This one takes the typical Mary Stewart heroine(nice, sensible, spirited, smart, and attractive) to Austria. I think this is the only one of her books where the heroine is already married. Vanessa and her husband had been planning a second honeymoon to Italy when he puts everything on hold because his company is supposedly sending him to Sweden. Vanessa is not pleased, to say the least, and they part in anger. But then she sees her husband in a newsreel about a tragic circus fire in a small village in Austria! And, he has a protective arm around a pretty young woman! Despite her angry parting words, Vanessa and Lewis are happily married and her upstanding husband has never given her a reason not to trust him. What is going on? Coincidentally, A friend of her mother’s has asked her to chaperone her 17-year-old son, Tim, to visit his estranged father in Vienna not far from where the newsreel was filmed. What is a concerned and suspicious wife to do? Need you ask?
If I had to name a favorite Mary Stewart novel, this would be it. Tim and Vanessa become the best of friends despite their age difference, and their relationship is charming. When Lewis is tracked down, he has a very good if rather astounding reason for his deceptive actions and his many “business trips” to Europe. It turns out that there is a lot more to her husband than Vanessa was aware of. In most of Mary Stewart’s novels, the romance is tinged with darkness and suspicion with little room for humor. I loved that this one was happy and even lighthearted. The rapport and banter between Vanessa and Tim and Vanessa and Lewis and eventually Tim and Lewis was a highlight.
Of course, there is intrigue and danger involved, including a thrilling chase over the rooftops of a fairy tale castle and a terror-filled race by car and train to rescue Tim from an unthinkable fate. Yikes! Poor Tim. PTSD is definitely part of his future. And intertwined throughout is the small family-owned circus which proudly features a Lipizzan stallion. When Vanessa, a qualified veterinarian by the way, is called on to treat an old broken-down horse who was injured in the fire, it leads to two of the most touching and triumphant scenes in a Mary Stewart novel that I can recall.
The crime part is a bit pedestrian. I liked the romanticism and drama of what turned out to be the red herring much better. But that is just a quibble. There is another mystery that crops up in this one that is much more intriguing and involving than the mere breaking of international laws. I’ve never forgotten what I learned about the Lipizzan horses and their history when I read this for the first time. I listened to this one on audible, and as usual, this added even more enjoyment to this story that I last read many many years ago.
When a Muslim family is burned out of their store and Mosque, Judy gets involved. Who set the fires and why? And who pulled the fire alarm across town diverting the firefighters from the real fire? Suspicion has landed on 10-year-old Ken Topping because his hands now glow under ultraviolet light. The police had coated the alarm handle with a chemical to catch those responsible. But Judy thinks he is innocent partly because Ken is friends with the Muslim boy who was injured in the fire.
As Judy investigates, she discovers an organized international group of bigots that share more than a passing resemblance to groups who are operating today, almost 60 years after Margaret Sutton wrote this book. They are called The Wasps (John Birch Society?), and yes, they are against anyone who is not White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Their mission is to infiltrate high schools and church groups to spread their hate disguised as Patriotism and traditional Christian values. A number of Judy’s acquaintances, including the snobby trouble-making Vincent family, have found much to like in their agenda.
While trying to find the real culprits, Judy finds plenty of excitement, including riots in the streets of usually peaceful Farringdon. A house that the Muslim family, The Wards, was buying in an exclusive neighborhood is set on fire and burned. According to Lindsay Stroh, Margaret Sutton’s daughter, The issue of inclusion and diversity hit close to home for Margaret. Her nephew Victor married a Muslim woman and also converted to Islam himself. Margaret was also heavily involved in encouraging the integration of her community and joined Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. This book is based on an actual incident, as all of the Judy Boltons are. One of Lindsay’s schoolmates was Indian and when they moved into a wealthy white neighborhood, they were the victims of arson.
Unfortunately, Margaret’s message for her young readers was muddled somewhat by the introduction of the controversy of the local high schools becoming co-ed instead of Boys Only and Girls Only. The ”Anti-Wasps” who were protesting the segregated schools were almost as unsympathetic as The Wasps. Also, a number of loose ends were left untied, and we never really see if or how the original families who were against “Heathens” living in their exclusive neighborhood had a change of heart. We are told that the whole community banded together to welcome the Wards and their mosque to the neighborhood once the outsiders were arrested by Peter and the rest of the FBI. A little too pat and rushed.
According to a friend and fellow member of The Judy Bolton Discussion Group, William Land, Some of the problems with some of Margaret’s later books could possibly be laid at the feet of the publishers who considerably reduced the page count of the Judy Bolton books and other children’s series starting in the 1960s. Sometimes Margaret seems to have been trying to tackle too much in the fewer pages allotted to them. Also, the series was coming to an end and Margaret still had a lot to say (my speculation entirely).
Nevertheless, despite its lack of clarity and lingering questions, This book deserves 5 stars for the difficult and controversial issues that Margaret Sutton addressed in this particular volume. Especially for the time it was written. There are a lot of tense scenes, and Judy proves her moral and physical courage on more than one occasion. She was a real heroine in this. I’m sure many of Margaret’s young readers were influenced by her take on the integration and inclusion of those of different faiths and ethnicities. Although there is no doubt where Judy and her friends stand on the issues, it is not always easy, simple, and straightforward for all of the characters we meet in this book.
I listened to this on audio read by the great Barbara Rosenblat. I had read the story many years ago and may have read it more than once. It was Barbara Michaels’s last novel under this pseudonym. I would give the story a 3, but Barbara R.’s reading a 5. I loved the heroine, but in the end, the plot was kind of all over the place. Although Heather, our funny, caustic, and indomitable heroine ends up with the guy I wanted her to, I’m not sure how it happened exactly. She seemed to be going in another surprising direction, and it wasn’t until the end that that attraction was explained, and it kind of made sense. I was happy and even relieved at the pivot.
American school teacher Heather Tradescant is touring the gardens of England in honor of her gentle scholarly father. They had planned the pilgrimage together, but he has since died in an automobile accident. She arrives at what was to be the highlight of their tour, the estate of Troyton House, the site of a famous 17th-century garden long since grown over and all but vanished. When she is locked out of the grounds, Heather being Heather forges through a thick overgrown hedge which mysteriously seems almost alive and malevolent. She bursts through, scratched and bloody, and lands at the feet of the famous and fabulously wealthy Mr. Karim, the current owner. To her surprise and incredulity, he enlists her amateur aid in restoring the important garden. He learned her last name, Tradescant, is coincidentally (?) the same as the original designer. Also, he likes her because, unlike everyone else in the world, she refuses to be bossed or bullied and gives as good as she gets. She is a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately not much restoration is accomplished because Heather is too busy dealing with local witches, mysterious fogs, trying to rediscover how she got through the impenetrable hedge in the first place, the jealous wife of the former owner of the estate, and her spoiled little boy who has all of the makings of a future serial killer with a history of pyromania to boot. Not to mention being the romantic target of two attractive men despite the fact that she is just average looking with an overweight though athletic build. The third man in the picture is Mr. Karim’s sarcastic grouchy son who is a university professor working on a book and doesn’t seem to like her at all.
There is really not much of a plot and not even a mystery to solve unless you count why Mr. Karim is so hateful to his son. Bobby, the future serial killer, disappears and is feared dead but that is a matter for the police and his unhappy parents and is not any of Heather’s business. Not that anyone misses the horrid child anyway. Heather is poisoned and has two other exciting escapes at the end. The story ends with a shocking development but the reasons behind it all didn’t really make a lot of sense.
This is the last of a long line of Barbara Michaels novels, and she might have been a little tired. She was also keeping up with her yearly and very popular Amelia Peabody adventures under “Elizabeth Peters,” and an occasional Jacqueline Kirby or Vicky Bliss thrown in. Most of her earlier “Barbara Michaels” books were true Gothics which featured haunted houses, witchcraft, and other paranormal activities: Werewolves, fairies, timeslips, and possession included. The latter novels are immersed in fascinating and arcane aspects of various professional and hobbyist pursuits. This one is steeped in the lore of formal gardens and mazes with a healthy dose of witchcraft and ancient curses. Previous books have also tackled vintage fashion, quilting folklore, antique jewelry, old rose cultivation, deciphering damaged manuscripts, and archeology. Barbara Michaels’s scholarly and feminist approach shines throughout all of them. To qualify as “Romantic suspense” each has a sometimes perfunctory sometimes charming romance thrown into the mix. I always loved her Barbara Michaels novels having grown a little weary of Amelia Peabody over the years. I have learned a lot from her books and this one was no exception.
“Why don’t you settle down with a nice husband?” “Husband?” The horror in Rowena’s voice could have warmed the heart of any feminist. “Husband? My dear, I can’t afford one! Look what they cost to feed nowadays!”
“Kitty Long—you remember her?—is going to have yet another operation.” “Another! She’s had two!” “Yes. She says she enjoyed the last two so much that she’s looking forward to the third. I forget what they’re slicing off this time, but it’s coming off from her inside, but as I told her, there can’t be much left to hack off. The woman must be a mere shell. Doctors!” Rowena’s scorn filled the large kitchen. “I’ve told Kitty that every time this doctor of hers wants to take his family off for a holiday, he gets the money by advising all his women patients to have operations. How else do you think surgeons live in the style they do? By chopping up all these rich, idle and half-witted women like Kitty. Every time she eats something that disagrees with her, that man hacks out another bit of her inside. And diet! First he got her off decent meals and on to nuts and carrots and shredded horse-food. Then when all that chewing made her teeth wear out, he switched her on to fruit juices and disgusting-looking squashy vegetable mixtures. Then he put her on to bread that’s got nothing in it but cement and chaff. All between operations, of course.
That quote is long and has nothing to do with the plot, but was just one example of the delightful treasures that this book is full of. I think this may now be my most favorite Elizabeth Cadell, supplantingThe Corner Shop. The romance was better in TCS, but the mystery, character development, complexities, humor, family dynamics, and the quirky secondary characters were so good in this one.
Julian Hurst is from a very conventional background where the family law firm has provided a good and respectable living for generations. But he had a talent for art and eventually became an art dealer which he is very good and successful at. All of the characters in this novel are deftly drawn to a “T” with affection and humor. James is a pretty good guy, raised in a common sense manner, but he is very “cock-sure”. He is not used to being anything but successful and getting whatever he wants with a minimum of effort. Yes, things have come easily for Julian and he leads a very nice footloose and fancy-free kind of life and plans to continue to do so until he is 30, at which time he will find a wife and settle down. But, as John Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The family law firm asks him to go to Yorkshire to catalog a Mr. Randall’s art collection. He reluctantly complies when he hears that the collection reportedly includes some “good” Clauvals. Clauval is an artist who is experiencing something of a renaissance but is quite mysterious due to the lack of knowledge about him and because he is responsible for painting both masterpieces and valueless junk. He figures he will just suck it up, stop there for a few days, do his work, and continue up to Scotland to visit his godmother who is throwing one of her fun house parties.
Mr. Randall proves to be mean and hard and conditions at the rambling old house are spartan which Julian is not used to and does not like. But he does like the miserly client’s young, beautiful, and charming new cook. In fact, much to his surprise and consternation, he falls head over heels in love with her. She is the one. And she loves him too, despite Julian noticing that she sometimes looks at him, not as a knight in shining armor, but with secret amusement as if she sees all of his faults and foibles. Julian proposes and Alexandra, after a few kindly expressed reservations, accepts. He can’t wait to introduce her to his loving family. But first, he decides to take a kind of breather to get used to the idea that his well-laid comfortable plans for his life have been dramatically upturned. He might be just a bit unsure, despite his happiness. So he adheres to his original plan to visit his Scottish godmother and her house party, leaving Alexandra behind. He can hardly introduce his fiance to his godmother before his own mother, can he? She says she is fine with that. When his godmother sees how miserable he is without Alexandra she gets the whole story.
“Did she oppose the idea of your coming here?” “No. She was wonderful.” He found the grey, wise old eyes raised to his with what he saw, to his astonishment, was a look of worry. “She—? What did you say, Julian, my dear?” “I said she didn’t mind.” “She—” His godmother took off her glasses once more and polished them absently. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” she said softly. “Oh, my poor, poor Julian!”
She declares that no woman of intelligence and spirit would stand for such a “selfish trick” and throws Julian into a panic. The frightened and chastened Julian rushes off on a nightmare journey back to Alexandra while the Scottish winter decides to teach this “insolent Londoner” a thing or two, in a bit of whimsical and delightful writing. After Winter throws all its hostility and caprice at him, sure enough, when he arrives back at the old mansion he finds the mean owner dead of a heart attack, and Alexandra gone. With the 4 valuable Claudels that he discovered. The London address she gave him does not exist.
For the rest of the book, we follow Julian in his desperate search for his fiance. The Clauvals start to appear on the market one by one, but strangely, only in places that Julian is sure to hear about or see them. One is even brought to the Hurst family home when Julian is out. What is Alexandra up to? He (and we) know that she is incapable of stealing or doing anything bad. He follows clue after clue, and he learns that Mr. Randall’s deaf, frail, and scrupulously loyal and honest old butler of 40 years is involved somehow. As one step leads to another away from his old habits and ways, we travel across England with Julian, share in his adventures, and meet a number of amusing English eccentrics, each more entertaining and dotty than the last. Julian’s sister has a baby, he is thrown out of the hospital by an irate nurse, we attend a horrifying to Julian, but hilarious to the reader, lunch with 80 schoolgirls where he is the only male for miles around. We learn a lot about each member of his family and Julian. In one scene, he sweetly agrees to babysit his young nephew, who wants a bedtime story about “cheeses.” Julian cooperatively starts on about dairy maids and Gorgonzola only to be admonished by little Danny that he meant “Jesus,” not “cheeses.” It was an unexpected and funny scene. And Julian learns a lot and develops some much-needed strength of character. When the light finally dawns, we wonder what took him so long, as does Alexandra, and so she tells him.
“Could I help it,” asked Alexandra, “if you were stupid? Could I?”…“Are you really going to marry him, Alexandra? asked Rowena. “Yes, I am, I think,” said Alexandra. “He isn’t what I hoped for, but I’ve always heard that a clever girl can mold a man.”
But even the reader isn’t prepared for a couple of final twists. At least I was a bit blown away. The book is full of whimsical descriptions, lovely people, wisdom, and entertaining side trips. Julian and Alexandra are apart for 90% of the book, but I was never impatient or bored. But those who prefer one of Ms. Cadell’s more conventional romances or family stories might want to skip over this one. But don’t, you will love it.
I listened to this on audio, read by Ellie Haydon, who makes Christy and Charles, the two leads, posh but likable. Strangely, Christy’s Lebanese driver, Habib, is read as an English cockney. Christabel Mansel is on a guided bus tour of the Mideast. She semi-coincidentally meets her older cousin Charles. “I met him on a street called Straight” is the attention-grabbing first sentence in the book. They were raised together in England and are first cousins, both the children of twin brothers. I’ll let that sink in though I have no comment. My understanding is that in later, possibly in the U.S. editions, the editors changed this to second cousins. Because by the end of the novel, they are well on the way to marriage and presumably children. Christy is the first to admit that both she and Charles are spoiled and entitled, but it doesn’t really come through in their words and actions. They are likable and nice. Christy in particular has a lot of gumption and is not afraid of confronting the bad guys later in the book with her tart sarcastic tongue.
Charles reminds Christy that their eccentric Great Aunt Harriet lives near Damascus in a Castle called Der Ibrahim. She fancies herself as a latter-day Lady Hester Stanhope. Christy doesn’t really remember her too well, but Charles was always a favorite and he plans to go visit her. Meanwhile, Charles has to go meet someone on business, and Christy decides to steal a march on him. Because that is how she rolls. She is successful in getting into the decaying castle and meeting her elderly sick Aunt’s caretakers, who seem OK at first but may or may not be shady, and finally her reclusive and anti-social Aunt, who is really odd and creepy. Before she leaves two days later she notices that the local girl servant is wearing her great aunt’s ruby ring, a family heirloom. Something is not right.
When Christy and Charles meet up again Christy tells him the whole story. The easy and sometimes amusing banter between the two cousins is a strong point in the book. On her way to meet Charles in Beirut (or Damascus?), she is kidnapped and taken back to Aunt Harriet’s castle by a man who looks strangely familiar. From there, Christy and the Reader are confronted with being drugged, smuggling, poison, dungeons, murder, a raging fire, and the truth about Aunt Harriet.
Most of the book is, fair to say, heavy on the description and travelogue aspects and light on the plot. As exotic, romantic, and nostalgic as the 1960s Middle East is, it does slow the book up a bit. The last quarter of the book is full of action and excitement and of course, Romance. It even has a heart-touching scene. Christy and Charles make a great team and have a great relationship. Reading about the 1960s in the 2020s is nostalgia gone wild. With a touch of melancholy. Not that I ever was in Syria or Lebanon, of course. But Mary Stewart is so great at conjuring up that world and the sights and experiences that a beautiful, rich, spirited, and smart girl might have had there, (even without all the excitement) it reminds me of why I love to read. Calgon, Take me Away.
Judy knew now that she was in the hands of a two-faced criminal who was playing a deadly game with people instead of chessmen. Mr. Mosher was only another pawn… but he was playing against two queens, Mrs. Mosher and Judy. He was also playing against a suddenly ferocious black cat. “My black knight!” Judy thought…the next few minutes were a dim hazy confusion of flying fur, struggling men, and screaming children.”
Judy and Honey join Horace’s chess club with their new friend Lorna’s encouragement. Right away we are swept into an adventure that involves 10 escaped prisoners possibly including Lorna’s wrongly convicted father, hollow chessmen, and mysterious notes. On top of that, Judy’s beloved Dad, Dr. Bolton, is missing, and Horace and Honey are on the outs again with Lorna in the middle.
Judy comes up against a sinister “granite-faced man” whom Judy calls “Mr. Stone,” who is part of the chess club. And it turns out that’s really his name! What are the odds? Also part of the mix is a local elected official, C.L. Sloan, who is quite probably on the take. It turns out the L. stands for Launt, as in Alden Launt. He is one of the escaped prisoners and we remember him as Honey’s work colleague who turned out to be involved in espionage and stealing government plans in The Secret Quest. Judy’s search for her missing Dad with Horace and Lorna following in her wake, leads her into some exciting adventures. It soon becomes clear that Dr. Bolton has been kidnapped in order to treat 2 of the prisoners who were wounded in the escape. Retracing her Dad’s last known steps, she has a close call with a speeding truck going in the opposite direction on her way to the Moshers who called Dr. Bolton because their baby swallowed a screw. Blackberry runs away into their locked barn, and Judy climbs a tree and jumps into an open window eventually landing on Dr. Bolton’s abandoned car. Everything comes to head at the Moshers when Mr. Stone shows up and manhandles Judy until Blackberry tears into him in the defense of his mistress. Luckily Peter shows up with his colleagues. Mr. Brown is taken into custody. Dr. Bolton is found safe and sound at the Farringdon-Pett mansion where the escaped prisoners had been hiding out. (Interestingly, Arthur has taken Lorraine away on a trip around the world because Lorraine is sick of living with his parents in the mansion. Mr. And Mrs. Farringdon-Pett the elder are conveniently away to parts unknown as well, leaving the mansion conveniently deserted.) Needless to say, Lorna’s father is exonerated, Horace gets his big story for the paper, and He and Honey have made up their differences (until the next book, probably.)
This was one of the better ones in the series with some romantic drama, tense moments, lively action, interesting characters, and the reappearance of old friends and enemies. As usual, there were some confusing aspects if one reads too closely and critically, but the strengths carry the day.
Wow, this one sure took a turn. I thought it was one kind of book, and then it turned into another!
It is a dual-timeline story. In the “Before”, We meet Casey who is staying by herself in her family cottage on Lake Greene in Vermont. She is a well-known stage actress, who is recovering from the tragic drowning death of her beloved husband, a successful screenwriter, which took place at the same lake. She was fired from her last gig because of her drunken behavior and the ensuing bad press. She had been in despair since her husband died and has continued with her heavy drinking. The lake is very secluded, and her only neighbors are few. There is the newcomer Boone, an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic whose own wife died a while back. Directly across the lake are the Royces, who live in a modern house with lots of windows. He is a successful tech entrepreneur and she is a famous model. Next door to them is 70-year-old Eli, a longtime resident and family friend. He is the one who keeps her in alcohol (why?). Casey spends her days on her deck with a pair of binoculars surveying the lake, watching the doings of the Royces across the water, and drinking to excess. She really likes Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. One day, she sees someone struggling in the water, rows out, and ends up saving Katherine Royce’s life. They become friendly. The more she gets to know Katherine and the more she guiltily continues to spy on them with her binoculars, the more concerned she gets for her friend’s well-being. Then one day, Katherine disappears. Meanwhile, she has gotten to know Boone, who has reason to have the same concerns about Katherine’s welfare. They team up together to investigate and hopefully find Katherine, or at least find out what happened to her.
Interspersed are the “Now” sections, in which it becomes clear that Casey has someone secretly imprisoned and tied down in one of her upstairs bedrooms and is trying to force them into revealing what became of her friend. Sometime between “Before” and “Now”, the police have become involved.
Right about in the middle of this book, I thought I had the twist figured out. Since I was so smart, my sense of urgency to turn the pages faded a bit. It was still a very well-written book, and there were still other mysteries to uncover, so I continued with it happily. I was invested in the fates of Katherine and Casey, despite Casey’s constant drunkenness, which got on my nerves. I feel there were way too many references to her struggles with alcohol. Especially when Katherine’s fate, if she wasn’t already dead, may have depended on Casey’s ability to think and function. She was consuming so much booze that I honestly didn’t see how she could get out of bed every day. She was so committed to helping Katherine (if it wasn’t too late,) that her prioritizing drinking over even trying to remain lucid didn’t make sense and was frustrating. I felt this aspect of Casey really wasn’t even necessary and has become a cliche for the genre, so it brought the book down a bit for me.
I had one small sliver of the twist correct, but nothing could have prepared me for the full truth of what was going on with the Royces, and unnamed others. After the first twist, the shocks continue to come thick and fast. Some were so incredible, that I had to look back and review to make sure the author had played fair and didn’t lie to us. But he did play fair. I could see no plot holes. I did have a few questions at the end, but the author did a great job of tying everything together. So great that I was willing to ignore some aspects.
This book is a wild ride, and part of Sager’s talent is getting the reader, me anyway, to be willing to jump on the crazy train and hang on.
The Talking Snowman by Linda Joy Singleton is an addition to the Judy Bolton canon based on an unfinished manuscript by Margaret Sutton. It was completed as a gift to the Judy Bolton author, who included some revisions when she was sent the first manuscript draft. Chronologically, It takes place at Christmas time between the third book and the fourth, so it is book number 3.5.
Judy is mystified when her snowman that she just built along with Honey and Peter Dobbs says hello to her father and tips his hat as he comes up the sidewalk. Later, the snowman repeats his unusual talent to Judy and Horace by telling them to go to the clothespin factory. There are no footprints in the snow to indicate someone is hiding behind the snowman. It is a good little problem. I know I was baffled. If it was a hidden walkie-talkie, how did he tip his hat? Meanwhile, there is some trouble brewing in town between two rival gangs, one from the blue-collar Industrial High, and the other from the more well-off and privileged Boy’s High School. It started off as a snowball fight, but things start getting really serious when rocks start to get thrown as well as snowballs. Benny, one of the Industrial High boys and a friend of Judy’s high-strung friend Irene, is arrested. When Judy’s mother is found knocked unconscious in a ditch and ends up in the hospital, it gets personal for Judy.
By the end of the book, the talking snowman is credibly explained, and the two groups of boys make friends when the truth comes out about who was responsible for the rocks and the feud getting started to begin with.
There was a lot to like in this. I liked the real hometown mystery rather than the FBI stuff of the later Judy Boltons. The local problem of rich boys and poor boys not getting along escalating to an actual riot was true to life and high stakes. The resolution made sense and was even exciting. Judy was smart and did some real detective work.
Part of the story concerning Mrs. Bolton had a lot to say about children taking their mothers for granted and even feeling a sense of ownership of them. A couple of times in the story Judy gets upset and concerned when she thinks her mother is hiding something from her or appears somewhere where she didn’t expect to see her. As if her mother didn’t have a right to be her own person. At one point, Mrs. Bolton flat-out tells her to mind her own business. It is only when Mrs. Bolton accuses her of treating her like a criminal that Judy realizes how out of line she is.
Many of Judy’s friends put in an appearance and their personalities and characteristics are on point. It nicely foreshadows her relationship with Peter. I found this just as good as the best of the Margaret Sutton-authored Judys.
“Dad’s right,” Judy’s brother Horace put in. “Don’t you remember the Prophet’s words to the woman with the baby?” He said, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s Longing for itself. “They come––
“You and your quotations!” Judy interrupted before her brother could finish. “I suppose you’re going to tell me they come trailing clouds of glory.“
“No, that’s Wordsworth.“
This is # 35 of the original 38-book Judy Bolton series and things are winding down. The Hidden Clue piggybacks on the former book, The Puzzle in the Pond in which Judy, Peter, and the rest of the community take in orphans displaced due to a fire at an orphanage. In Judy’s temporary care at Dry Brook Hollow are 4 or 5-year-old “Sister” and her baby brother. No one knows their names or history because they were just dumped on the orphanage’s doorstep one day. When anyone tries to question Sister, she is very vague and her answers don’t make sense. One day, Judy buys a doll for her but leaves it at the toy store which used to be a drugstore. When she goes back to get it, it has turned back into a drugstore again and all of the dolls she saw in the window are gone. The clerk denies everything and acts suspiciously. While in town, she takes Sister to the Library where Maud Wheatley who we met a while back in a former book is the librarian. Sister runs to her thinking, for some reason, that Maud is her real mother. Maud does not handle it well and ends up lying to the child, agreeing that she is her mother (when she is not).
As things unfold, Sister lets some things slip about her past, Including that she once had a “Winnie” doll, a not-too-nice woman called ‘Auntie Grumble” who was supposed to take care of her, a chess board, a group of men in a truck, and her old house burning down. Unfortunately, Judy does not know which of these disclosures to take seriously. She writes all these clues down, and from there Peter and the FBI get involved. Peter and Judy pursue the clues to Chicago where the mystery is solved and Sister and the baby happily end up with a family.
This is not a favorite, but It is certainly far from the worst in the series. I love that it is mentioned that Judy and Peter go to visit Roberta. A lot of things did not make sense, some situations are very hard to swallow, and Judy is kind of obtuse about some things. And a little whiny. The biggest reason for not being too fond of this one is that Sister got on my nerves, and I didn’t like the way Maud behaved around her. She came across in a negative way that I don’t think was intended by the author. But maybe it was. It’s true that Margaret Sutton’s characters are multilayered and many are neither all good nor all bad. What surprised me, in this book about orphans and “real parents” versus adopted parents was Judy’s insensitivity to Peter’s being an orphan until he was adopted by his grandparents. And her friend and sister Honey’s very troubled background before being adopted. In her zeal and focus on finding Sister’s “real parents” it’s like she forgot her own family’s history. She remains oblivious even with Dr. Bolton’s disapproval and broad hints to check herself. The clue-stick finally makes contact in the end. In addition, the big case of transporting stolen baby dolls across state lines was underwhelming. Couldn’t we at least have had them stuffed with drugs or firearms?
“Is this–your typewriter?” she asked when she could find her voice. George Anderson glared at her. “You knew this stuff was here, didn’t you? I’ve read about you, always snooping around in empty houses and giving that brother of yours ghost stories for the Farringdon paper. you’re Dr. Bolton’s daughter, aren’t you?”
Peter has been assigned by the FBI to round up the rest of the Mott gang fromThe Secret Quest so Judy and Peter are finally back home. As the book opens, she is up in her attic gathering ephemera for the Roulsville library display cases. The doorbell rings, and before you know it, she is hot on the trail of another adventure. Her young friend Holly’s typewriter has been stolen! Their hot pursuit of the suspicious green car leads them to a shady furniture dealer whose stock seems to have been waterlogged at some point.
While in the neighborhood, they visit the Jewel sisters of the previous book and meet their friend Meta, who is the sad and mysterious matron of a nearby orphanage. While there, they visit the beaver dam not far from the house and are joined by Horace and Honey. This is where the puzzle in the pond reveals itself. Imagine Judy’s shock when she spies, sticking out of the dam, a distinctive table leg from a piece of furniture that was in her old house in Roulsville?! The contents of the Bolton home had been believed lost forever after the flood had devastated the small town 6 years ago. (The Vanishing Shadow, Judy Bolton #1). How did the table leg get to the pond which is upstream from the flood? While investigating the curious appearance of the table leg, we meet Danny, a resident of the orphanage who has been waiting 6 years for his father, who was once engaged to Meta, to come for him. Peter gets involved while trying to locate the rest of the Mott gang and it appears that Danny’s father might be involved in criminal activity.
I enjoyed this much more than the previous 3 Judy Bolton mysteries. I like it when Judy is back home and we meet old friends in familiar surroundings, which are often smoothly incorporated into the mystery. This one includes a lot of history and background from previous books, which further adds to the enjoyment. Honey, Peter’s sister, and Horace, Judy’s brother are now in a better place than in the previous book, and are “almost engaged.” Judy Bolton is best when read in order as time does progress and one book builds on the other, unlike with many other girls’ series.
Margaret’s talent for creating multilayered characters is at the forefront in this one. Holly has been a fixture since book #23, The Black Cat’s Clue, as a teenage friend Judy has taken under her wing. But she is often silly and flighty. George Anderson, Danny’s father, has a hair-trigger temper and flies off the handle easily. He is sulky and suspicious of everyone. Despite this, he does love his son and finds a happy ending with him and his former fiance. Even Danny comes across as “a vicious little monster” at one point. In the middle of the investigation, the orphanage burns to the ground in a dramatic scene. True character is revealed including the character of the community as a whole as everyone pitches in to help with the orphans, including the Bolton and Dobbs families.
There were several unlikely events and unanswered questions in this one. Primarily, how did the Mott gang morph from industrial espionage involved in rocket science to looters and traffickers of stolen furniture? Will Alden Launt, Honey’s sneaky co-worker and member of the Mott gang, be arrested at last? How did George, who abandoned his toddler son for 6 years in order to scrimp and save to open a business and make a home, afford a fancy honeymoon? It’s best for the adult reader not to scrutinize some things too closely, I guess. And, as always, some threads may be picked up in future books.