Time to wrap up this year’s month-long look at vintage girls series published by Whitman in the 50s, 60s, and 70s; and once again we will conclude with the oddball Kim Aldrich Mystery series.
Background: As far as I have been able to tell, the Kim Aldrich books were the last original girls’ series published by Whitman, spanning only four volumes from 1972 to 1974.
Author “Jinny McDonnell” is a pseudonym for Whitman regular Virginia Bleecher McDonnell, who also penned the Nurses Three series and several Trixie Belden titles for Whitman; in fact Silent Partner bears more than a passing similarity to Bleecher’s The Mystery on Mead’s Mountain, one of my all-time favorite Trixie mysteries.
Kim is a very appealing heroine: older than Whitman’s other schoolgirl shamuses, Kim is out of college and working as a secretary for the World At Large (WALCO) insurance company. The mysteries she becomes embroiled in are of much darker stuff than might be expected: murder, drug trafficking and kidnapping are heavily featured in the plots, along with a generous amount romance. She’s an amateur sleuth for the 1970s: half Nancy Drew, half Helen Gurley Brown.
The Plot: After successfully unraveling a case in an upstate New York resort town involving a corrupt parks commissioner, a murder, and a vat of missing algaecide, Kim is hoping that her boss at WALCO will reward her with a promotion to Claims Investigator; instead she is given some extra vacation time, which she takes in the picturesque Austrian resort town of Alpenschloss.
Before the story begins, she has already developed a crush on another vacationing American, the mysterious and moody Jim Whitcomb, who is traveling with a 12 year old boy named Roby. Son? Nephew? Student? Kim doesn’t get around to asking until a quarter of the way through the book.
Out skiing one afternoon with Jim and Roby, Kim is trying out her new movie camera and starts filming two skiers hot dogging it up on the slopes; when their antics turn tragic, Jim swoops in to shoo away the gawkers and perform first aid while waiting for the ski patrol to arrive:
Then Jim beckoned Kim close as he knelt over the victim. “Make like a nurse,” he murmured. “I said I was a doctor, just to keep the idiots away.”
The rescue toboggan finally arrives, but one of tourists insists upon accompanying them back to the hospital station; within minutes of their departure, toboggan, ski patrol and busybody all end up at the bottom of a crevasse. Is it… MURDER?
After Jim returns from helping the ski patrol recover the bodies, Kim finally gets him to explain what is up with Roby, learning that he is the son of a Olympic gold medal skier-turned-sporting goods mogul, who was at the wheel with his pregnant wife during a serious car accident. Roby’s mother was killed, and when Roby was delivered via emergency c-section, the trauma seemingly resulted in birth defects, and father rejected son, packing him off to an institution:
“The child was defective, a sort of blot on his father’s image. Jean Paul Le Clere, hero, with a defective child? No, he couldn’t accept it. So he paid the bills and wiped it from his mind.”
Jim enters the picture, having been “rattling around Europe” for some time, when he takes a job as an orderly at the institution where Roby was placed. In short order, Jim discovered that Roby isn’t “retarded” after all, he’s deaf. After teaching him sign language, Jim successfully petitions M. Le Clere to have him moved to a school for the deaf in France, where he has thrived.
Now Jim has brought Roby to Alpenschloss to try and engineer an “accidental” meeting with his long-lost father, with the idea that M. Le Clere will be so won over by his brilliant and well-mannered son that the whole being-deaf-thing won’t matter.
The opportunity arises that very night at dinner, when the Le Cleres, who have a substantial investment in the resort, arrive to try and create some good PR in the wake of the day’s fatal accidents. M. Le Clere is cold and aloof, but Roby charms the second Mme. Le Clere, who invites the trio to join them for a demitasse.
Roby is then promptly kidnapped.
After Kim returns to her room and finds it has been broken into and her belongings rifled through, she suspects that someone was looking for the movie film she took of the accident earlier that day- could that also be connected to Roby’s disappearance?
And what is the DEAL with Jim ignoring her half the time?
Well, that mystery is easily solved: Jim is also deaf, the result of being tortured in a Viet Cong POW camp during the war, which is described in manner far more graphic than it needed to be.
Kim is shocked- can she love a man who is (gasp!) handicapped? Well, can she at least put that aside long enough to go find Roby?
Jim eventually discovers that some sort of nefarious gang is at work in the hotel and communicating using International Sign Language (which Wikipedia tells me was extremely new-fangled in 1972). In the middle of a blizzard (!!!) Jim and Kim climb up the fire escape of the hotel to observe a meeting of the gang in a remote garret, which is transacted entirely in sign language. Something is being smuggled inside of ski poles, and a drop gone bad resulted in the fatal accident. Kim and Jim speculate:
“What’s very light in weight, comes primarily from France, and commands an enormous price in an enormous market?”
Narcotics, of course.
Is M. Le Clere involved in drug trafficking? Can they find Roby in time? Will the Le Cleres accept him as their son? Will Kim be able to accept Jim as a “full man” despite being deaf?
The answer involves making a ransom-deal with a sympathetic member of the French Connection, who leads them to Roby (who has managed to rescue himself in the meantime); he then immediately turns around and tries to kill them with several avalanches, during which Kim imagines every detail of her dream wedding to Jim to keep from panicking while being dug out from under a million tons of snow.
When they finally make it back to the safety of Alpenschloss they are all arrested for kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking by the corrupt local chief of police and a gang member impersonating an agent from Interpol. They are taken to the Le Clere castle for interrogation, and M. Le Clere and Jim get everything straightened out using KARATE.
M. Le Clere explains that he rejected Roby because of the pain of having caused his wife’s death, and the boy is reunited with his father and stepmother.
Roby urges Kim and Jim to get married so they can be his Aunt and Uncle, and they say they’ll think about it. Spoilers: Kim has a new boyfriend by the next book.
Sign It Was Written in 1972 Department: Kim imagines her wedding gown while suffocating under an avalanche: “Money is no object this time. Bergdorf’s. No. Better yet, have Priscilla of Boston design it. She did Tricia Nixon’s gown, and it was lovely.”
Everything Tastes Better In Europe Department: “He returned shortly with two mugs of steaming coffee and, for Roby, a mug of hot chocolate with a stick of cinnamon protruding from its thick topping of whipped cream.”
One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others Department: “Her life seemed to be a series of high adventures: skydiving and breaking a leg during a faulty landing, skin diving, learning to fly a single-engine Aeronca and progressing to a twin-engine Cessna; helping a little boy recover damages in an accident suit…”