The Shadow of the Rope by E.W. Hornung (1906)

“I’ll have what he’s having,” shouts a boisterous, heavyset man with a jolly face wearing an old fashioned three piece at the Mystery Authors Club. The declaration brings the eyes of the room towards a small table with short bespectacled man hunched alone over a small table alternatively wolfing down food and scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad. Three empty dishes lie on the other side of the table surrounded by five yellow crumpled pieces of paper. Unfazed or unaware of the attention the author continues his crude dinner writing ritual. End scene. I’m one of those people who always assumes everyone in a niche field knows everyone else. In the case of mystery authors I imagine a sort of old fashioned English club that every great mystery author frequents regularly. The man at the table in this case is E.W. Hornung rushing towards the deadline of his new mystery novel.

Rachel Minchin was born to a poor family in Australia and she worked humble jobs later gaining berth to England as a Lady’s companion. On the voyage, she and Mr. Minchin, a forty year old mining expert, fall in love and quickly get married. The new marriage bliss doesn’t last as Rachel realizes that her husband is a much different in London than on a boat. Mr. Minchin is murdered the night before Rachel planned upon leaving him. The police and the public convict Rachel immediately in the court of public opinion. After a weeklong trial, Rachel is declared not guilty to the disgust of the attentive public. Alone at night without means or wiles to procure bread and bed Rachel is helped by a stranger who’d watched the trial. The next day, the rich stranger J.B. Steele proposes a marriage of convenience where neither must discuss their past. In desperation to shed public scrutiny and the Minchin name Rachel accepts and moves to Steele’s English country house. The stereotype of the English country village with its gossiping locals and scrutiny of outsiders make the pairs secrets ever more fragile. Rachel is a sympathetic bewildered character and J.B. Steele is a gruff man full of mystery. The question of who really murdered her late husband permeates the tale. Not sliding cleanly into popular whodunnit or detective novel cliches E.W. Hornung creates a compelling mystery full of brutal dead ends, shocking revelations and believable cast of characters. Sit in the dark and read The Shadow of the Rope.


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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton (1908)

Have you ever casually stepped in a puddle that ended up much deeper than first assumed? This book is a puddle. You may find depth but I only saw glimpses. Instead I thought that this novel had a consistent absurd style of humor that paced the whole story wonderfully. Each chapter left me thinking that this couldn’t go any further. The joke was over yet the author kept pulling at it incessantly like a kitten with a ball of yarn. At times I imagine jumping inside a book to see how realistic the book feels around me. This book hangs realism in the first chapter and spends the next fourteen chapters dragging the body around and taking pictures with it. To some this would be too far. Instead I found it refreshing.

Gabriel Syme is a policeman disguised as a poet. This is an easy disguise; he used to be a poet. His goal is to disrupt the plans of the a secret international anarchist organization. Through ruse, subterfuge and mostly blind luck Syme finds himself inside the local underground bunker taking part in an anarchist meeting. Syme seizes his chance and tricks the local chapter to elect him as their representative. Like a line of dominos, Syme crashes from one adventure to the next in pursuit of a world without anarchy. Ride an elephant through London while reading The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.


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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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