Cynthia Wakeham’s Money by Anna Katharine Green (1892)

Money can have a corrupting influence. The news is littered with stories showing worst sides of greed and jealousy. People spend many hours trying to take money from their friends and neighbors without providing an equivalent service or product. I am reminded of an idea put forth by the late great showman P. T. Barnum. He said that the hardest thing to do in life is to make money dishonestly. Our jails are filled with people who tried and failed to steal and fraud their way to wealth. It is always hard to conceal the motive no matter how beautifully the crime is carried out. The first suspect whenever a rich person dies is the relative that inherits the fortune. Cynthia Wakeham is not killed in this book but there is a scramble for her fortune after she passes. Does greed change people or expose the scoundrel inside each us?

Frank Etheridge, a young lawyer from New York City, is called to a nearby country town to write up an elderly lady’s will. Arriving late at a rundown old house, he becomes worried that this will be a fools errand. Knocking at the front door he is let in by a shifty old man and Etheridge’s worry reaches another level. Hiram Huckins leads him up a rickety staircase past ratty rooms with paint peeling from the walls to the sick bed of Cynthia Wakeham, his sister. Etheridge slowly dictates a will for Ms. Wakeham who is so sick she can no longer speak. Upon completing the will, gathering two witnesses, and Ms. Wakeham finally signing it, Huckins snatches the will gleefully from Etheridge with the ink still wet and runs downstairs. Etheridge is concerned until he hears a weak voice at his ear. Ms. Wakeham desires another will drawn up quickly leaving her property and fortune to her estranged sister instead of her lousy brother, Huckins. When Ms. Wakeham dies moments after the second will is completed, Etheridge is sent to search for the estranged sister and her children. Open the clock and dig up the floorboards in the search for Cynthia Wakeham’s Money.

 

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/cynthia-wakehams-money-by-anna-katharine-green/

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36758

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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.

 

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

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.

 

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/devlin-the-barber-by-b-l-farjeon/

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/53044

The Sorceress of the Strand by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace (1902)

The fun one has trailing the greatest crime solvers through the pages of countless detective novels is nothing compared to following a bold, fearless super villain. Someone who captures the imagination with simple motives of greed and the lack of scruples needed to obtain that wealth no matter the cost. Human happiness is unimportant. Human life is merely a means to an end. Wether it be a precious stone, an antique or astounding piles of cash the entrancing villain holds nothing back. Each time they strike for the heart. This direct attitude towards achieving sinister goals is attractive but frequently leads to criminals capture in the end.

Madam Sara is an unusual woman. Though she looks no older than 25 she is rumored to have been a bridesmaid at a wedding over 30 years ago. Though she appears beautiful and stylish her hands are tied up in unscrupulous deals and illegal trades. She may be the greatest criminal mind of her generation. The only things stopping her are the minds of two men. One a wise medical examiner who works frequently to untie the thorniest criminal problems in England. The other a man of high standing with a business research agency in London. He can learn about most peoples affairs instantly but Madam Sara is a more difficult and careful opponent. You will believe in magic after meeting The Sorceress of the Strand.

 

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/the-sorceress-of-the-strand-by-l-t-meade-and-robert-eustace/

 

Murder Takes the Veil by Margaret Ann Hubbard (1950)

Books don’t usually scare me because I frequently avoid books that have the express intent of instilling fear upon their readers. The books that I’m drawn to have drama of course but rarely constant lurking mortal danger. My favorite types of novels are either detective or humor fiction so creeping fear based stories rarely fall in my lap. This book definitely scared me. Listening to this before bed alone in a dark house looking out the window into the moonlight is better than coffee to keep yourself awake and alert. I wonder why I didn’t struggle falling asleep that night. Oh well.

Trillium Pierce is in for a stressful few weeks. At first she is nervous because she asked her mom for permission to join the convent. She has gone to school at a convent for the past seven years and is about to graduate as a high school senior.  The peace and tranquility of this lifestyle appeals to her long term. The letter she receives has a very different message. Her mother has found a lead, a witness, that may help catch the murderer of Trillium’s father. Trillium becomes paranoid immediately and second guesses her decision to join the convent. In this flustered state she is tasked to deliver a letter to one of the three new male teachers, the three geniuses. Each one has a specialty: painting, athletics and writing. On entering their joint accommodations she sees a small broken statue and is struck with overwhelming dread. That statue was taken from her house by her father’s murderer seven years ago. He is now at her college and he may be looking to finish what he started. Dress up like a nun and listen for the church bells while reading Murder Takes the Veil.

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/murder-takes-the-veil-by-margaret-ann-hubbard/

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.

 

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/cecilia-de-noel-by-mary-elizabeth-hawker/

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15258/15258-h/15258-h.htm

The Woman of Mystery by Maurice Leblanc (1916)

One of the hardest feats that an author can accomplish is not allowing the reader to skip ahead to the end. I don’t mean physically; the annoyed reader can flip to the final chapter at any point. There is no reader comprehension test that unlocks each successive chapter. No, the author must simultaneously convey that the end is worth waiting for while not ruining it.  The end must be the only possible option, an inevitable conclusion, that the reader could never have dreamed up independently. That is a large weight for mere words to bear. Sometimes the plot is so original that the ending feels flippant and irrelevant. Other times the plot is engaging but the ending becomes so fixed and clear ahead of time that the reader is forced to leave early from boredom. Maurice “Mo’ Mystery” Leblanc has the knitters gift. The ability to dangle many different yarns in front of the audience before at the very last moment crafting them into a nice fashionable story.

Paul Delrose embarks on a WWI spy thriller like no other. The entire time you keep asking: how can all these characters be in two places at the same time? His journey begins with his marriage to Elisabeth as rumors of a French-German war start brewing. The happy couple is innocently decides to marry now. They wonder who would want war in these happy times. The pairs positive outlook, tinted by the recent marriage, blinds them to war until it has snuck up behind and jumped them. A depressed Paul heads off to the front lines to fight for France with lingering concerns about his country and his recent marriage corrupting his thoughts. Meanwhile, a confused Elisabeth stays in her families large castle near the French-German border against Paul’s wishes to clear the name of her mother. What has her mother, who died when she was young, been accused of? Paul recognized her in a family portrait and is convinced that she is the same woman who murdered his father. Brush up on your French and search for The Woman of Mystery.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34931

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/the-woman-of-mystery-by-maurice-leblanc/