Kim Aldrich once again proves that trouble and danger just naturally seek her out…
Time to wrap up this year’s month-long look at vintage girls series published by Whitman in the 50s, 60s, and 70s; and (as usual) we will conclude with the strange Kim Aldrich Mystery series.
Written by Whitman house writer Virginia Bleecher McDonnell (her other credits for the publisher include titles for the Trixie Belden and Nurses Three series) as “Jinny McDonnell”, the brief (4 volume) series is packed with action, danger and romance, as 20-something Kim investigates various crimes in an unofficial capacity for the World At Large insurance company (WALCO), where she works as a secretary.
And those crimes are of much stronger stuff than her fellow Whitman heroines are involved with: thus far, Kim has found herself in midst of plots involving murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
The Plot: Kim has returned from her company-sponsored vacation in the Austrian Alps, and is staying alone in her family’s lavish midtown Manhattan apartment: her widowed FBI agent-father, commercial pilot brother, and Red Cross nurse sister are all dispatching their own duties in various corners of the world; additionally, the family’s faithful housekeeper, Gerta, has been quarantined with the mumps during a visit with her sister.
Late one night, Kim is playing a game of Rear Window with the high rise across the street when she witnesses the theft of a swanky Cadillac El Dorado from in front of the building. Impulsively setting out to alert the owner (who seems suspiciously unconcerned) she soon finds herself entangled with a man claiming to be a reporter working undercover on a story about the car-theft rings that have been blighting the city. Kim’s focus remains on her loyalty to her employer:
“Your chances of finding that car are anything but good,” Kim pointed out. She had read somewhere, probably in the WALCO files, that the rate of recovery among stolen cars in New York City is only fifty-five percent and among Cadillacs worse- only forty percent.
In one year, some one hundred thousand cars, valued at $250 million, were stolen. Companies like WALCO were stuck for most of that enormous loss- and here was a comedian not bothering to report it to the police.
The Caddy’s owner, a lawyer, only frets when he realizes that the car contained his attaché case, which contained which contained a will that he had just made out for an important client. While Colin tries to shut Kim out of getting involved in the mystery, he eventually agrees to call her with any information he can uncover using his connections.
Unfortunately, neither Kim nor Colin are bringing their “A” game to solving this mystery- neither manage to get the name of the Caddy’s owner, and Kim neglects to learn exactly which newspaper Colin works for. When she awakes the next morning a news bulletin on the radio announces that a man has been found murdered in Central Park matching Colin’s description, she resolves to call every City Desk in the city:
There weren’t all that many newspapers left in New York these days. One after another had closed down during the last few years. Just start at the beginning, the New York Times.
No. Then try the Daily News. Try the Post, the Amsterdam News, the Village Voice. The Italian and Spanish language papers. The Irish Echo.
Eventually, Kim finagles a deal with a city editor to take her to the morgue to identify the body, but the corpse is not Colin, who finally turns up alive and well at her front door that evening and they work together to bribe the doorman of the building across the street for information on the mysterious lawyer.
And this is where the plot becomes unnecessarily complicated (or maybe just padded). They learn where the lawyer had been coming from the previous night, and pay a visit to the penthouse apartment of the fabulously wealthy Carter family… where they learn that Mr. and Mrs. Carter had been in a very serious car accident on the Storm King highway in upstate New York, just hours earlier. Mr. Carter was killed and his wife is near-death- the search for the missing will has now become more desperate than ever, as it contained arrangements for their young daughter, Gretchen:
It was a tragic story. The Carters seemed to have everything, Kim continued: wealth, good looks, and a child. But Gretchen was hopelessly retarded and blind.
“The judge would give custody to the next of kin, the cousins,” she went on. “He’d practically have to, if there were no will to the contrary. They don’t care about Gretchen; they’d slap her into an institution so fast that it would make your head spin. The money would be theirs. It’s as simple as that.”
After a visit to the Carters’ country home and a meeting with the Campbells, the Carters’ faithful servants who love Gretchen as their own daughter, Kim and Colin become more determined than ever to find the stolen car and the missing will.
The biggest thing the book has going for it is its surprisingly evocative atmosphere of New York City in the mid-1970s. Danger and sleaze lurk everywhere, as Kim and Colin chase the missing car to the chop-shops on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, to the junkyards of Staten Island, and finally to a police auction in Bordentown, New Jersey. Their quest is fruitless, and Colin finally takes the daring step of getting in touch with Harry, a gentleman car thief from Long Island, and one of his undercover contacts. Harry is more than happy to provide a Cadillac El Dorado of the exact description they request. In fact, he provides a valuable service to the community, dontchya know?
He was helping working people to get cars they couldn’t otherwise afford. “Fellow wants a Caddie, but he’ll never earn that kind of money in his life. His wife wants it but knows he can’t afford it. I get it for them- at a price they can meet without hurting. He’s happy and his wife is happy.”
“The person who lost the car is happy, too,” said Harry earnestly. “He gets a nice new Cadillac from the insurance company.”
Kim is incensed at all of this insurance defrauding, but even more incensed when she comes home to find an El Dorado parked in the family garage. Unfortunately, Colin did not specify that it was a specific car that they were searching for.
Kim starts getting threatening messages regarding the $4000 she “owes” for the stolen car, and she and Colin scramble to decide what to do with it. Anonymously report it to the police? Try to get Harry to take it back?
As the reading of the Carters’ will draws closer, Harry pays a menacing visit to Kim and eventually gets it out of her that they’re looking for the attaché case, not a car. He agrees to take her down to the docks, where a Gone in 60 Seconds-type heist is in progress, and the Caddy in question is about to be shipped to South America.
However, on board the freighter, Kim is knocked out, and when she comes to, hears Colin and the other car thieves plotting to get rid of her. Has she been wrong about her boyfriend-of-the-week all along????
Of course not, he’s just in deep undercover! Kim judo-chops her way to freedom, recovers the will, saves Colin’s neck, ends up clinging to a rubber raft in New York Harbor, is rescued by a traffic helicopter and finally races to the Carter’s country home just in time to present the new will and unmask the scheming of the crooked lawyer and dastardly Carter cousins.
Also it turns out that Gretchen isn’t “hopelessly retarded and blind” after all, she just needed some glasses and attention from loving servant-class types.
Kim is thrilled when Colin hints at a future together as Mr. and Mrs. Ryan… which is a sure sign we’ll never hear from him again.
Sign It Was Written In 1974 Department: “Never can tell… all those women’s libbers running around.”
Meta! Department: “Good grief! Alone for 24 hours, and here she was, acting like a ding-a-ling heroine out of a Gothic novel. There were plenty of good Gothics, of course, but she meant the awful-awfuls, the ones in which the girl went looking for trouble, and then, instead of doing something about it, burst into tears or fainted.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have A Title! Department: “Kim felt cold all over. The deep six was Navy lingo. It meant a burial at sea, whether it was cargo to be jettisoned- or a body.”