As an assiduous reader of personal advertisements -- and if you won't admit to doing the same, I think you'll agree they are important plot points in a number of detective novels -- I warmed instantly to Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, nicknamed Average Jones for obvious reasons.
A highly intelligent, very rich, and terribly bored young man, as the first yarn opens he is wondering what to do with himself. His friend Mr Waldemar, owner of The Universal, an important NYC paper, suggests Jones set up as a kind of one man consumer protection wallah, giving advice, as Jones' business card will later declare, "upon all matters connected with Advertising". As a bonus, Jones will pass on discoveries about various swindles perpetrated through ads to Waldemar, thus keeping the paper's lengthy advertising columns "clean".
Jones gives it a whirl and soon becomes engrossed in the work to the extent of setting up an agency to handle the more humdrum requests for advice while he looks into ads that grab his attention, particularly those hinting at criminal activity. Average Jones relates the cases he investigates.
It's difficult to review short stories without giving too much away, but I'll take a stab.
THE B-FLAT TROMBONE is a locked room mystery. By what method was mayoral candidate William Linder blown up in a locked room on the third floor of his mansion on Kennard Street in Brooklyn?
After three unsuccessful attempts on his life, Malcolm Dorr keeps two guard dogs. Both are killed yet neither were shot or poisoned. Then there is a rash of canine deaths in Bridgeport, CT. Is there a connection between them and the mysterious RED DOT?
Where is young rakehell Roderick Hoff? His father, who made millions selling quack medicine, engages Jones to find him. Jones follows an OPEN TRAIL to find the lad and outfoxes Hoff's swindling father when he tries to wiggle out of paying the reward money.
MERCY SIGN is rooted in a real historical tragedy and is much darker than the first three stories. Jones and his friend Robert Bertram look into a strange case involving a missing academic assistant, a wrecked houseboat, and a dead foreign dignitary.
The jewels are called BLUE FIRES and form a beautiful necklace, a gift from a Mr Kirby to his fiancee Edna Hale. Their disappearance means their wedding is postponed -- yet they were neither stole nor returned. What do a torn curtain and broken-off bed knob have to do with the matter?
Anonymous letters of a particularly nasty sort -- being attempts to persuade their recipient to commit suicide or commit himself to an asylum -- are written out in PIN-PRICKS on junk advertising mail sent to William Robinson. What is the purpose of these communications and who is responsible?
Bailey, the 14 year old son of rural minister Revd Peter Prentice, is missing after a meteor lands on a New England barn, setting it ablaze. Then an ad appears revealing he is alive but not where, and a certain bit of BIG PRINT aids Jones in tracing the lost boy.
Enderby Livius is THE MAN WHO SPOKE LATIN, claiming he has been transported from Roman times to the present day and cannot speak English. He is up to no good in bibliophile Colonel Ridgway Graeme's chaotic library, and to find out what Livius is at Jones poses as a mute classical scholar.
THE ONE BEST BET begins with a man committing suicide because he arrives at Waldemar's newspaper too late to amend his personal ad, having had second thoughts about what he wrote -- as well he might since the ad reveals a plot to murder the governor. Can Jones prevent the crime?
THE MILLION-DOLLAR DOG involves one of those odd wills so beloved by the rich in detective fiction. In this instance, Judge Hawley Ackroyd's advertisement seeking 10,000 black beetles puts Jones on the trail of an attempt to gain a fortune by killing the titular dog and concealing its body.
My verdict: What an inventive way to introduce a detective to cases in all levels of society! I enjoyed this collection a great deal and recommend it to readers who enjoy slightly offbeat and very clever short stories. Now I'm off to read the personal ads in today's papers....