“A hillbilly singer with an accordion! Oh no, John. We are ruined.”
As fall continues, so do we with a selection of girls’ series published by Whitman in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. This week, we revisit Julie Campbell’s OTHER schoolgirl shamus of Westchester county, Ginny Gordon.
Background: I was surprised to find that it has been 5 years since the last Ginny Gordon title was reviewed here! When we last left 14 year old Ginny, her BFF Lucy Tryon, her wholesome, kinda-boyfriend John Blaketon and John’s twin cousins Whiz and Babs, they had opened a junk shop and thwarted various criminal schemes.
Campbell, in her surprisingly brief career, created two series for Whitman, took over writing duties on two popular Grosset & Dunlop series (Cherry Ames and Vicki Barr) and wrote one great Lost Classic novel before retiring within a decade of having started.
Best known for her OTHER Whitman series, the Trixie Belden mysteries, which continued under a series of ghostwriters for another 33 volumes and 30 years after she was done with them.
The later volumes vary wildly in tone and quality (head-scratching later mysteries involve drug trafficking and a mechanical shark right out of a James Bond movie…), but there are many good adventures still to be had.
I bring up Trixie because the biggest change to our beloved characters happens in the first post-Campbell volume, when the series “secret club”, the Bob-Whites of the Glen, get called onto the carpet of Sleepyside Junior-Senior High’s principal’s office and ordered to disband because of “gang activity”. They reinvent themselves as a service club and their activities become increasingly do-goodery as the series progresses.
Ginny Gordon’s adventures would last another two volumes after this one, ending in 1956, two years before Campbell would pen her final Trixie Belden volume. And as a series it’s… fine? With a cast of characters so similar to the Trixie Belden series, it is disappointing that it lacks the heart and soul of Campbell’s more famous series. Some of it is that Trixie’s cast of characters gets more room to grow- we don’t even get the whole gang together until 8 books in, with the first volume serving as the greatest origin story since the Book of Genesis.
Written concurrently with the Trixie Belden series, and not continued after Campbell’s departure, we join Ginny’s club already in progress. Calling themselves The Hustlers, they were not subjected to the editorial meddling that befell the B.W.G.’s: while extremely wholesome in their activities, The Hustlers are out to make and buck and keep it for themselves.
The Plot: In fact, as the book opens, we learn that they’ve sold their junk shop for the tidy sum of $500 (which the inflation calculator tells me is nearly $5000 2018-dollars) (GLEEPS!), and invested the money in their new enterprise, a Snack Barn. Poised to capture the market that is interested in neither the seedy All-Nite Grill, nor the tony Harristown Inn, The Hustlers have restored an old barn on the property of John’s grandmother to serve as a teen hang-out to serve after-school burgers and weekend brunches.
Opening day is a big success, and The Hustlers are looking forward to counting the dollars that will roll in. But things almost immediately start to go wrong. Ginny stays behind to count the cash drawer and lock up, when she is confronted by a suspicious character who hands her an envelope and tells her that a Mr. Henderson will be by to pick it up shortly- and drop off five $1000 bills in return! MYSTERIOUS!
Then bad news arrives when the Harristown Inn announces the residency of a hunky “hillbilly” singer named Kentucky Lochinvar:
“Boy is he a wow! Accompanies himself on the accordion and had everyone swooning all over the place when her performed during dinner this evening.”
“If Lochinvar is as good as you say he is, why doesn’t he go get himself a job in New York?”
“That I can’t answer,” John admitted. “Frankly, I think he would make a fortune in the movies, and if he wanted to become a prize fighter he’d be the world’s champion in no time. You never saw such a perfect physical specimen, Ginny.”
Even Whiz isn’t immune to Lochinvar’s charms:
“You heard him?” John demanded. “I didn’t see you at the Inn last night.”
“I didn’t see you either,” Whiz said sourly. “Nobody saw anybody but that gorgeous superman.”
Boys, boys, let us not waste time fighting over hunky hillbillies.
“They’ve seen him,” Babs said. “He was just starting to sing when I left. I couldn’t stand it. But I must admit if he wore cowboy clothes instead of dungarees and a checked shirt, he could double for a Western movie hero.”
“Don’t say it,” Lucy moaned. “We know. Tall, dark, and handsome. And what he can’t do with an accordion- “
Sure enough, by their second day in business, their customers dwindle down to the affable Officer Bill, and Mike, the janitor from the local high school.
Desperate times calling for desperate measures, Lucy and Babs embark on a shockingly un-B.W.G.-like campaign of terror against Lochinvar, in the hopes of driving him out of town. This includes hiding his accordion, letting the air out of his tires, booby trapping his room and, assuming that all hillbillies are extremely superstitious, dressing up like a ghost and attempting to scare him out of town. Seriously, Brian Belden would faint dead away at these shenanigans!
During one of these escapades, which Lochinvar takes with extremely good humor, Ginny notices that our traveling troubadour is packing heat:
“Lochinvar carries a pistol in a shoulder holster, Lucy. I saw it when his shirt was drenched with water yesterday.”
“You must have been mistaken. People like that don’t carry guns. Why should they?”
“The only explanation I can think of is that Lochinvar’s family is feuding with another family. And maybe he followed one of the men north, seeking revenge.”
But this is not actually the mystery. Remember that envelope Ginny is supposed to exchange for 5 large? When Henderson never shows up, she steams it open to find five OTHER envelopes with blank slips of paper in them. Even Whiz and his trusty chemistry set can’t detect any invisible writing on them.
When Henderson finally DOES appear, he won’t hand over the money and so Ginny won’t hand over the envelope, which is followed by a series of break-ins at the Snack Barn, and the mysterious appearance of $5000 in their cashbox…
I’m going to say it: this is not a very good or compelling mystery. When the scheme is revealed, it’s mostly just confusing, involving two crooks blackmailing each other about bank fraud.
Way more dramatic is the fate of the Snack Barn, and the mystery of Lochinvar’s disappearing-reappearing accent:
“I hain’t liable to take my foot in my hand and go nowhere,” Lochinvar said, “ontell I got some explanation of why you come a-traipsen around here rigged up like a hant. I’m plumb tuckered out with oulandishest doens. Fust you make off with my accordion. Then you haf drownded me. Atter that you let the air out o’ my tires. Atter that you writ me a contrarious letter, and ‘fore I kin figger out what hit all means, you jump out at me, holleren fit to wake the dead.”
He backed away from them, still clutching his hair wildly. “No more sech talk,” he implored. “You two is mighty flighty girl-chilluns, I’ll be bound.”
After Lucy and Ginny explain about how his performances at the Inn are cutting into their business, he proves himself a good egg by agreeing to perform at the Snack Barn daily after school, ensuring a good crowd. He also admits that the Hillbilly dialect is all an act, and he’s a college graduate.
He also turns out to be an FBI agent, hot on the trail of Henderson, which comes in mighty handy when Henderson ties up Ginny in the barn and expresses his intention to carry her off to his underground lair before he skips town. First John arrives to rescue Ginny, who ends up rescuing him, and then Lochinvar, alias Agent Lockwood, rescues them both.
Already growing weary of the Snack Barn, The Hustlers are thrilled when Officer Bill comes through with an offer from the Police Athletic League to run the barn as a community project:
“You’re a very wise young lady, Ginny Gordon,” he said. “If every town in America had a teen-age Snack Barn, there would be fewer criminals in the world!”
And The Hustlers are off to their next money-making scheme!
Sign It Was Written In 1951 Department:
“The cheese slices will dry out into cardboard strips if nobody shows up, and the hamburger won’t keep long even in our electric refrigerator.”