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.


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Raspberry Jam by Carolyn Wells (1920)

This story brings up important questions of female independence in the 1920’s. Of course, a female author extraordinaire like Carolyn Wells would like to voice her opinion on the matter. Eunice Embury is upset at her husband because he won’t give her any pocket money. She is not altogether without purchasing power. Instead, her husband allows her to buy anything and everything on credit. For some strange reason, he won’t give her any cash. She fumes at this restriction which is the only major gripe in their marriage because she knows that there are a million small social uses for cash. The ability to tip servants, send for a cab, donate to a cause, buy small trinkets or clothing at a friend’s house, or buy a newspaper on the street all hinge on having money ready and at hand. She sees his refusal as a refusal of her independence which she holds dear. Nowadays it may seem funny for people to quarrel about money like this. Time reveals changing attitudes; it is useful to look back to see the difference.

Another genuine locked room mystery is at hand. Mr. Embury has been murdered, poisoned through his ear like in that Shakespeare classic. But the murder occurred behind a solidly locked door on the tenth floor of an apartment complex without a balcony. Only three people slept behind the locked doors: Eunice Embury, Aunt Abby, and the murdered man. Eunice Embury had a large fight with her husband over the usual disagreeable topic, pocket money. But she doesn’t necessarily seem like the murdering type and as Fleming Stone acknowledges many marriages are unhappy but relatively few lead to murder. He dismisses the possibility of Eunice being a suspect. Aunt Abby is harmless and even though the dropper full of poison was found near her bed she likely wasn’t involved at all. The vital clue to this mystery might just be red, tasty Raspberry Jam.


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Roman Collar Detective by Grace and Harold Johnson (1953)

Good priests have the tools to be excellent detectives. At least this is my first impression as I scratch my head and wrack my brains pondering the different types of crime fighting sleuths. There are the clinical and scientific, the part time sleuth with a flair for the dramatic, the eccentric the dogged and determined with their nose-to-the-ground, the good natured and absent minded, and bumbling detectives but detectives of the cloth have distinct style all their own. The only other religious detective is the always scandalous Father Brown who is an old favorite. He approaches the role of the detective with compassion while attempting to think like the criminal instead of relying on pesky clues. I sort of wish every priest was a detective. The world would be more exciting.

Just back from the Korean War, Captain Bill meets his brother, Father Tim, who is busy preparing for the Church Fair. Right now they are painting booths and hanging banners in preparation for the fundraiser. Captain Bill, tired after a days work, decides to walk home or rather limp home. His leg got shot up by a machine gun in Korea and he is recovering slowly. While hobbling past a home on the edge of town, he hears someone sneak from the shadows and feels the hot barrel of a handgun in the small of his back. Unable to confront the rogue, he is told to hold and fire another hand gun. Then, he is told to run along or he’ll get shot. The Captains impulsive nature leads him to walk away and hide in the bushes. He sees a shadow run across the porch and throw a gun through the window. Fearing that the gun with his prints was used in some crime he enters the home and wipes his fingerprints from the gun. At this moment, the homeowners enter to find a dead body in one room and the Captain with a gun in the other. Can the Captain convince the police that he has been framed? Kneel and pray for the Roman Collar Detective.


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In The Onyx Lobby by Carolyn Wells (1920)

Detectives are persistent, determined people. Or, at the very least, all successful detectives have those two qualities. I enjoy detectives novels more than most people but I don’t think I would make a good detective. I am not a persistent or determined person. Puzzles and other problems quickly becoming tiring to me. The idea of searching a room for an hour for a thread, literal or figurative, which might reveal the murderer is beyond my comprehension. In five minutes, I would be planning what I’d like to do next and within ten minutes I would have quit looking altogether. It takes a special type of person to follow clues enjoying the moment of not knowing, the frustration of being stuck, and finally feel the effort was worth it once arriving upon the only possible solution.

The main characters are Miss Prall and Mrs. Everett to feuding old ladies who have lived near each other for decades. Each finds the other untrustworthy, rude and frustrating company. However, the next generation is in love with each other. Miss Prall’s nephew, Richard Bates, and Mrs. Everett’s daughter, Dorcas, have been meeting secretly and have already discussed marriage. The only hold up is their elders feud which will not allow love to triumph over decades of bickering and ill will. Sir Herbert Binney, Richard Bate’s English uncle, approves of the match so long as Richard agrees to take over management of the family baked good business called Binney’s Buns. At two in the morning, Sir Herbert is murdered in the onyx lobby of their apartment building with no witnesses around. Richard immediately inherits his uncle’s great wealth which would normally make him a prime suspect. However a note written by Sir Herbert immediately before death reads: “women did this…” complicating the case and confusing the detectives. Bring your magnifying glass, fill your pipe and search for clues In The Onyx Lobby.


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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.


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Devlin the Barber by B. L. Farjeon (1888)

Sometimes feels completely knew and unique. Then, looking at the small details that make up the book one realizes that it is made with generic ingredients combined in a new exciting way. Somehow this book is like a perfect cheeseburger. Not too much spice, great meat to patty ratio, fresh ingredients, and great toppings. Nothing fancy and no new ingredients. Yet in combination they really shine. At first one may think that the chef has snuck something extra into the dish. A secret ingredient. Unlike my friends hummus, spoiler: the secret ingredient is peanut butter, this is exactly what it looks like. Of course, I don’t recommend listening to the perfect cheeseburger but instead recommend this amusing old book. What at first may seem like a formulaic murder mystery ends up being an introspective tale about faith, misunderstanding, ignorance, motivation, logic and greed. But its a weird one.

A middle aged man is fired from his job. The next day while eating the first late weekday breakfast of life his friend, Mr. Melladew, bursts into the room completely broken, crying and senseless. When his nerves begin to return, he recounts an awful story. While at work as a newspaper proofreader he reads that one of his daughters has been murdered last night in a public park, stabbed through the heart. Overwhelmed he has fled to this place of comfort, his friends house. Compelled by his friends grief and a reward offered by the rich uncle of the murdered woman this ordinary man sets out to disperse the shrouds of mystery. By luck he learns that to solve this mystery he must befriend a stranger. Devlin the Barber, a man with almost superhuman intelligence and ghostly calm, appears to know something about the murder. Can eccentric genius be relied upon to help catch the killer? Feel free to read a magazine before your appointment with Devlin the Barber.


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Saboteurs on the River by Mildred A. Wirt (1943)

My parents were not the most strict parents in the neighborhood. Other kids my age were more closely watched and had fewer freedoms allowed them by their creators. That doesn’t mean they would be happy to find me sneaking and skulking around local criminal organizations at odd hours of the night with only my best friend as company. Of course, this is fiction. Yet fiction begs to be compared with reality however each of us interprets it. The contrast between reality and fiction is half the fun. My parents would be overcome with fear dreading the unknown dangers lurking around their overconfident teenager. Luckily for them I was not the adventurous type. I was a plain, docile, bookish type of teenager. My favorite adventures were printed in dusty old books and tucked away in obscure library corners.

Penny Parker is alive and in trouble again. This teenage crime magnet finds herself dragging her best friend Louise Sidell into a whole mountain of trouble. While out boating in a local river Penny gets distracted by a floating message in bottle causing the boat to upset and both girls to end up in the water. Clinging to the overturned boat as it slowly drifts downstream they yell for help. When they near the next bridge, the bridge watchman helps them bring the boat ashore. As they are attempting to dry off in the cold air a motorboat speeds past and crashes into the bridge, an obvious act of sabotage. The watchman fires after the saboteur who jumped from the speedboat before the crash but the shots widely miss their target. Who masterminded the sabotage and how will Penny stop them? Put on some bug spray, sit on a log and watch for the Saboteurs on the River.


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