When a Man Marries Is Madcap Mystery

Needles and pins
Needles and pins,
When a man marries
His trouble begins.

Forget suspense and horror.

In When a Man Marries, novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart ladles out a rollicking mix of suspense and humor.

To cheer up Jimmy Wilson, who’s been divorced by his wife, Bella, Kit McNair arranges an impromptu dinner at Jim’s house. Jim learns his Aunt Selina is also coming that evening, expecting to meet Bella. Since Aunt Selina, who is Jim’s meal ticket, abhors divorce, his friends decide Kit should pretend to be Jim’s wife for the evening.

While Kit is impersonating Bella, Bella sneaks into the house to hire away the butler. The butler, however, has been hospitalized with smallpox. The other servants have fled, and the house is quarantined.

The dinner guests are rich socialites, incapable of making toast. Fortunately, a policeman discovered asleep in the cellar is willing to cook and do dishes, and a engineer brought along as a potential husband for Kit can do nearly everything else.

While the house is quarantined and guarded by police, Anne Brown’s pearl collar, Bella’s diamond bracelet, and Aunt Selina’s cash and jewelry are stolen. The thief has to be someone in the house, but who?

And who kissed Kit on the dark stairway?

Get the answers and several good laughs in When a Man Marries.

When a Man Marries
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
1910 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg eBook #1671

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Molly Make-Believe Sunk by Realism

Molly Make-Believe has a clever plot device and two witty lead characters that a better writer than Eleanor Hallowell Abbott might have developed into a marvelous novel instead of a merely pleasant diversion.

fountain pen and ink
Cornelia won’t pick up a pen to write to Carl

Carl Stanton, 32, a rubber broker suffering from rheumatism, is confined to his bed one Boston winter. His finacee, Cornelia, “big and bland and blonde and beautiful,” has gone to Florida with her mother.

Carl realizes Cornelia is stingy with affection when she refuses to write to him even weekly when she’s away.

Cornelia gives Carl an ad for The Serial-Letter Company, which advertises “Real Letters for Imaginary Persons.” Carl orders a six-week ‘edition de luxe’ subscription to love-letter serials, which he plans to paste into a scrap book to give Cornelia as a textbook for the “newly engaged girl.”

When the handwritten, clever, and utterly charming letters begin arriving from “Molly Make-Believe,” accompanied by appropriate gifts, Carl is entranced.

Up to that point, the novel is wonderful.

When Carl decides to find Molly, things fall apart.

The plot calls for detective work, and all Carl can do from his bed is hire a detective.

That’s not romantic enough for a romance novel, not even one whose hero is a rubber broker with rheumatism.

Molly Make-Believe
Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
Illus. Walter Tittle
1910 bestseller #9;  1911 bestseller #8
208 pages
Project Gutenberg ebook #18665

Photo Credit: “write if you want 2” by danjaeger

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Window at the White Cat Is a Classic Mystery

revolver pointed at viewer

When Margery Fleming walks into his law office seeking help finding her father, Jack Knox falls in love.

Mr. Fleming is a successful—and reputedly criminal—state treasurer with equally criminal colleagues and opponents.

Margery goes to stay with her elderly aunts. Almost immediately, one aunt reports her pearls stolen. Then Miss Jane, the other aunt, disappears from her bedroom. Next Harry Waldron, Fleming’s aid and Margery’s finacé, has cash and sensatitve documents stolen from the aunt’s home.

Jack’s investigation finds Fleming hiding at the White Cat, a private club where politicians and their cronies hang out.

Jack gets inside the White Cat in time to discover Fleming’s body.

With his detective is scared off, Jack appeals to a reporter for help. Together they work at solving the mysteries of who murdered Fleming, who stole the pearls, and what happened to Miss Jane.

Jack has enough self-deprecating humor to make him an appealing narrator. Margery is less convincing as the female lead.

Mary Roberts Rinehart shortchanges some other characters who should have had more rounded roles. Fortunately, her skill at plotting and pacing the mystery render its deficiencies almost unnoticeable.

The Window at the White Cat
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
Triangle Books Edition, 1940
1910 bestseller # 8
Project Gutenberg EBook #34020

 Photo credit:  Revolver by blary54


© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Lord Loveland Discovers More Than Just America

If the 13th Marquis of Loveland “had been a plain or stupid boy he might have grown up to be an estimable young man.” Neither plain or stupid, he becomes both broke and insufferable.

He’s forced to go to America in search of a rich wife.

Loveland accepts free passage on the Mauritania in place of a man who cannot travel for health reasons and authorizes his former valet to sell his ticket for the Baltic. On board ship, Loveland attracts attention for his looks, hauteur, and all-too-obvious fortune-hunting.

Loveland would willingly wed Miss Lesley Dearmer, an American author whose looks and personality intrigue him, but the grapevine says she has no money.

Through accidents compounded by his insolence, Loveland finds himself in New York broke, friendless, without even a change of clothes, and charged with impersonating Lord Loveland.

A series of madcap misadventures, teaches Loveland  the world does not revolve around him.

Lord Loveland Discovers America is by the husband and wife team of Charles Norris Williamson and Alice Muriel Livingston. They leave little doubt how the romance will end, but they keep readers hooked to the last chapter to learn what led to the accusation that Loveland was an imposter.

Despite a predictable plot and hackneyed characterization, Lord Loveland is irresistable.

Lord Loveland Discovers America
By C. N. Williamson and A. M. Williamson
Illustratrations by George Brehm
Project Gutenberg EBook #39984
1910 bestseller #7

Simon the Jester Finds Life Funny, Fulfilling

eu-moi-rous.  you MOI rus.  adj.  happy because of being innocent and good 

Simon the Jester is an offbeat tale about a British M.P. with a highly developed sense of the absurd and the prospect of having no more than six months to live.

When Simon de Gex, 37, gets his death sentence, he decides it offers the ideal opportunity to become eumoiros.  (The word tickles Simon; he uses it every time he gets a chance), since he won’t be around “when the boomerang of his beneficence comes back to hit him on the head.”

He breaks his engagement to Eleanor Faversham, resigns his seat in Parliament, and throws his support to Dale Kynnersley to assume the seat. He also throws his support to Maisie Ellerton to become Dale’s wife.

Dale, however, won’t give up Lola Brandt, a ex-circus performer, even to win an election.

Simon meets the luscious Lola, whose intuition and kindness are as captivating as her looks. She tells Simon of her unhappy marriage; he reminds her she’s still married.

From that set-up William J. Locke weaves a zany story that affords Simon’s humor plenty of exercise.

Though the story is told primarily for laughs, Locke doesn’t let anyone forget that laughing at situations may make them more bearable, but doesn’t actually change the situation.

If you liked Kitty Foyle, Daddy Long-Legs, or The Melting of Molly, you’ll enjoy Simon the Jester.

Simon the Jester
by William J. Locke
1910 bestseller #6
Project Gutenberg EBook #3828 

The Kingdom of Slender Swords Supersizes Suspense

cover of The Kingdom of Slender Swords

In a classic romance opening, Barbara Fairfax gets her first glimpse of Japan from the deck of an ocean liner. Japan is the land where here parents met, her father died, and where she hopes to escape from highly eligible suitor whom she doesn’t love.

As a house guest of the American ambassador’s daughter, Barbara has a front row seat to history in the making. She, however, is more interested in embassy staffer Duke Daunt than in political jockeying between superpowers.

Barbara Fairfax
Barbara Fairfax

Hallie Erminie Rives maintains a classic romance storyline for the remainder of The Kingdom of Slender Swords, but she embeds it within a thriller. Rives rounds out the novel with a bit of history, a chunk of local culture, and a sprinkle of religion.

Sounds like a recipe for literary hash, doesn’t it?

But Rives is no ordinary writer.

Her plotting is superb, her characters believable, her descriptions breathtaking.

Her predictions aren’t bad for 1910 either.

Rives anticipates Japan “will make some other nations get a move on” within the next half century. The novel’s bad guy, “the expert,” says it’s easier to dominate the the world by manipulating international financial markets than with weapons, though he has invented the ultimate weapon by harnessing atomic energy.

If that’s an ordinary romance novel, I’ll eat my Ramen Noodles.

The Kingdom of Slender Swords
by Hallie Erminie Rives 
Illus. A. B. Wenzell
1910 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook #42427

This review has been edited to correct the pronouns referring to the author from he/him to she/her.  Hallie Erminie Rives was also Mrs. Post Wheeler, wife of an American diplomat whose foreign service took the couple to posts in Europe, Asia and South America.

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Max Unbelievable in Trousers or Skirt


Paris rooftops
Paris Rooftops

In a first class compartment of a night train into Paris, a standoffish youth in common Russian clothes attracts attention. The following day, one of the passengers, Ned Blake, runs into the lad again. Thinking the lad too inexperienced to be left on his own, Ned offers to show him Paris.

Ned and Max become chums, despite the difference in their ages and outlooks. Intelligent readers realize almost immediately that Max  is really the run-away Russian Princess Davorska, though Ned never has a clue.

Max says he has come to Paris seeking fame as an artist. Ned warns, “Failure may be cruel, but success is crueller still.”

Is Ned right? Will fame be cruel to Max?

Readers never find out.

Katherine Cecil Thurston takes the novel in a quite different direction.

Instead of presenting Max as ambitious artist, she presents Max as an emotionally scared victim of an abusive husband, posing as a male to avoid a physical relationship with a man.

But Thurston also has Max willingly strolling arm in arm with Ned, spending hours with him. That’s not the behavior of a man-hater. Nor is Ned’s failure to recognize Max is a female the behavior of the observant man Thurston made him out to be in the opening chapter.

In the end Max turns out to unsatisfactory as a love story and equally unsatisfactory as feminist propaganda.

By Katherine Cecil Thurston
Illustrated by Frank Craig
Harper & Brothers, 1910
1910 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg EBook #14054
my grade: C

Photo credit: Paris Rooftops by linder6580

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Wild Olive Pleasant, Forgettable Reading

Basil King’s The Wild Olive is the story of the attempts by two outcasts — “wild olives” — to rejoin the society that rejected them for offenses they did not commit.

Condemned for murder, Norrie Ford flees into the Adirondacks. The illegitimate daughter of a genuine murder helps him escape to Ireland via Canada using the name Herbert Strange.

The "wild Olive" warns Ford of danger of recapture

From Ireland, Ford goes to Buenos Aires, where he finds work with the firm of Stephens and Jarrott. Seeing his hard work and intelligence, Mr. Jarrott mentors Ford. Within three years Ford is in management.

Jarrott would like to see Ford marry his ward, Evie Colfax, a New York socialite. Ford would like to marry Evie to please Jarrott, but he doesn’t want to marry anyone under a false name or false pretenses.

He’d rather go to jail.

Evie is less noble, “I can’t be engaged to people just because they’re innocent,” she says. “It isn’t right to expect it of me.”

Fortunately for Ford, Evie’s childhood friend, Miriam Strange, is none other than his Adirondacks accomplice who gave Ford his life and her family name.

King’s eye for detail obscures the predictability of the story line and characters, but cannot make the novel memorable. The Wild Olive will entertain you, but won’t enlarge your understanding of people or events.

The Wild Olive
by Basil King
Illustrated by Lucius Hitchcock
Grosset & Dunlap, 1910
1910 bestseller # 3
Project Gutenberg EBook #13212

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Modern Chronicle Is No Vanity Fair

Winston Churchill’s A Modern Chronicle starts off well, with Tom and Mary Leffingwell assuming charge of his late brother’s infant daughter along with the brother’s debts.

From a beautiful baby, Honora grows into a beautiful woman, steeped in romance and convinced her late father was rich, respected, and distinguished. Readers are ready to see Honora learn the truth about her parents, grow up, and recognize that nice, dull, Peter Erwin is the man of her dreams.

By the end of volume 1, however, Churchill forgets the background he so carefully established.

In the turning of a page, Honora acquires Amelia Sedley’s moral code and Becky Sharp’s ambition. A Modern Chronicle goes to ruin faster than Becky Sharp did.

The next seven volumes of A Modern Chronicle show Honora using her looks and charm to climb the social ladder. By 30 she’s been married, divorced, remarried, and widowed. Through it all she’s rarely missed church and never been seen with uncoiffed hair.

The novel has occasional scenes that prove Churchill has a keen eye for telling detail and true scene-painting skill.

Too bad he didn’t deploy them in support of a better story.

A Modern Chronicle
Winston Churchill
1910 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg EBook #5382

Sunny Summer Reads from 1910

For the next few weeks until Labor Day marks the official end of America’s summer, I’m going to go back to pick up some bestsellers from 1910 that I hadn’t located when their turn came in my normal schedule. Most of them are frivolous and forgettable, and a couple are quite funny. I’ve included links to free, downloadable versions from Project Gutenberg so you can fill up your e-reader, find a comfy spot in the shade, and settle down to read on a hot August afternoon.

Here is the entire 1910 list, with the dates of the review are scheduled to be published.  The Rosary is the only novel on the list I previously reviewed here.

  1. The Rosary  by Florence Barclay
  2. A Modern Chronicle by Winston Churchill [Aug.7]
  3. The Wild Olive by Anonymous (Basil King) [Aug.11]
  4. Max by Katherine Cecil Thurston[Aug.14]
  5. The Kingdom of Slender Swords by Hallie Erminie Rives [Aug.18]
  6. Simon the Jester by William J. Locke [Aug21]
  7. Lord Loveland Discovers America by C.N. Williamson & A.M Williamson [Aug.25]
  8. The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart [Aug.28]
  9. Mary Make-Believe by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott [Sept. 1]
  10. When a Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart [Sept.4]

Did you notice Mary Roberts Rinehart had two bestsellers on the list. How often does that happen?

Project Gutenberg