Time to wrap up our Whitman-themed month-long look at vintage girls’ series. And fittingly, the last volume in is the first volume in what I believe to be the last original series released by Whitman. (Didja get all that?)
Behold! 1972! The start of a bold new decade with bold new heroines solving bold new mysteries? Well, bold-ish.
Background: Kim Aldrich is quite a bit older than the other amateur girl–sleuths we’ve encountered over the last five weeks. Her age is not given, but she seems to be in her early 20s: she’s recently graduated from secretarial school and has started her first job, with World At Large Insurance Company (abbreviated WALCO, although it seems like it should be WALIC?); she drives a cherry-red Triumph TR6 and drinks beer (not at the same time) and is studying for her pilot’s license. The youngest of daughter of a widower FBI Agent, she lives in a glamorous midtown Manhattan apartment with her father, along with her older brother, Tom (a Vietnam vet and commercial pilot) and sister Cindy (a traveling nurse with the Red Cross); that is, when her siblings aren’t traveling the world dispatching their own glamorous duties.
The Plot: Kim is still in her first weeks of employment at WALCO (she’s finally saved up enough to buy herself a pair of alligator pumps), but she is already seething with ambition to rise from the secretarial pool to become a full-fledged claims investigator:
Insurance was not at all the impersonal field she had once believed. Perhaps the most important fact of all was the peace of mind that insurance provided to members of a harried, anxiety-ridden society.
Liability insurance: the Quaaludes of the masses.
She sees her chance to prove her mettle when she is assigned to the legal department, and her indulgent boss allows her to tag along to a court case that is unfolding in the (fictional) resort town of Neadham, NY. The town is being sued by the parents of a 9-year old boy who was seriously injured after falling on some rocks at the beach; the town is insured through WALCO for $100,000, but the parents are suing for the sum of a cool half-million. Which the inflation calculator tells me is about 2.5 million 2012-dollars. Which still seems like the town isn’t carrying enough insurance.
Kim meets the plaintiffs’ attorney, the young and rugged Ford Model A-driving Andy Hill. It is love at first sight, and soon he and Kim are off collaborating on their amateur investigation into the case. Which, I guess is ethical? We, the readers, know that they have only good and pure motives in their hearts, so I guess it’s ok?
While Kim is an extremely appealing heroine, this is not a very good mystery. Essentially, it is The Case Of The Missing Algaecide. Kim and Andy suspect that the town commissioner is crooked and has been lining his pockets with the money that was supposed to be spent on spraying algaecide on the slippery rocks where young Pete had his slip-and-fall.
Andy is having a hard time proving it, however, as key witnesses keep disappearing, apparently bribed or worse, and the judge in charge of the case keeps moving his court date up, shrinking the time he has to do any research at all. Oh, and he is mysteriously being followed by someone in an unmarked car.
Which results in a genuinely funny sequence, when Andy calls together the members of his Model-A club to swarm the highway with vintage cars, confusing his stalker and allowing he and Kim to make a stealthy getaway.
Eventually, Kim takes it upon herself to fly to California to track down a missing witness, although Andy doggedly trails along behind her. They are almost run off a mountain road by another mysterious car, and get to the witness to only find that he’s been shot in the head. The corpse falls out of the closet and lands on Kim, who handles the situation remarkably well, all things considered.
Flying back to New York after realizing that now they’ve been set up for murder, Kim is chloroformed and kidnapped at the airport, awakening hours later in an abandoned beach house on Connecticut’s remote Thimble Islands. Also having been kidnapped and dropped off at the house are Plaintiff Pete and the presiding judge’s wife. When they hear the kidnapper return, Kim uses her judo skills to take him down…
Except it was only Andy coming out of his chloroform-coma. Now he has a broken arm. Oops.
Kim, being a woman of action, decides to take matters into her own hands and chance swimming the Long Island Sound in the middle of the night. Andy insists upon coming along, despite the fact that Kim broke his arm and he can only find the top half of the wet suit. This all turns out to be a terrible plan, and Kim and Andy are not going to make it shore…
Luckily, at this point the cavalry comes to the rescue, in the person of Mr. Aldrich and the FBI. Andy and Kim are pulled out of the drink, everyone is returned to their families, and the crooked town commissioner spontaneously confesses that he’s been collaborating with the mafia as well as neglecting to de-algaefy the town beaches.
So, it’s all clear for Kim and Andy, right? Well, she decides that maybe it wasn’t love at first sight after all, maybe it was just the excitement of solving a mystery, and Andy is filed away in the Rolodex.
Sign It Was Written in 1972 Department: Searching for a missing witness, Kim sends a telegram to “Bill Jones, c/o General Delivery, Santa Elena, California”
Also she constantly worries about her brother’s plane being hijacked to Cuba.
Also arriving at JFK for a 10:30 flight at 10:00 is described as being “in plenty of time”.
“Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers?” Department:
Kim and Andy arrive at LAX:
Kim’s eyes began to burn.
“Smog,” explained Andy. “It’s a really goofy system, everybody driving around in cars, no public transportation at all. No matter how New Yorkers may gripe about the subway and commuter trains, it’s better than this. The only way people CAN get to work from the outlying areas out here is by car.”
Thus concludes Whitman month. What’s up for next week? I’ll just point out that it is:
“Ten more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween! Ten more days to Halloween…”