It’s an adventure Kim will never forget, when she and Kevin, an attentive boys’ camp counselor, stalk a vicious kidnapper-killer through the mountain wilderness…
Time to wrap up this year’s month-long look at vintage girls series published by Whitman in the 50s, 60s, and 70s; and this time we come to the final volume in the Kim Aldrich 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 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 strives to be promoted to a claims adjuster.
The Plot: I am genuinely saddened that this is the final book in the series, as Kim Aldrich, equal parts Nancy Drew and Helen Gurley Brown, has become one of my favorite Whitman heroines. Solving kidnappings, busting drug smugglers, auto theft rings and getting entangled in the occasional murder, both on the mean streets of mid-70s New York and more exotic locations, WALCO’s busiest secretary seems like she’s about due for that promotion she’s after…
…So Kim is slightly disappointed when her boss instead asks her to go “undercover” as a counselor at Camp Algonquin to keep an eye on wealthy brat Robin Van Alstyne, an escape-prone teenager who has been the target of some vague kidnapping threats.
Kim is a former Algonquin camper herself, and still trembles in the presence of the camp’s dictatorial director, Mrs. Dixon; not exactly relishing her new role of nursemaid, she still agrees to round up Robin and get her to Grand Central Terminal and safely onto the train to camp.
The train station is a madhouse, since apparently all of the summer camps in New York state depart on the same day and time. Robin immediately escapes into the crowd, and a handsome Boy Scout counselor named Kevin Clark assists Kim in retrieving her. It turns out that Kevin is also headed for a camp on Lake George! Coincidence! OR IS IT!?!
While the Van Alstynes have assured Kim that there have been no specific kidnapping threats involving their daughter in over a decade, Kim suspects EVERYONE AND ANYONE could be plotting against them.
Meanwhile, Robin has made herself a pariah among her fellow campers with her snotty attitude and constant escape attempts. Free in the knowledge that she’s not really a counselor, Kim gives as good as she gets regarding Robin, and doesn’t hesitate to drag her around by her ponytail or return digging fingernails at Friendship Circle time.
There were some kids, Kim mused, who should be dehydrated, so they could be packed into a box and taken to camp. Once there, they could be soaked in water and reconstituted.
Dubbed “Poison Ivy” by her bunkmates, Robin earns further enmity from her peers when she totally ruins the annual SUPER AUTHENTIC INDIAN INITIATION CEREMONY!
Well. Anyway, Tom Wilkins was half-Indian. He played in a band at a local resort hotel for a living, but, as Running Deer, he put on some really memorable shows at Camp Algonquin.
He looked like a real savage, bare to the waist except for a quiver of arrows slung on his back, and his face hideous with war paint. He brandished his bow as dramatically as if it were a tomahawk.
“You’re not a real Indian,” she sneered. As usual, Robin was working out a plot of her own. She waited until Running Deer circled in front of her, the stuck out her foot.
He leaped of the obstacle and whirled, grabbing Robin by the ponytail and dragging her away from the fire.
Robin twisted around, even though this added to the pull against her hair, and bit. Her captor let her go and stalked off into the darkness.
“What about the initiation?” wailed someone. “Will he come back?”
“I doubt it,” Mrs. Dixon said dryly.
Kim begins to wonder if Lake George’s most popular rock and roll half-Indian could be in on the kidnapping scheme when Robin bolts from the group during a trail ride and when Kim catches up with her she is being assisted (OR POSSIBLY KIDNAPPED) by a mysterious stranger. Kim’s arrival scares him off-
OH, HI KEVIN!
Kevin and his Boy Scouts are on the scene too, for some reason. He manages to ask Kim for a date on her day off, but she demurs. A secret uncover insurance agent camp counselor is a 24/7 position.
After the trail incident, Kim thinks it might be best for Robin to sit out the week-long canoe trip into the Adirondacks, but Mrs. Dixon is firm: she has promised the Van Alstynes that Robin will have a normal, wholesome summer camp experience.
Kim’s hackles are raised when they arrive to collect their canoe rentals, and a group of men seem to take a particular interest in Kim’s group. Does one of the men look like the man from the trail ride? Or rock and roll Running Deer? How offended was he, anyway?
Mrs. Dixon said he had an Indian’s hidden anger at the mere hint of an insult. That was the most obvious explanation…
He really was at least half-Indian, and he prided himself of the knowledge of his ancestors. Until now, Kim had thought he was a consummate actor, because he could so chill his audience; now she wondered if those cold eyes did not require any acting on his part.
A sudden storm over the lake forces the campers to seek shelter on an island, but they find the two lean-tos already occupied by the men from the canoe shop. While they offer use of their Coleman stove, they refuse vacate the second lean-to to make room for the campers:
“But sleep in here, no. Anyway, if you have any trouble about that, remind them of women’s lib. If they get a little wet, I doubt they’ll shrink.”
The campers sleep under their canoes, which at least means that they can stealthily sneak away the next morning.
When another storm arises that afternoon, Kim’s group takes to another island, this one with unoccupied shelters. The Algonquinians busy themselves setting up camp and-
OH, HI KEVIN!
Kim’s finally suspicious about Kevin constantly showing up unexpectedly with his campers. Could someone so dreamy really be a kidnapper?
Wouldn’t it be pleasant, Kim thought, if she were positive that he was just what he appeared to be: an attractive man who was fun to be with and who shared her love of the out of doors?
Still, it is good thing he’s on hand when Robin manages to escape in the dead of night, taking a canoe across the lake. When Kim discovers her missing, she and Kevin set off to the nearest ranger’s station, hoping Robin had at least heeded Mrs. Dixon’s non-stop instructions to do so in case of an emergency.
They find the ranger’s station suspiciously abandoned, and break in to use the shortwave radio, when the ranger returns… but doesn’t he seem suspiciously pale for a park ranger in the middle of summer? While he seems to radio for help, Kim notices him deliberately kick one of Robin’s sneakers out of sight under the desk; Kevin confirms that he was faking it, that he hadn’t been holding down the transmit button on the radio.
Hiding in the woods and waiting for the fake ranger to leave, they investigate and make a gruesome discovery: the dead body of the real park ranger in cistern.
As suggested by the cover, the climax of the book seems inspired by Deliverance as much as anything, as they navigate some tricky rapids while being shot at, see Robin escape but are unable to catch up with her until she has both fallen down a ravine and mangled her leg in a bear trap. Kim performs first aid and manage to pack the critically injured girl into their damaged canoe, but the kidnapper is still in hot pursuit. In a second set of rapids, Kim disables him with swift judo chop and holds on to him until they make it back to civilization.
Airlifted to the hospital, Robin is rushed into surgery, but there is more confusion when the Van Alstynes arrive at the hospital with a suitcase full of ransom money: they had received the call that Robin had been kidnapped, but after she was already on her way to the hospital. Additionally, before she succumbed to unconsciousness, she seemed to finger Kevin as the kidnapper- his case isn’t helped when it is revealed that he is the son of the Van Alstynes beloved housekeeper, whom Robin had kept posted with all of her movements.
In a satisfying twist ending, the kidnappers are revealed to be camp director Mrs. Dixon, who has secretly hated children all of these years, collaborating with her ex-con husband. Robin doesn’t have to have her leg amputated after all, and, newly chastened, apologizes for being such a brat. Her parents agree not to send her away to any more boarding schools.
Cleared of kidnapping and murder, Kim and Kevin are now free to walk off into the sunset; whether this romance will last longer than Kim’s previous boyfriends will remain unresolved, because this is the last book.
Sign It Was Written In 1974 Department: Sally Ride never got homesick, dammit!
“Wouldn’t it be awful if you got married and then you kept crying for your mommy and had to go back home?”
“Or if you were elected the first woman president, but you couldn’t live in the White House because…”
“Or the first woman astronaut and you couldn’t blast off into space because…”
Kim put the first aid kit and her accordion on her bunk so she wouldn’t forget them.