“If she gets involved in any more mysteries I’d be in favor of the boarding school idea. As you say, she might get a lot out of it. How do you feel about going away to school, Ginny?”
It is still fall and I still have a couple of more Whitman girls’ series up my sleeve- today we return to Westchester County, NY, home of the Julie Campbell Tatham’s OTHER famous teen girl sleuth, Ginny Gordon, and her benevolent youth gang, The Hustlers.
In previous volumes, The Hustlers (Ginny’s BFF Lucy Tryon, her wholesome, kinda-boyfriend John Blaketon and John’s twin cousins Whiz and Babs) had opened a junk shop and thwarted various criminal schemes, then sold it off to fund a new enterprise, The Snack Barn, and thwarted a pair of fraudsters with the help of a hunky hillbilly singer who was also an FBI agent, then turned around and sold THAT so they could start a portable lending library for invalids and shut-ins.
The Plot: It is worth noting that this fifth and final novel in the series was published the same year as Campbell’s fifth Trixie Belden book (The Mystery Off Glen Road), and like that story, this one has a lot of things happening, but not much of a cohesive mystery.
Still, it is slightly livelier than the previous volumes in the series, which has never managed to rise to the heights of the Trixie mysteries.
As the book opens, Ginny and the gang are preparing to hold a used book sale in their space at the Harristown train station to raise funds to benefit the Junior-Senior high school, and they are overwhelmed by donations:
“Everybody, but everybody in town wants to donate books for the sale. And they’re not really being charitable at all.” Lucy’s blue eyes flashed. “It’s just that they want to get ride of a lot of old books that have been gathering cobwebs for years.”
The library is doing bang-up business on the lending side as well, especially with the publication of My Heart’s in the City, a scandalous, Peyton Place-esque novel that everyone in town is reading, convinced that it is based on Harristown and its residents!
Things start to go wrong when The Hustlers receive a shipment of antique books from Mrs. Arnold, one of the many eccentric old ladies who populate Harristown and get involved in Ginny’s various adventures. Ginny notes that the box contains what appears to be a valuable volume of Lewis Carroll’s Rhyme? And Reason? and sets it aside on the rare books shelf for the sale. Mrs. Arnold’s long-suffering chauffeur, Carson, soon returns to inform Ginny the book was sent over by mistake, and when Ginny goes to retrieve it, finds it missing!
Mrs. Arnold is thrilled to have another mystery to solve, but Carson feels responsible and is sick with worry when he learns it is worth 500 1956-dollars (that’s almost five grand in 2020).
Ginny, meanwhile, suspects that Whiz and Babs Reilly, the harebrained junior members of the club, somehow got the book mixed up with a bunch of old textbooks they took to the dump.
Like Mystery Off Glen Road, a LOT of this book finds Ginny on the outs with her friends, berating the Reilly twins for their incompetence, annoyed with Lucy for her crush on a moody New Guy In Town, and quarreling with John when he accuses her of “biting off more than she can chew.”
The latter accusation is sparked by Ginny’s invitation to serve as the moderator for a radio panel show on Harristown’s WHBH called “Author Meets Teen-Age Critics”. If the show is a success, it could even be picked up by the network affiliate for national broadcast!
But station owner Mr. Adrian puts a lot on Ginny, leaving her to contract the guest-author, do publicity, secure review copies AND recruit a panel of fellow-teenagers:
“In choosing them, Ginny, you’ll have to be a sort of detective-psychologist. If I were you I would start out with the most popular boys and girls in school. They are apt to be well-adjusted, and that’s very important. Volume in a voice on the air stems from self-confidence, inner convictions. Warmth of the tones comes from unselfishness, awareness of others. The voice of a self-centered or insecure boy or girl, for instance, is often too high-pitched, squeaky.
The boy or girl who gets straight-As may have been pushed by over-ambitious parents. That type is apt to be high-strung. Don’t choose a domineering classmate, whatever you do.”
Ginny moaned. “We seem to have eliminated everyone but the shy, retiring types.”
“A thousand times no,” Mr. Adrian replied strongly. “That type is almost certain to be an over-protected or too-sheltered child.”
Although Ginny is already imagining her future career as a glamorous radio star, her parents don’t entirely approve- especially after she starts cutting class in her struggle to balance her radio and library duties. Aunt Betsy is also on her case, suggesting that her constant involvement in local mysteries is unladylike, and that she should be sent to Boarding School to learn some manners. To her horror, her parents agree, and Ginny has to promise NO MORE MYSTERIES.
Which is how she manages to restrain herself when a bubbly young woman gets off the train and wanders into the library. Alicia Golden is on vacation from the big city, insisting that she chose Harristown off a map at random. Alicia is down on small towns, and also not a fan of Boarding School, where her parents sent her as teen because she was “practically a juvenile delinquent”. Still, she admits:
“If I hadn’t gone away all of my bright ideas would have been stifled before they were born. Now that I live in Greenwich Village in New York City I can do and say exactly what I please without fear of criticism. And nobody, but NOBODY, can boss me around.”
The chaos builds up as Mrs. Arnold becomes increasingly insistent that the missing book was stolen and that Ginny must find and apprehend the thief, while at the same time Ginny finds her classmates reluctant to join the radio program. With the lending library taking up so much time, Ginny soon finds the broadcast two weeks away with no panel, no author, no reviewers’ copies and no publicity!
Mr. Adrian steps in and suggests that his nephew, Chuck, could be of assistance in the library, since he had founded a lending library in his old town. The Hustlers are not enthused about this idea, since Chuck has been a total pill ever since he moved to town, complaining about how provincial Harristown is and how all of his classmates are cliquish and stuck-up. Only Lucy thinks he’s a total dream-boat!
Chuck agrees to take over as the business manager of the library, although he’s a total turd to everyone the whole time. Lucy finally gets him to melt a bit, and it turns out that he’s misses his old school and is mad that his uncle chose Ginny to helm the radio show over himself, because he has experience in radio as well as lending libraries.
Things continue to get more and more chaotic as the broadcast approaches and more and more mysterious happenings foul up Ginny’s plans: various telegrams, Special Delivery Letters and Night Letters to an author’s agent go missing, as well as the review copies of the chosen book and THEN the synopses that Ginny offers as a replacement, causing her finally-secured panelists to quit in disgust. Mrs. Arnold is still screaming for Ginny to solve the mystery of the stolen book, and abruptly withdraws patronage from the library (she had made The Hustlers a $300 loan to get it started). And isn’t that Alicia Golden acting awfully strange, even for a Beatnik…
Eventually everyone fesses up: Chuck for trying to sabotage the broadcast, Alicia for being the author of the controversial My Heart’s in the City, and abruptly, the town hermit for walking off with the valuable book. Mrs. Arnold managed to solve that last one on her own, resulting in a hilariously convoluted sequence in which she blackmails the town hermit (AKA distinguished literature professor Dr. Lloyd Forester, Ph D) into selling her a figurine she needs to complete a set, and he then takes the exactly $500 she paid him and leaves it for Ginny to cover the cost of the book, who returns it to Mrs. Arnold to cover the cost of the “theft”.
Ginny reconciles with the rest of the club, who agree to serve as the panelists for the radio broadcast, and Ginny asks a chastened Chuck to serve as her co-moderator. Alicia graciously agrees to be interviewed for the premiere, and reconciles with her literary agent-boyfriend (the cause of her running away from Greenwich Village); she has learned her lesson about being snotty about the suburbs and they have a double wedding with Struggling Local Artist Joe Dakor and the Gordons’ maid, Lila. Yup, all that gets crammed in.
Ginny also turns over both the radio show (a huge success) and management of the library to Chuck, explaining:
“Ask the other Hustlers and they’ll tell you the sad truth about me: I like to launch projects, but once they are running smoothly I begin to lose interest. So please, you carry on, Chuck.”
The book ends with Mrs. Arnold insisting that The Hustlers forget all about paying back the loan, but promises:
“Hah! I have cooked up another scheme that will keep you busy until doomsday!”
As this is the final volume in the series, we never learn what that is.
I do want to say a few words about the illustrations, by Margaret Wesley, in this volume. Mainly that they are super-weird.
Here is Ginny wearing what is described as:
[O]ne of the culotte-frocks her mother had bought her last summer in Shoemakers’s High-Jinx department
Which just looks like that Ginny is peddling around town in her underwear.
Even better is the rendering of Dream Boat Chuck:
Which reminds me of a quote about baseball player Wally Moon, “from a time when ‘a guy with a unibrow’ was known as ‘a guy’.”
Whiz cannot stop laughing and neither can I.
Sign It Was Written In 1956 Department:
Ginny finished her sandwich and hot chocolate and said to the waitress, “I won’t be able to pay you until I get my allowance on Friday. Is that all right?”
Whiz Reilly Department: Still no confirmation on his given name, so I am just going to declare that it is Warren and that is canon.