If her terrible injuries were to be tended, it was up to strangers – people like Penny – to do what must be done…
Continuing our annual fall retrospective of Whitman girls’ series books with the 5th volume in the series by Jean Kirby, AKA Jinny McDonnell AKA Virginia Bleecher McDonnell.
Background: I’ve noted before the reasons for the enduring popularity of Nursing as profession for YA heroines, so it’s no surprise that in the mid-1960s Whitman would take a pass at the genre. To their credit, they came up with a rather ingenious marketing concept: three young-adult daughters of a world-famous widower-surgeon, who each answer the calling. The Scott sisters- nursing student Coleen (called Kelly), private-duty nurse Penny, and travel nurse Tracy, each star in their own adventures, which Whitman has conveniently color-coded for us in (respectively) turquoise, yellow, and pink covers.
(As I have ALSO noted over the past four years, you might be better served by picking a sister and reading her adventures one after another, rather than trying to get your mind around how the series skips around in time if you proceed in order of publication)
When we last left Penny on duty in the Ozarks, she had reunited an estranged father and son, befriended a feral child and broken up a religious cult, before neatly dodging romantic entanglement after witnessing the cult leader being manslaughtered by his long-suffering wife.
Sometime after her Ozarks adventures, Penny has returned to the familial townhouse in New York (in between she apparently had a case involving an elderly woman with “a broken hip and fussy disposition”) and her father, renowned surgeon Dr. Timberlake Scott, has prescribed a nice vacation for his daughter. As the book opens, Dr. Scott is settling his daughter into a private stateroom on the train to San Francisco, off to pay a visit to her older sister Tracy…
…But the train has barely pulled out of Penn station when it violently derails and catches on fire.
Minimally bruised, Penny is immediately on the job, providing first aid to the victims and rescuing a little girl from a flaming car where she has been pinioned under her dead parents.
The first two chapters are surprisingly gruesome, detailing the injuries of the train passengers and the differences between the first, second, and third degree burns afflicting the girl that Penny rescued and now feels a special responsibility for. Despite her own injuries, Penny has soon borrowed a uniform and reports to the burn ward at the children’s hospital. Her father is annoyed:
“Once I accused you of really having too little personal feeling for your work, your patients… in the case of this little girl, you’ve gone overboard, worried as though you were her closest relative.”
The railroad has identified the girl’s dead parents as Mr. and Mrs. Redigo, U.S. citizens who had been living in Iran, working in the oil business, but they have no record of the child’s name. The search continues for Redigo relatives, but the only contacts the family seems to have had are with lawyers and bankers- although it is quick established that the little girl will come into a fortune of $84,000 (which the inflation calculator tells me is about $800,000 2022-dollars).
Penny takes charge of the case, nicknaming the girl “Rabbit” and supervising her care, including the long process of skin grafts on her legs which might be described with more detail than strictly necessary.
Finally a long-lost uncle turns up, Douglas Redigo, who has been off on “business ventures” in Venezuela for the past decade, having never met his young niece, although he is able to enlighten everyone that her name is Linda.
He expresses his intent to take Linda to the old family home on Marie Island, off the coast of Washington state, where he will send for his spinster sister from California and make a home for Linda. While he claims sister Evelyn in an LPN, he hires on Penny to nurse Linda until she can get there. So it off to Marie Island… or is it to DANGER ISLAND???
Doug is late picking up Penny and Linda at the airport, explaining that his car had broken down, and although he was able to make a temporary repair, he needs to stop by the garage on the way home to see about a part. He leaves Penny and Linda in the car while he goes to consult the mechanic… and he also leaves the car in neutral and parked on the side of the cliff.
As they start rolling to their death, Penny is unable to put the car in gear as she is holding Linda on her lap, but luckily random local state trooper Lt. Random is nearby to rescue them. Penny is suspicious of Doug’s reaction to the incident:
He isn’t really upset. He’s a good actor, that’s all!
Another unpleasant surprise awaits Penny when they arrive at the Redigo house, which has been long vacant, and has never been converted to electricity or indoor plumbing. Although Penny mostly seems concerned with the quality of the furniture:
She saw that the furnishings were antique, old perhaps without being good- a fact she recognized from having lived her life with antiques in her father’s home.
Penny becomes even more suspicious with the arrival of Evelyn, who appears to be much older than her brothers, and despite claiming to have been raised in the Marie Island house, is constantly surprised by the lack of amenities.
Penny is also taken aback that although Evelyn claims to have taken training as a practical nurse, she doesn’t show much interest in Linda’s care. Penny is suspicious enough to call the hospital in San Francisco (the same one that Tracy is currently working at) to check on her credentials, only to learn they have no record of her.
Clearly: Something Is Up. Still, while caring full-time for Linda, Penny again finds time to befriend a feral child, which seems to be a recurring theme with her.
Clary is a local girl who lives down the road from the isolated Redigo house with her anti-social Granny, who dresses Clary like a boy and discourages her mixing with the island’s other children. Ill-tempered and unwelcoming, Granny is only one of many locals who remember the Redigo family and insists that there was never a sister. She also insists that Penny’s employer is way too handsome to be Doug Redigo, who apparently was a notably homely child.
Penny eventually wins over Granny (providing medical care after she takes a fall) and spends time with Clary, who shows her a secret cave near the Redigo mansion. Doug and Evelyn continue to behave suspiciously, and Penny begins to suspect that Evelyn is stealing both her incoming and outgoing mail. The Redigos finally dismiss Penny from her position, but she refuses to leave.
Penny takes her suspicions to Lt. Random, who dismisses her concerns as sour grapes over Doug because “this chap who had been so nice to you in New York turned around and fired you cold.”
Way to detect, Random.
Eventually Evelyn tries to push Linda and penny off of a cliff, and Penny takes the child and runs to Clary’s hidden cave, with the Redigos’ henchmen in hot pursuit. After successfully tricking the henchmen into falling into a pit inside the cave it is then revealed that the woods surrounding the house have been full of FBI agents this whole time [!!!] who arrest the gang and introduce Penny to the real Douglas Redigo who sure enough has a homely-ass face. Turns out his cousin John has been impersonating him the whole time, and was out to get rid of Linda and claim her inheritance, until her had a last minute change of heart about Evelyn’s plan for MURDER.
It’s unclear if Evelyn is a real older Redigo-relative, as Real Doug explains
“She had a resentful, morbid disposition, and could feel sorry for herself over almost everything.”
As the sheriff concludes “All these threads get confusing.”
Penny remains on the island long enough to tape her testimony for the fake-Redigos trial, and convince Granny to get Clary some dresses and teach her to act like a lady.
Clary inquires about what was apparently supposed to b ethe budding romance between Penny at Lt. Random, but Penny responds:
“Clary, I like the lieutenant very much, too, but you know what? I think the lieutenant likes himself much more than he does me, don’t you?”
And Penny is off for her next adventure!
Welcome new readers! The site recently got a high-profile mention on Twitter when you lovely readers helped author Carlie St. George find a long-lost, distantly remembered book through the Name That Book! Page.
This resulted in a huge influx of new readers and a huger influx of comments and e-mails from readers looking for their own long-lost literary faves. To give you an idea, I have gone from about 5 requests a month to over 1,000 and counting in the last 48 hours. Which is amazing! But also more than this one-woman shop can handle in a timely matter! I ask for your patience and understanding while I sort through these requests and get a better system up and running.
I have temporarily paused comments on the Name That Book! Page, but I am still taking descriptions by e-mail. Watch this space for updates soon!
in the case of this little girl, you’ve gone overboard, worried as though you were her closest relative.”
Her own closest relatives are dead! Geez, have a heart!
I feel like we never really explore Dr. Timberlake Scott’s feelings about his wife dying in childbirth….
Molly, how astounding about the tweet! I’m not on twitter but the thread is open and I’m reading through it now. It’s delightful — people posting pics of their long-lost books. One of them is “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” which was a Final Jeopardy question last week that I got but none of the contestants did, not even Cris Pannullo on Day 16 of his ongoing run.
And Molly, some of the books people are posting in the twitter thread are ones that you’ve reviewed here!
Oh wow, I finally took a good look at that thread, and there are some amazing covers that I have thought about in 40+ years. And it is really interesting to see so many people remembering The Dollhouse Murders and the Real Me! I feel assured that I have a finger on the pulse of… something!
Congratulations? You know I visit your site for your very fine vintage reviews. I was a bit dismayed to see that a lot of the “lost” titles on the thread are ones that have been in my school library for years, but which people read “as children”. Sigh.
I am overwhelmed, and still have requests coming in! I guess I know what I’ll be doing on my winter break… but the fact is that even before this sudden spike, that page was getting lengthy and hard to read, so I had better find a solution sooner rather than later.
And oh, yeah, nothing makes me feel older than when I get a request for a book from a really long time ago… like 2012! 😆