In Which I Actually Dicker

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I saw a box of books at the flea market today and asked the lady, “How much for books?” She said, “They’re all different prices. Some are marked.”

I hate that. Books are a buck for hardbound, fifty for paperback.

I looked at the book I wanted, the only old one there (1921, poor condition), and it said five bucks. “That’s a lot,” I said, and put it back.

“Three,” she said. I was ready to pay it. It was a book by E. Phillips Oppenheim.

“Two,” I said, not because I’m cheap, but because this blog is about great reads for a quarter, or a buck, or maybe two, but not three, except of course for signed copies of Mary Phylinda Dole’s autobiography.

The book, Nobody’s Man, now that I’ve had a look at it, is worth ten bucks (to me), even in a banged-up edition. But to almost anyone else in the universe, it has no value whatsoever. To enjoy it you have to know all kinds of code belonging to the last century that no one knows today.

The main character, we can’t really call him a hero yet, is quite clearly guilty of second degree murder and he’s equally clearly trying to cover it up. He punched a guy who hit a rotten bit of railing and fell off a predipice. He has sent away his social-climbing wife and all the servants from his country estate and refuses to answer questions posed by Scotland Yard.

Usually we would read a few hundred pages and see him get his comeuppance. But this is different. This is 1921, three years after the end of WWI, and the guy is a war hero. Not only that, he has been driven out of Parliament because he refused to compromise his ideals.

For those of you unfamiliar with the code, this means he’s not going to be convicted of murder. Not only that, he’s probably going to become Prime Minister, but I’m hooked. I have to see how Oppenheim makes this happen.

I’ve read several other books by Oppenheim — one was about a million dollar note that three people had pieces of — and they’re all really good if you’re willing to get bored in drawing rooms, gentleman’s clubs and country estates all over England. You do meet some rather droll characters.

But if you don’t know the discourse of the last century, it’s all pretty unintelligible. I guess it comes under the heading really interesting, if you’re interested.