This week we’re continuing the series on girls’ series books published by Whitman in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Background: We last left teen girl-sleuth Ginny Gordon basking in the glory of having apprehended the criminal mastermind who was using Ginny’s newly-opened thrift shop as headquarters for a daring heist to knock off a neighboring department store’s jewelry vault. Or she tackled an inept John Waters lookalike who was not very good at jewel thievery or heisting…
Because Ginny’s father is the editor of the local newspaper, it is the former version of events that is reported in the Harristown News the following morning, resulting in some mild teasing from her kinda-boyfriend John Blaketon, her BFF Lucy Tyron, and John’s hamburger crazed twin cousins Babs and Whiz Reilly.
While Trixie Belden author Campbell does a great job setting up a new mystery at the end of The Disappearing Candlesticks, she also kind of paints herself into a corner, as most of Ginny’s pals were sidelined by injuries while solving that case…
The Plot: …The result being that a whole new supporting cast is introduced in this book, most of whom are disappointingly underwritten and interchangeable, resulting in a mystery that comes off as both confusing and slightly phoned-in.
The feisty and eccentric nonagenarian Mrs. Arnold has sent over some pieces to the Swap Shop to be sold on consignment, including a mother-of-pearl inlaid sewing basket; unfortunately, she soon realizes that she is missing a priceless emerald brooch that she had stored in the basket and assumes that it must have accidentally slipped under the lining. However, when Ginny and the gang check (after some tiresome business where Mrs. Arnold’s basket gets mixed up with John Blaketon’s grandmother’s basket), the emerald is nowhere to be found.
Since the gang has suffered a broken arm, a sprained ankle and a near-suffocation amongst their ranks, only Ginny and John are ready to spring into action and solve the case, assisted by Mrs. Arnold, who is giddy at the prospect of playing Miss Marple.
The list of suspects include four poor-but-ambitious college men who I can’t keep straight (Mrs. Arnold’s chauffeur; the town playboy who has no visible means of income but has just purchased a new convertible; a young doctor whose wife has very expensive tastes; and the local handyman who is bragging that he’s going to open a competing Swap Shop) and Mrs. Arnold’s paid companion, a distant cousin of her late husband who is bitter about being left out of an inheritance.
Mrs. Arnold’s companion, a terminally dour and overly-frugal woman named Miss Emmy, becomes Ginny’s prime suspect, but she and John are constantly distracted by Lucy and Babs (separately) going missing, a fire in John’s workshop, a series of mysterious threats directed at Ginny and a charity auction that the Swap Shop is hosting in exchange for a percentage of the profits from the local Women’s club.
Ginny is convinced that Miss Emmy stole the emerald and plans to frame Mrs. Arnold’s chauffeur for the theft, because she has been campaigning hard to have him fired and her nephew hired on. Isn’t that a first season Downton Abbey plot? Did I mention that the chauffeur’s name is Carson? I AM SO ON TO YOU, JULIAN FELLOWES!
Mrs. Arnold and Ginny work out a daring plot to substitute an paste emerald for the real one and force Miss Emmy to reveal herself as the thief:
“The whole scheme hinges on whether or not you have imitations of your valuable jewelry, the emerald set specifically.”
“But of course,” Mrs. Arnold told her. “Mr. Arnold would never permit me to leave the house in that set, except on very grand occasions like the opening night of the opera when we were accompanied by a private detective.”
(The fact that rich people always own copies of their jewels is also a major plot point in Campbell’s Trixie Belden and the Mystery Off Glen Road, for those playing along at home.)
The sight of the imitation jewel does indeed cause Miss Emmy to become completely unhinged, trapping Ginny in the attic and preparing to burn the house to the ground while Ginny ponders the nature of “irresistible impulses” a full eight years before Anatomy of a Murder.
In the end Ginny is rescued, all of those bright college boys are cleared of suspicion and Miss Emmy is shipped off to an insane asylum. Now bored with the prospect of running a thrift shop after all of the excitement, Ginny convinces the others to sell the store and take the proceeds to open an after-school snack bar and teen club.
Let’s close with a quick casualty list:
2 unmended injuries from last book (Whiz’s broken arm, Lucy’s sprained ankle).
1 new sprained knee (John)
2 cave-ins resulting in new near-suffocations (Whiz, Ginny)
1 suspected cave-in resulting in feared suffocation (Babs) (Of course!)
3 cases of being almost run over by a snappy roadster while riding bicycle (Ginny)
Plus one completed case of arson (John’s workshop) and one near-miss (Mrs. Arnold’s mansion) and a complicated plot to weaken Mrs. Arnold with an invalid diet.
Amateur sleuthing remains dangerous work!
Sign It Was Written in 1950 Department: “Right up until I got on the train we both kept trying to get mother on the phone, but the line was always busy. That’s the trouble with having a party line.”
Unsolved Department: Still no clue to Whiz Reilly’s given name, still guessing “Warren”