This week we’re continuing to look at the Girl’s Series published by Whitman in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
…and thank God, this one is much better than the last one!
Background: The Meg Duncan series is targeted at slightly younger readers, and accordingly features a younger heroine. While her age is never given, Meg seems to be 11 or 12 years old, compared to the 13 and 14 year old Robin, Donna, Ginny and Trixie.
Meg lives with her widowed father in suburban Hidden Springs, Virginia. He father works in a non-specific “important job in government” and is often away in Washington, D.C. Meg has made a sort of surrogate family for herself with the Duncan’s house- and grounds keepers, Mrs. and Mrs. Wilson; the neighboring large and rambunctious Carmody family; and her Siamese cat, Thunder.
The Plot: This book is the definition of streamlined writing. My copy (a paperback reissue) was 136 pages, including about 25 full-page illustrations. The author wisely cuts characterization to the bone and keeps the bulk of the “mystery” contained over the course of a single afternoon. Good job, Whitman!
Meg Duncan and her best friend Kerry Carmody are extremely excited about the fact that their eccentric, elderly, landed-gentry neighbor Mrs. Partlow taking her heirloom jewels out of the vault to wear at her niece’s wedding:
Up here in horse country a Partlow was not just a Virginian. A Partlow was Virginia.
Kerry and her six siblings are concerned by a recent rash of break-ins in the neighborhood, and her brother Mike has taken it upon himself to stake out Mrs. Partlow’s house. Kerry is also worried about her seemingly troubled young cousin, Cissie, who her parents (who are referred to by all as “Ma’am and Sir”) have taken in for the summer. Cissie has a tendency to pilfer anything that isn’t nailed down and squirrel it away in her makeshift clubhouses located throughout the Carmody’s farmland.
And finally, we have the requisite Mysterious Visitor in town, a vacationing Broadway actress named Mrs. Glynn. Mrs. Glynn travels everywhere with her three trained poodles, Enfant, Petite and Jouet. When Meg and Kerry stop in the pet store for some cat food, the proprietor shows them the specially-made outfits Mrs. Glynn has ordered for the poodles and lets them know that he finds city-folks and their city-ways pretttty peculiiiiar.
Mrs. Partlow is holding a tea party that afternoon to unveil the family jewels. Because she is so old and eccentric she doesn’t even care what the rest of the town thinks of her or her guest list, which includes Meg and Kerry and some of her neighbors’ hired help. What? Servants enjoy drinking tea and gawking at jewels too!
Decidedly not invited is Mrs. Glynn, who crashes the party with her poodles anyway and makes a big scene out of having them perform in costume just as Mrs. Partlow is showing her jewels. Mrs. Partlow is not amused:
“How- nice.” Mrs. Partlow said politely.
Well, bless your heart, Mrs. Glynn! Of course, in the chaos of the dog show Mrs. Partlow’s diamond bracelet, necklace, snood and an earring go missing. While the police are summoned and the partygoers searched, Meg and Kerry find Cissie hiding in the shrubbery eating cake, and fear the worst. From this point on, they are devoted to the somewhat contradictory mission of clearing Cissie of the theft and destroying all evidence that might link her to it.
Will Meg solve The Mystery of the Disappearing Diamonds? Will it turn out that Mrs. Glynn is a crooked slight-of-hand artist that conceals the jewels in her elaborate hairdo and on her poodles? Will Cissie be cleared of wrongdoing? Will Meg and Kerry get the reward because they are smarter than the entire Hidden Springs police force? And most importantly where has Thunder gotten to?
I assure you everything is resolved in a most satisfactory manner.
Instead can we talk a minute about the level of violence in this book intended for 8 year old girls? (Well, I was 8 the first time I read it). First up we have Kerry and Mike, who demonstrate an admirable level of loyalty by declaring “They can’t do that to a Carmody!” when a family member has been wronged. Then they start throwing punches.
And then in the climactic scene Meg, along with Kerry, Mike and Cissie, confront Mrs. Glynn and her accomplice, which results in an all-out brawl. Am I getting old, or is it a little disturbing that a grown man and woman are beating up actual children? One of whom can’t be older than 4 or 5 years old?
The Meg series also is notable for turning the typical Whitman girl-detective formula of Tomboy Lead + Girly Sidekick on its head. In this case it is Kerry that is the outdoorsy horse-fanatic, while Meg is into ballet and watercolor painting; with her dead mother and absent father she almost comes off as a poor-little-rich-girl.
A Note on the Author: “Holly Beth Walker” was a Whitman “house name”, and apparently a number of ghost writers worked on the series. The Internet has it on good authority that this volume was written by Gladys Baker Bond, who authored a number of volumes for Whitman, including at least three early-middle period Trixie Belden books. Including the disappointingly Quatchi-free The Sasquatch Mystery.
Sign It Was Written in 1967 Department: While largely free of era-specific trappings, Hidden Springs does rely on the radio to get all of its local news.
Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure Department: When the cops find the box containing the missing earring in Mrs. Glynn’s bun: “It’s personal,” Mrs. Glynn said icily “I wear it to hold my bun in place.” My totally normal, jingling cube-shaped bun!