out the mystery of the Hoofbeats on the Turnpike.

 

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free ebook download: http://gutenberg.org/ebooks/34691

The Wishing Well by Mildred A. Wirt (1942)

Present in multiple Penny Parker mysteries is Penny’s charitable nature. Most people are unable and unwilling to drop everything without a second thought to help someone in need unless they are already acquainted. In this book, Penny helps out Rhoda, a new school transfer, and Mrs. Marborough who used to live in Riverview as a younger woman. If I witnessed this level of generosity in everyday life, I might become defensive but by reading it I want to emulate that kindness. This is the power of books. The characters are not viewed as competitors and so they can more easily act as role models to our future actions. Just a thought.

The untiring busybody, Penny Parker, is back at it with another mystery. A club field trip to a local wishing well turns into a multilevel conspiracy. Why are lights shining around the well at night? Why won’t Mrs. Marborough invite anyone into her fancy house? Why are two ancient rocks covered with Native American writing found within days of each other lying around town? As the coincidences keep piling up Penny and her friend Louise prowl around in search of answers. Only time can tell the mystery of The Wishing Well.

 

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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34689

The Secret Pact by Mildred A. Wirt (1941)

There is a weird hypocrisy with detective novels. They are frequently dangerous and sometimes morbid yet that danger doesn’t seem to ever directly affect the detective. You can read about any detective from Sherlock to Miss Marple and arrive at the same conclusion. Any danger the detective finds themself in is only temporary and merely a distraction from the overall case at hand. All readers of detective fiction know this to be true. At the same time, we read quickly through the dangerous areas as a small part of us still hopes that the main character will once again solve the case and escape unscathed. To summarize: fiction is weird.

Teenage sleuth and adventurous busybody Penny Parker gets wrapped up in another local mystery. A chance meeting at a bridge brings an unusual case to Penny’s attention. Her attempts to publish an account of the mystery are foiled by the school paper so she decides to start a citywide paper with only a few friends for help. Skeptical readers find the story fantastic and assume that it has been exaggerated to sell more newspapers until she receives a threatening note. How will she run a newspaper, go to school and solve the mystery of The Secret Pact?

 

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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34682

Clue of the Silken Ladder by Mildred A. Wirt (1941)

Every time I read another book in this series I envy Penny’s courage and quick thinking more and more. If only I had those qualities as a teenager… oh well! I was surprised to find that I had some previous experience with this mystery. The discussion of fake mediums and spiritualists is a topic I’ve explored in my own plodding way. Usually the discussion of spiritualism glosses over the methods and focuses on those being duped. People who believe in the frauds are frequently described as stupid in a very demeaning way. That’s not quite fair. This novel accurately describes both the mechanics that manifest “spirit phenomena” and the psychology that makes an individual susceptible to these scams. To me the psychology is most fascinating. Belief usually manifests not from stupidity but from desperation. Those most likely to visit mediums are people who have recently experienced death in the family. Factoring in their emotionally difficult state, the closure temptingly offered by mediums can be hard to turn down. Curious readers will find many old and dusty volumes happily expose the methods used by fake mediums at the time this book was published.

Mrs. Weems, the Parker’s housekeeper, receives happy news in the mail. A distant cousin has died leaving her a fortune of $6,000. Dreams of a vacation to the Grand Canyon seem finally realized. On the other hand, a medium performing a seance at friends house informs Mrs. Weems that her cousin would rather she invest in safe securities than go traveling out west. Mrs. Weems finds herself caught between the Parkers and the medium. Should she believe the medium who knew so many things about her cousin or instead believe the skeptical Parker family? Penny is suspicious of the medium and decides to investigate. The whole case might rest on the Clue of the Silken Ladder.

 

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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34591

Strange Case of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

I don’t know why I’m surprised when I love a classic. I should probably expect it. This small book was big time resulting in the phrase-“jekell and hyde” meaning a person with varying moral character. The moral separation of self is a concept I don’t believe in personally. The good, the bad and the ugly must be accepted as parts of yourself. Maybe that is an excuse I use after some new inexplicable evil committed at my hands. All in all I find it puzzling people can define themselves according to their best qualities instead of a smattering of good and evil. That would seem the difference between painting entirely with one color and using the entire color palette.

In this book, you meet the friends and acquaintances of one Dr. Henry Jekell who has been acting strangely of late. He has been keeping dangerous friends and staying out at odd hours. What could compel him to change his habits in this way? Two of Dr. Jekell’s oldest friends find themselves wrapped up in this dark mystery. Ponder the ways of good and evil by reading the Strange Case of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde.

 

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free ebook: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/43

 

The Clock Strikes Thirteen by Mildred A. Wirt (1942)

Penny Parker and her friends are fun to be around. She gets into trouble, trouble and more trouble. Reading about quick witted teenage sleuths is always a level of wish fulfillment for me. I wanted for a few years to be a similar adventurous detective and fantasized constantly about my exploits. This series scratches that itch perfectly.

This time we find Penny tugged into a complex case by the most innocent of means. Driving home at midnight she hears the clock chime thirteen times. Amused by the oddity Penny asks her father if he’s heard the odd number. Instead of confirmation, he laughs at the silly pronouncement. Penny is adamant and goes out of her way to prove her dad wrong. In the process, the Parker family bumps into a criminal ring and searches for answers. Eat some melon and listen until The Clock Strikes Thirteen.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34403

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Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt (1940)

Sometimes books feel new and exciting. This book instead felt familiar and homely like drinking hot cocoa on a winter day under a warm blanket. I’m reminded of walking the two blocks from elementary school to the public library. Ignoring the new books and magazines, I would walk to a bookshelf filled completely with Hardy Boys mysteries. Burrowing two or three every visit I managed to read more than fifty different blue bound adventures over the course of my childhood. This story felt familiar because it features fearless teenage sleuth and is written in the vein of the Nancy Drew Mysteries. In fact, Mildred A. Wirt was the original ghost writer of the Nancy Drew series back in the thirties. On a sick day spent in bed, this was a warm reminder of days gone by.

Penny Parker was hoping to travel to Pine Top for a fun family skiing vacation. Those plans go up in smoke when her father’s newspaper gets sued for libel. Instead Penny flies up to Pine Top by herself and learns that her friends lodge is being pushed out of business by the new hotel in town. The ski vacation becomes more interesting when she learns that there may be a connection between the hotel and the man who sued her father’s newspaper. The clues to the mystery will be found Behind the Green Door.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34592

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The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe (1841)

After much unreasonable waiting, I’ve finally absorbed one of the first modern detective stories. The murderous adventure and analytical characters hold up quite well through all these years. What a different place the world was in 1841? How Poe came up with this murder is beyond me? The ending still comes out of left field. If you enjoyed this story, take a look inside The Confessions of Arsene Lupin for a fitting tribute.

C. Auguste Dupin is a man possessing great analytical skill. Through small clues and conjecture he can almost read minds. In the time honored tradition you follow this quick thinking french man as he attempts to solve The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

 

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The Camera Fiend by E.W. Hornung (1911)

We’ve all seen things out of the corners of our eyes that required a double take. Is a person standing in the moonlit hall? No, that’s just the coat rack with my leather jacket hanging at a confusing angle. Is that leaf floating in mid air? No, only a leaf caught in a spider web. This book is a treat that first looks average and tastes completely different once you bite into it. I’m reminded of painters who aggressively slosh paint on canvas in a haphazard manner creating what appears to be abstract art. After a few minutes, the artist flips the canvas around to reveal some famous face. A cute little trick that makes the whole story worthwhile.

You follow the sickly Pocket Upton on a regular jaunt down to London to see the asthma specialist. After the doctor lectures him against him smoking, he is given two bottles of medicine in exchange for the special asthma cigarettes Pocket uses daily. Pocket walks from the doctor’s office knowing that he has the choice of two places to stay the night. Each rejects him meanly leaving a 16 year old asthmatic boy alone without a bed in the heart of London. Follow Pocket as he bumbles in and out of trouble in The Camera Fiend.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/30096

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