What were the suspicious strangers after? Why were she and Kerry locked in the old jail? And who chased them in the garden? These were only a few of the questions Meg needed to answer.
And once again, we’ll kick off with suburban tweenage sleuth Meg Duncan, complete with absent parents, beloved bachelor uncle, and spunky tomboy sidekick.
Background: I have commented before that I am bad at mysteries (Dan is Regan’s nephew? WHA-?), and even as an adult reader I am usually more or less surprised by the outcome of whatever whodunit is pitched at an audience 30 years my junior. So I probably give the Meg Duncan series at least an extra star for plotting so rudimentary and obvious that even I can figure out where they are going long before the final chapter.
When last we met Meg Duncan, Hidden Springs, Virginia’s unusually ladylike and retiring child detective, she had solved a mystery about a family of genteel hoboes who were squatting in a neighboring house, without the benefit of her BFF, Kerry Carmody, who was off on a Winnebago trip across America with her enormous family.
Honestly, even after rereading my review from last year, I can’t remember much about it, so I’m just going to have to take my word that is what happened.
The Plot: For the sixth and final installment in the Meg series, we get the 1970s equivalent of a Super Special: while most of the Meg books come in at just over 100 pages, including many full-page illustrations, this one clocks in at 140 pages with far fewer pictures, so by word-count it is probably twice as long as its predecessors.
Even the pseudonymous Holly Beth Walker seems tired of recapping Meg’s origin story at this point:
Meg’s mother was dead and Mrs. Wilson took care of the Duncan house for Meg and her father. Meg’s father had an important government job. Since he was away from home so much, Meg spent a lot of time with the Wilsons.
Wasting no time with background, Beloved Bachelor Uncle Hal arrives and announces that he is taking Meg and Kerry to Colonial Williamsburg to work as Junior Hostesses at a toy show that his friend/beard Lucy Cameron has organized.
Lucy was the BFF of Meg’s tragically dead mother, thus earning Meg and Kerry into the confidence of Miss Mariah Collins, local eccentric and antique toy-owner. For some reason before Meg and Kerry can meet Miss Mariah, they have to dress up in colonial garb. While Meg makes an adorable colonial girl, Kerry’s short hair means that she has to cross-dress:
Tomboy Kerry made a darling boy in black knee breeches, white shirt, and high white stockings. Her shiny blonde hair was brushed into a smooth pageboy.
“Oh, Kerry,” Meg said the minute she saw her friend, “I have to sketch you in that outfit so I can show Daddy.”
“Okay,” Kerry agreed.
Miss Mariah is known for carrying a fancy French fashion doll, named Paris, with her wherever she goes. Miss Mariah tells Lucy and the girls the story of her tragic past… which is basically when she was a little girl some unruly cousins came to visit and trashed her playroom, the excitement of which caused so much trauma that she was put to bed for a few days, delirious, while her Grandfather fixed everything back up, and hid away a couple of very valuable clothespin dolls, telling only Miss Mariah where they were hidden, which she promptly forgot because of her delirium, only recalling that he assured her if she “turned the house upside down” she would eventually find them.
When Grandfather died soon after, the mystery of the dolls went to the grave with him, and now Miss Mariah spends a few hours each day searching for them.
But now Miss Mariah is ready to let some of the toys, including a variety of dolls and an extravagant dollhouse, be displayed as part of the toy show. As Junior Hostesses, Meg and Kerry will tell visitors about the history of the toys… as well as work security when a bunch of suspicious characters start coming around. Stephen Anderson and his father seem to know a lot about Miss Mariah and her toys… while the mysterious Mr. Adam claims to be a professor of antique toys and do the girls know where any might be for sale? After a series of break-ins, the theft (and mysterious return) of Paris, and various chases through backyards, woodsheds and the City Gaol, Lucy is still all like “Well, it is up to you, girls of approximately age 11, to thwart the bad guys!”
Uncle Hal is also mysteriously summoned away on “museum business”, and returns with a mysterious diary that mysteriously mentions a couple of mysterious dolls that George Washington made for his sister 200 years earlier. COULD THIS BE WHAT THE THIEVES ARE AFTER????
Like I said, even the mystery-impaired such as myself will be able to catch on to the fact that Stephen’s father is the long-ago cousin who wrecked Miss Mariah’s playroom- he and Stephen are in town to make amends. The real Bad Guy turns out to be Mr. Adam, whom Uncle Hal immediately recognizes:
“Meg and Kerry,” he said very seriously, “your Mr. Adam is the man we museum people call Scott. We knew that Adam Scott was around here somewhere. I was sent here to find him. He is one of the cleverest art thieves in the world.”
Family feuds are mended, Meg and Kerry realize that the missing clothespin dolls are the ones that George Washington made (…and that Uncle Hal has conveniently found documentation for); Meg also locates the dolls, one sewn inside Paris, the other behind a trapdoor in the attic of the dollhouse, hence Grandfather’s instructions to “turn the house upside down”.
Thus ends Meg’s adventures for good. Mostly I’ll miss being able to read them cover to cover in the time it takes to ride the subway from Queens to Manhattan.
Sign It Was Written In 1972 Department: Meg’s mysteries remain stubbornly timeless, but there are a few hints that Colonial Williamsburg is still undergoing the process becoming a tourist destination:
Lucy Cameron lived in Williamsburg. Her work with the restoration program was well known. The Cameron family’s old scrapbooks, records, and writings had been invaluable in restoring the streets and buildings of Williamsburg to look as they did in Colonial days.