One of the great sources of appeal of the early Carolyn Wells detective novels(the ones published up to, say, about 1920) is purely in the physical design: the nicely decorated boards, the thick creamy pages and the beautiful color frontispieces. John Dickson Carr (1906-1977), a great Carolyn Wells fan as a boy, shortly after WW2 nostalgically recalled "....colored frontispieces....the yellow gowns sweeping the floor, the padded rooms cozy with crime."*
*(Query: first use of the term "cozy" in regard to these sorts of books?)
Here are two examples of Carolyn Wells mystery frontispieces: the first, by Frances Rogers, from The Clue (1909), and the second, by Gayle Porter Hoskins (1887-1962), from the The Curved Blades (1916). The latter illustrator studied at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and also did a lot of illustrations for western fiction pulps in the 1930s.
Wells lavished her inevitably beautiful young female characters, like Magnificent Madeleine, with detailed descriptions: "Her dark hair, piled high on her head, was adorned with a dainty ornament which, though only a twisted ribbon, was shaped like a crown, and gave her the effect of an imperious queen. Her low-cut gown of pale yellow satin was severe of line and accented with stately bearing, while her exquisitely modeled neck and shoulders were as white and pure as those of a marble state."
In some ways, The Curved Blades seems a reboot of The Clue. Like Madeleine Van Norman, Lucy Carrington also is found dead in a chair in her mansion, but in much more (indeed rather splendidly) bizarre circumstances. I'll be writing more about these books later this week.