Sunday, March 3, 2013

LEFT INSIDE: Assurance Guaranteed from Prudential (circa 1936)

I was going to bend the rules this week for "Left Inside" and include something Joe and I found in a parking lot while on our weekend vacation in San Jose/Santa Cruz and the surrounding redwood forest state parks.  But when I came home and discovered I had seven packages of books waiting for me to be opened that plan changed.

In the very last package was a beautiful copy of a very scarce book -- The Mystery at Stowe by Vernon Loder -- soon to be reviewed here. Check out the condition of the dust wrapper seen at right. It's nearly flawless! Only one crease on the spine and tiny chip on the rear panel (not pictured). When I flipped through the stunningly white unstained pages I found the assurance offer card -- or insurance as we call it in North America -- pictured below. One of the few times I've found something inside a book I purchased via the internet. And so direct from a Toronto bookseller and Vernon Loder's debut mystery novel comes today's legitimate "Left Inside" object.

That's only nine pennies a day, by the way. I don't think they use pennies as a form of currency in the U.K. anymore. I don't even know why d. is used as an abbreviation for pennies. But my curiosity had to be satisfied so I went a-Googling. Here is the arcane reason taken from a website on the history of British currency.
A penny was expressed as the letter 'd' - an abbreviation for denarius which was a silver Roman coin.
Who knew? Probably some astute numismatist.

It appears the previous owner may have taken advantage of the offer since the attached coupon is no longer attached and the perforated edge (not easily seen in the photo) proves the coupon was torn off.

When I flipped over the card I learned that advertisement was intended as a bookmark!  Also, the owner of this book -- or the owner of the card -- had a shared interest of mine. He or she was very interested in old crime fiction. The list revealed titles that were originally published long before 1936 when this reprint of Loder's book was reissued. With a little bit of verifying the titles, authors and dates of publication I learned something about the reading tastes of the previous owner.

I am sure that The Secret is not that new age rip-off of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking that was all the rage about three or four years ago thanks mostly due to Oprah Winfrey's cultish book club. Instead, it is most likely a thriller by E. Phillips Oppenheim published in 1907 (known as The Great Secret in the US) but still available in reprint editions in the 1930s. The Secret Cargo (1913) is by the ridiculously prolific and inexplicably popular J. S. Fletcher, a writer whose work I find exceptionally formulaic and mediocre. The last title, after looking up possibilities in Hubin, turns out to be yet another Oppenheim book called The World's Great Snare (1896).

As for that third title: Sweet Life is not a crime novel nor thriller. The title does not appear in my most recent update of Hubin's Crime Fiction: A Comprehensive Bibliography.  I did however find Sweet Poison, Sweet Death, Sweet and Low, and of course Sweet Revenge, multiple times among many other sweet and deadly titles. Turns out the only book published between 1900 and 1936 with that title is by Kathlyn Rhodes. It was her debut novel according to some publicity by her publisher Hutchinson & Company:
Vivid descriptions of the entrancing scenery of the East, incident crowding upon incident, romantic situations, exciting intrigues, unexpected dénouements hold and absorb the interest from start to finish.

is the assured success of 1918,
as GERTRUDE PAGE was the success of 1916

Fired with enthusiasm to win fame as a novelist, Kathlyn Rhodes began her career before her school days were ended. Sweet Life followed shortly afterwards; and the appreciation which this won encouraged the authoress to follow quickly with other stories. Choice of subject she holds to be of primary importance. With the war depressing us all around, she believes that many readers prefer stories that permit them for the time to forget it; and this she achieves by her delightful flights of fancy through the realms of many lands.
Interestingly, Rhodes is listed in Hubin as having written two crime novels in the 1930s and four other books with marginal crime content. I think, however, based on the title and the publicity above that Sweet Life is the only romance "Previous Owner" was looking forward to reading.


  1. How very cool, John. And what great fun that this little "assurance" bookmark led you on a detective mission of your own to discover what books "Previous Owner" might have been looking forward to reading.

    Overall, I agree with you on Fletcher--although I did enjoy The Middle Temple Murder when I read it back in the mists of time (20 years ago!). The Fletcher books that I've managed to find since then have been great disappointments.

  2. What a nice weekend vacation. We have friends in San Jose and have visited the area, but it has been many years since I have seen the redwoods (there).

    That book is gorgeous and what a find within. I look forward to your review.

  3. John: I am amazed at what you find in and around books. I do not think I have ever bought a used book with anything interesting in it. I think Western Canadian booksellers strip out anything left in books.

  4. I have a hunch you have not yet struck the truth about The Sweet Life. It could very well be a non-fiction book; a biography or autobiography.

    1. Hey! Don't rain on my parade, Rick. And here I thought I was such a literary super sleuth. You may very well be right about my rigid categorization of Sweet Life as a work of fiction. Still, it was fun to learn about Ms. Rhodes, surely a forgotten writer these days. I hope she's smiling down on me somewhere from the great beyond and thanking me for a 21st century, short burst revival of her short-lived fame.