Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Feather Cloak Murders
by Darwin and Hildegarde Teilhet
1936 Doubleday, Doran and Co.

An ancient Hawaiian ceremonial cloak, an ocean cruise, romance on the Hawaiian islands, and several bizarre murders. It's the ingredients of a good mystery, especially coming from Darwin Teilhet and wife Hildegarde, who wrote three other novels featuring the Baron von Kaz as well as various Polynesian romances, picaresque adventures, and impossible crime novels. With Feather Cloak Murders, the Teilhets don't quite pull it off.

First the good: The Feather Cloak Murders contains nice, exotic settings (aboard the ocean liner Kohala and ashore on various Hawaiian islands) about which the Teilhets are very familiar. The denouement is clever and multi-leveled.

Baron Franz Maximilian KaragĂ´z von Kaz is a unique hero. I have a tough time guessing precisely what he looks like, but I imagine a largish, well-built man with somewhat dark features, probably around 30 years old. He is likeable, but as conceited as they come. He's so quick to remind us how brave he is, that the narrator frequently refers to him as "the brave Baron von Kaz." He is pretentious, particularly with women. He is infatuated with Caryl Miquet (although he would say that he's merely destined to be her valiant protector), and is convinced she has mutual affections toward him despite the annoyance and irritation she shows. (In the end, the romance does turn in the Baron's favor). The Baron is an Austrian noble with some gypsy blood, but has been avoiding his motherland for rather vague financial, legal, and/or political reasons. (Among other things, he is an ardent anti-fascist). In short, the Baron has the stubborness of Nero Wolfe, the stiff foreign idiosyncracies of Hercule Poirot, and the snobbish conceit of Philo Vance.

Caryl Miquet is traveling from California to Hawaii along with her cousins Mary and young Billy McKay and three men. The Baron is aboard as well, serving as bodyguard to Mr. Hiroshita who is bringing (or so he says) a valuable jade to Hawaii. Toward the end of the voyage, the Baron stumbles upon the body of Kohler, a man who has been dogging Hiroshita. Kohler was killed by a dart shot from an airgun. Shortly after landing in Honolulu, Mr. Hiroshita is similarly killed by the same weapon.

Throughout the convoluted plot, after his initial client is killed, the Baron is hired by Japanese gangsters to recover a 57 carat Aztec diamond, and then by Miss Miquet to discover who has been going through her mail. Eventually we learn that the real plot is to find a map, hidden inside a soapstone plaque, which reveals the location of Prince Puakini's tomb (deep within volcanic caves) and recover the priceless feather cloak.

While reading The Feather Cloak Murders was not unpleasant, I was forced to page back and forth numerous times to keep track of what was going on, and in the end I was left wondering about plot elements that seem to have been forgotten by the author.

The Feather Cloak Murders did not engage me as well as Teilhet's previous Baron von Kaz novel, The Ticking Terror Murders. Nor, from all accounts, is it as good a novel as the subsequent Crimson Hair Murders, which I will, to be sure, be reading in the near future.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Collecting Jacques Futrelle

The notion of a writer, referred to during his life as the American Arthur Conan Doyle, who perished aboard the Titanic at the height of his career. . . well, I was intrigued.

During his short life, Futrelle produced 8 novels and 48 published short stories. He is best known for the 48 short stories and novelettes he wrote featuring Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D., LL. D., F. R. S., M. D, the brilliant logician known popularly as "The Thinking Machine."

The Thinking Machine's "Watson" was news reporter Hutchinson Hatch. The most famous "Thinking Machine" story is "The Problem of Cell 13," in which Professor Van Dusen challenges the claim that the new cells at Chisholm Prison are completely inescapable. Sadly, five years after van Dusen proves the inescapable cell to be escapable, the "unsinkable" HMS Titanic would sink, leaving May Futrelle a widow.

I found the Scholastic Books collection of Thinking Machine stories easily. The Dover collection, edited by Everett Bleiler, was equally accessible. "The Problem of Cell 13" can be found in countless anthologies. But getting my hands on original Jacques Futrelle books proved to be more of a challenge, even in this age of eBay and Internet commerce.

About a year and a half of eBay searching yielded most of the non-Thinking Machine books.

Diamond Master (1909) (left) is a crime novel involving a conspiracy to upset world commerce by producing man-made diamonds. There's nothing Jewish about the story - no Jewish crooks, diamond-merchants, or conspirators. But the Saturday Evening Post serialized the story with the cover art shown on the right.

Other non-Thinking Machine titles include The High Hand (1911) and My Lady's Garter (published posthumously in 1912). The Chase of the Golden Plate (1906) was Futrelle's first novel, and while I haven't read it yet, I've been led to understand that it contains The Thinking Machine incidentally.

Here is my real prize: a nice, pristine first edition of The Thinking Machine (1907). I particularly like the portrait of Professor van Dusen surrounded by the scribbly signature-like design. Within a year of finding The Thinking Machine, I acquired a copy of the 1917 reprint (retitled The Problem of Cell 13) as well as the small volume The Professor on the Case (the British printing of The Thinking Machine of the Case)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shelf Life - The Second Story

Here are a couple of photos of my three-tiered shelf insert. I have three of these, set into the shelves of a wide kitchen-style shelf unit.

Each step lifts the books 4 inches up from those in front of them. The side-panels I cut from a nice-quality thin plywood (I think its 1/4" or less), which serve as bookends.

The whole purpose of these, again, is to get more bang for my shelf-space - to be able to store three rows of books on a single shelf and still be able to see all the books.

What's the point of owning books if you can't see them?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Shelf Life

I thought I'd share a few photos of my library (prompted by a request from Parkersmood at LibraryThing, who wanted to see my guilt-free method of double-stacking).

Here is a section of mass-market paperbacks with a few books removed to show the shelf-insert I built that enables me to display two layers of books on a single shelf.

Next photo, from my vintage paperbacks, shows a similar shelf-insert that I covered in contact shelf-paper to protect the books from possible damage from the lumber.

I did a similar thing, a little more elaborate, when I built this three-tiered unit (front view and rear view):

Stay tuned for more. . .