“This town was made to order for our portable lending library. It’s filled with old people and shut-ins who like to read.”
If it’s fall, it must be time for a look at the girls’ series books published by Whitman from the 1940s through the 1970s!
Background: Ginny Gordon was the OTHER amateur teen girl sleuth of Westchester County created by Julie Campbell, best known as the creator of the Trixie Belden mystery series and a contributor to the Cherry Ames and Vicki Barr series, as well as the Lost Classic hall of fame novel To Nick From Jan.
Published concurrently with the Trixie Belden series, the premise was nearly identical, but not nearly as memorable as Trixie’s mysteries.
When last we left Ginny and her club, The Hustlers (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, then sold it off to fund a new enterprise, The Snack Barn and thwart a pair of fraudsters with the help of a hunky hillbilly singer who was also an FBI agent.
The Plot: Having sold the Snack Barn to the Police Athletic League, as this volume opens they have placed the profit from that sale into the bank to create a scholarship fund for needy students and borrowed money from John’s grandmother to open a combination paid subscription library and used book shop in the Harristown train station.
At least I think it’s John’s grandmother that they borrowed the money from. This book contains no shortage of eccentric wealthy old ladies and their various servants in the plot.
The mystery kicks off when, setting the shop up alone one evening, Ginny observes a couple of suspicious characters jump off the express from New York, browsing through their books before getting on an incoming train back to New York just moments later. The next day yet another suspicious character shows up in the shop, demanding to buy all of the shop’s copies of the best-selling non-fiction novel Laughter from the Deep South, and offering Ginny twice the cover price.
Always ready to make a quick buck, Ginny explains that both of the library’s copies have been lent, but she would try to retrieve them if he could come back the next day, which seems to annoy him all out of proportion to the situation. Dubbing the man “The Human Skeleton”, Ginny then spends the rest of the week trying to make good on the offer, as retrieving the books becomes impossible as everyone in town wants to read it and Ginny finds it equally impossible to get the Reilly twins to follow her check-in and check-out procedures. The Hustlers spend more time chasing the book around town than they do minding the store. Along the way the Hustlers also try to solve everyone’s problems, from a city-wide housing shortage to finding a new companion for wealthy and eccentric Mrs. Arnold, to convincing Joe Dakor’s mother that she’s not really an invalid so Joe can marry the Gordons’ maid, Lila, and also something about John’s Grandmother’s chauffer having recently married…
Ginny eventually learns that her Human Skeleton is a mob lawyer, and becomes convinced that the other suspicious character hid something in the dustjacket of one of the copies of Laughter. Her suspicions are further heightened when everyone who ends up with the evasive books reports their homes broken into, but mysteriously nothing taken.
All of this chasing around is taking a toll on the gluttonous Reilly Twins, as Whiz informs on his sister:
“You shouldn’t criticize me for having a snack occasionally to keep my strength up, which is considerably weakened by unavoidable contact with you. I eat for a purpose. You eat because you have an insatiable appetite. En route to the Women’s Club you ate an ice cream cone. While you were talking to Mrs. Renshaw you nibbled daintily on a chocolate bar. On the return trip you fortified yourself unnecessarily with a frankfurter and a Coke. I can see by the gleam in your blue eyes right now that you are about to start on that bubble gum you couldn’t resist when we passed the candy store a few minutes ago.”
Ginny is also pretty hard on poor Babs, when she returns to the store and finds no one minding it (Babs ran out for a quick sandwich) and her card-file system wrecked. Not giving Babs a chance to explain, she angrily orders her to put it back in order. Eventually the first mysterious character shows back up, ALSO demanding to be sold all copies of Laughter, and upping the price to $50! But he is very impertinent and (most gratifyingly) Ginny puts him in his place:
“If you don’t behave like a gentleman, I shall not permit you in this Stall again. I’m not accustomed to having strange men come in here and order me about. You have no right to come in here and demand anything. We don’t want your kind of business in our Book Stall. And furthermore I don’t have to sell you the books, you know.”
Hilariously, this causes the suspicious character to assume that Ginny is ALSO a gangster:
“You figured someone else would come along and pay you twice as much as he offered to pay you for them. Well. Sister, I’m that somebody. Name your price, but get me those books.”
Shrugging his coat collar up around his ears in a turtle-like gesture, he left.
Although things are complicated when John’s grandmother donates a THIRD copy of Laughter to the shop and it gets into the mix, Ginny eventually tracks the correct copy of the book to Joe Dakor’s mother’s house, whom Ginny has convinced Mrs. Arnold to hire on as her companion. Waiting until Mrs. Dakor has been packed off to her overnight assignment at Mrs. Arnold’s, Ginny finally shakes loose the clue in the dustjacket: a receipt for a Manhattan storage locker.
Although Ginny has the foresight to hide the receipt away in the Dakors’ attic, she realizes too late that she’s alone in the house and hasn’t told anyone where she is when the gangster shows up. Although he menaces her with his cigarette lighter (a somewhat graphic scene for a Whitman girls’ mystery!) he also makes a full Bond Villain-style confession, revealing that he’s squirreled away some valuable rare books in the storage locker, part of his ongoing scam of stealing rare books from the winners of auctions and selling them to the next-highest bidder. He also announces his intention to tie up Ginny in the kitchen and monoxide her… but hark! Is that John and Officer Bill on the porch?
With lightning-quickness, from her seated position, Ginny kicks the gangster hard enough to knock over her own chair and knock herself out (unsaid: I guess she kicked him in the nuts?); when she comes to, the whole gang is there with Officer Bill to congratulate her on closing the books on yet another mystery.
It’s easy to see why Ginny Gordon is not as well -remembered or -loved as Campbell’s more famous series. The extraneous characters are not very well developed, and for most of the time Ginny is isolated from the other Hustlers, solving the mystery without any help. Compare that to Sleepyside’s cast of town eccentrics and the memorable byplay of the BWGs. The Lending Library was published the same year as Trixie Belden and the Mysterious Visitor, which also climaxed with Our Heroine being taken hostage but (no spoilers) leaves the reader fairly breathless with its resolution.
Whiz Reilly Department: Still no clue to his given name, still guessing “Warren.”