The Whispered Watchword (Judy Bolton #32)

By Margaret Sutton

Judy, Peter, and Blackberry are in Washington D.C. and get involved with investigating the mob. Since Peter got shot in a previous book, he is there for a refresher course and brings along Judy and for some reason, Blackberry. While there, he is assigned to investigate a crime syndicate ring. The manager of the hotel they are staying at is being threatened into paying protection money. If he doesn’t pay, his little daughter will be kidnapped and even killed. He does not know where to turn as he refuses to give in to the mob, but will not go to the FBI or the police because he fears reprisals. To make matters worse, his own relatives are involved with the mob unbeknownst to him. A senator who is fighting for tougher crime laws is also in danger. Yikes. To add to Judy’s concerns, Blackberry is missing from their motel room. There is a lot going on in this one. (Blackberry is Judy’s cat )

This one gets pretty messy. I will say that Margaret does a good job of incorporating the mystery with an educational tour of the Capitol for her young readers as well as providing a cautionary tale on joining a crime syndicate. I loved Judy’s musings on freedom and patriotism. We also spend a lot of time in the less savory parts of our nation’s capital. The middle chapters are taken up with Judy being led around in circles by her sketchy new “friend” Liz who tells her that her husband is an FBI agent when he is really working for the mob and related to Mr. Rocklin, the hotel manager. Liz is a confused 17-year-old who can’t decide between protecting her stupid husband or doing the right thing and being straight with Judy about what is going on. I struggled with Liz and what her game was.

To make a long story short, Judy is imprisoned in an abandoned building (again!) while rescuing Rosita, Mr. Rocklin’s 8-year-old daughter from a violent death. Blackberry, himself kidnapped by the mob, is found safe and sound making himself at home in the Capitol building basement ridding it of its mice problem. Judy cracks several mysteries in this one.

There were some weird things about this one that I could not overlook.

Why did Mr. Rocklin think Blackberry was a warning from the Mob when his motel allowed cats?

Why did Peter and Judy even bring Blackberry on a long car trip to Washington? Is it any wonder something bad happened to him?

Why did Walter Krut, one of the head mobsters, think Blackberry’s collar was made of solid gold? (He didn’t, but I only figured this out after a careful re-read.)

After getting led astray by Liz (another problem) Judy gets an offensive and sanctimonious lecture from one of Peter’s colleagues (and tour guide) on her wifely duties being married to a G-man (with Pamphlet!). Nope. Just nope.

Judy, lost and driving on the mean streets of D.C. in the pouring rain, hails another passing car to ask for directions. While driving. With her windows rolled up. Successfully.

The victimized Rocklin family was not very sympathetic. In fact, they were kind of hateful. and that especially includes Liz’s husband Charlie who was a wet noodle. I don’t believe for a minute that he was going to go back to rescue Rosita, despite what he told Liz.

Judy uses a childhood yell that only Peter would recognize to call for help when she hears a siren outside the abandoned house. “Hip deminiga folliga sick de hump de lolliga yoo hoo!” Luckily Peter is with them and answers in kind. I bet his FBI buddies got a real kick out of that.

The FBI intercepts an attack on the senator’s life mid-speech. Shades of The Manchurian Candidate!) Right when he was pulling out a deadly fountain pen. (Poison dart? It couldn’t have been a very high-caliber firearm. Or maybe he was going to scribble him to death.)

Once Rosita is rescued, her father refused to press charges against his cousin by marriage for her kidnapping and attempted murder. WTF? Is he insane!?

So while the bones of the story made sense and were interesting a lot of the details did not hold water and it was distracting and bothersome. The problems could have been fixed easily. They were not major holes. I feel like Margaret was let down by her editor. On to The Secret Quest!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 17. 2022

Katherine’s Marriage

by D. E. Stevenson

Katherine’s Marriage was a good and worthy sequel to Katherine Wentworth, picking right up with Katherine and Alec on their honeymoon. In a cave. A very nice cave, but still. I really wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read the first one and loved it as I did. The first couple of chapters kind of got on my last nerve with Alec and “the brownie.” When all was said and done, the only interest for me was continuing my acquaintance with characters that had so engaged me. And unfortunately, Katherine, at times, is a bit of a wet noodle here in contrast to the first book.

After their blissful honeymoon, in which we meet the laird, MacAslan, and his daughter, Phil, which apparently feature in one or two other books by D.E. Stevenson, the newlyweds are confronted with a few challenges. First of All, Alec’s neurotic and manipulative sister, who they thought had been neatly dispatched to Europe and then Australia, returns like Carrie from the Grave. She is horrified that her brother is married when she expected to return to her place in his house dominating his life. Unlike Katherine, who seems to have lost some of her charm and personality, Zilla hasn’t changed a bit. She returns in all her dark and hateful glory. How she is dealt with yields some entertaining chapters and tense moments. No sooner than that is solved than Simon, Katherine’s usually lovely 16-year-old stepson suffers a personality transplant similar to what happened in the first book. When we get to the bottom of that, the third and last crisis rears its head: Sir Mortimer Wentworth, Simon’s tyrannical grandfather with an anger management problem, summons Simon to scary Limbourne. He is not on his deathbed, but has had a health scare, which has caused him to re-evaluate his relationships for ill or good. There are some shenanigans with a new will, which is always good value in a rich English aristocratic family story.

The book ends on a happy hopeful note albeit a bit abruptly with a bit of an interesting drama left on the horizon. We also wonder what the future holds for Simon and Phil. And what about the Limoge jug in the first chapters? And what about Lance and Anthea? I would have read a third book. At the end of the story, Katherine is pillow-talking with Alec, “We’ve been married for sixteen weeks; I wonder what we shall feel like when we’ve been married for sixteen years.” It’s a rhetorical question. With a couple this nice, sensible, and devoted to each other, there is no doubt whatsoever. **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 4, 2022

Katherine Wentworth

by D. E. Stevenson

I realised that I was worn out in body and spirit with the strain of struggling along by myself, coping with the children and trying to make ends meet on an inadequate income. I had prided myself upon my independence and somehow or other I had managed . . . but now I began to wonder whether independence was so important. Perhaps one could pay too highly for it. Here, in this peaceful spot, with Mrs. MacRam to provide a firm cushion to lean upon, I gradually began to feel like a different creature. I felt years younger, with a returning zest for life—as one sometimes does when convalescent after a long illness. Colours looked brighter, food tasted delicious and every day was a pleasure.

Well, it’s a tie. This book is tied for my favorite D. E. Stevenson so far with Miss Buncle’s Book or the 4th in the Miss Buncle series, The Four Graces. But this is very different from the Buncle books. While those were clever and gentle satires of English country life and just funny, there wasn’t much funny or quirky about this one. It is a lovely family drama reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s best. It is about both the consequences of freedom and independence versus being “chained up” and, sort of conversely, the importance love and sharing one’s burdens.

Katherine Wentworth is a 27-year-old widow raising her 16-year-old stepson, Simon, and her two own young twins. Although a very happy “whole family” they struggle financially. We learn that her beloved late husband, Gerald, was from a very wealthy titled family but was cast off when he refused to fall in with his father’s plans for his future and made his own way after going to Oxford and later becoming a professor. To add to those sins, as a young man, he married an Italian girl who later died in childbirth. Katherine has had nothing to do with his family and vice versa. Meanwhile, she meets a former school acquaintance, the neurotic shallow Zilla who has a very nice and attractive brother. Despite being independently wealthy, Alec works as a successful lawyer much to his sister’s frustration. She is very possessive and manipulative and wants him constantly at her beck and call. In spite of Zilla, Alec and Katherine become good friends. At the end of Part One, Zilla offers Katherine, who sorely needs a care-free vacation, her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland for the summer. And much to my wonderment, as I went into this book cold, Simon is contacted by his grandfather and summoned to his father’s family’s estate, Limbourne. It seems the heir is dead, and the estate and title will eventually pass to Simon. As Simon says, He wants to make sure I “don’t eat peas with my knife.”

**Some Spoilers**

Part two takes place at Limbourne. Simon refuses to go without his “Mums,” Katharine. Although they are welcomed courteously and treated well on the surface, Katherine and Simon know it is not for their own sakes, but because they have no other choice. The estate is entailed and Simon will inherit it no matter how the family feels about it. Yet, because Simon is an awesome kid, the tyrannical and intimidating grandfather genuinely likes and approves of Simon. Katharine is afraid. There is something not quite right with the family at Limbourne. There is something vaguely sinister and uncomfortable about the place.

Like everything else at Limbourne, the rose-garden was a model of tidiness. There were grass paths between the beds—paths of velvet smoothness—and there was not a weed to be seen. I thought suddenly of my daughter and her remark: ‘Funny sort of garden with no daisies!’ She would think this a very funny sort of garden, there was no doubt of that. The roses grew in orderly array, each little bush perfect in shape, bearing perfect blooms. I asked Medlam how he managed to attain such perfection and he explained that there was a nursery behind the beech hedge so that any bush which was not perfect could be replaced. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it, ma’am?’ said Medlam, looking round with complacency. ‘It’s the best rose-garden in the county.’ It was beautiful of course—roses are always beautiful—but to my mind it was too tidy and neat. The roses did not look happy; perhaps they were aware that if they failed in their duty to their owner they would be rooted out, thrown on the rubbish heap, and replaced by another rose-bush from the nursery garden behind the tall beech hedge…. He escorted me through a gate in the hedge. Here there were more roses, dozens and dozens of little bushes, their exquisite flowers filling the air with fragrance. There were red and white and pink and yellow roses in prodigal confusion. ‘I’m afraid it isn’t very tidy, ma’am,’ said Medlam apologetically. ‘It isn’t really for show, you see. We just plants them here temporary until they’re wanted.’ ‘I like it,’ I said. ‘The roses here look natural and happy and their scent is far sweeter.’ Medlam did not deign to reply to this piece of nonsense.

A Metaphor for Limbourne and its denizens

His grandfather wants to keep Simon at Limbourne and under his power. Simon has a good head on his shoulders and is devoted to Katharine and his half-siblings but will he be seduced by the wealth and advantages his Grandfather offers?


Part 3 takes place at the rustic cottage in Scotland where Katherine is spending the summer with her 2 young children. She has reluctantly left Simon on his own to spend another week with his newfound family. He is happy and excited to do so. Much to her surprise, Alec has come to stay nearby as well, and she is not sure how she feels about that. One night, without warning, Simon shows up ahead of time and he is behaving strangely and disturbingly. He claims everything is fine but Katherine knows better. What the hell happened? **End Spoilers**


This was so good. I loved the lovely Katherine and her family with their strength and wholesomeness matched up against their wealthy and outwardly nice but inwardly corrupted relatives. The inevitable romance turned surprisingly tender and touching. I sighed. I am just starting the sequel now and am anxious to read if we visit Limbourne again. Can this family be saved? This book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 22, 2022

Discovery at the Dragon’s Mouth (Judy Bolton # 31)

Great galloping goldfish! Wait until the chief hears that it was you who smelled out these–” “the word is birds,” Judy put in quickly.

-Peter to Judy after the bad guys have been captured-

Judy and Peter are going to Washington so Peter can take a required refresher course for his career with the FBI and they have rented out their farmhouse to a couple taking care of their nephew. We learn that little Kevin was abandoned by his parents and that his father is wanted for questioning about a bank robbery in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Peter and Judy’s plans fall through and since her house has been let out, Judy and Honey decide to take a vacation together. To make a long story short, they end up going to Yellowstone National Park to return a package to the “perfectly stunning young man” who gave it to Judy by mistake. We follow Judy across the United States in order to get to “The Dragon’s Mouth” an attraction in Yellowstone National Park where Mr. Nogard was headed. Despite Honey’s crush on him, the reader senses that not all is on the up and up with the “dreamy” Mr. Nogard especially when Judy realized that “Nogard” is “Dragon” spelled backward.

I enjoyed this one. I liked the trip to Niagra Falls, Canada, and across my old home state of Michigan to get to Muskegon to take a ferry across to Wisconsin and on to Yellowstone. Along the way, they get lost driving around Mount Rushmore and things get pretty tense. But not half as tense as things get once they get to Yellowstone. The mysterious package gets stolen by a bear and Honey disappears. Judy sticks her foot in a hot spring and sprains her ankle and gets burned. They both end up captured by part of a bank-robbing gang (the Dragons) and Judy’s car is stolen. Judy gets knocked out cold by a window shade breaking a window to escape. Meanwhile, Peter is alerted by something Judy said in a postcard that she is unknowingly on the trail of the same bank robbers the FBI is after, and he hotfoots it to the park to meet her.

The last chapter is very satisfying as every little loose end is tied up and explained credibly. Except for a bit about static electricity which I won’t go into but believe me is batshit crazy. A very sweet and clever touch was the explanation of why Kevin’s dad asked him to put a candy heart inside his toy stuffed bear. Kevin’s parents turn out to be victims of the gang and he was not abandoned but left in a cabin to keep him safe. It turns out Judy’s ankle was infected and she had a fever during the final chapters which is a bit of a relief to know because she was a bit slow on the uptake near the end of the adventure. Honey learns that “Handsome is as handsome does”, and is happily reunited with Horace. Honey showed a lot of gumption throughout this mystery and adventure. She was an equal partner to Judy and even took the lead at least once.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

April 16, 2022

These Old Shades

“Dear Edward has given Fanny a chocolate-coloured coach with pale blue cushions. The wheat is picked out in blue.” He held the sheet at arm’s length. “It seems strange, but no doubt Fanny is right. I have not been in England for such a time…Ah, I beg her pardon. You will be relieved to hear, my dear Hugh, that the wheat still grows as it ever did. The wheels are picked out in blue.”

–The Duke of Avon, reading a letter aloud from his sister Fanny

This was a reread on Audible of a book I’ve read so many times I know a lot of it by heart, even though it’s probably been more than 2 decades since my last reading. The quote above, I remember, was when I read the book for the first time, my emotions went from enjoyment and anticipation to sheer delight. Although the incurably romantic and fun story still holds up, it suffers from the narration. Cornelius Garrett does not do well interpreting the suave, omniscient, and mordant Duke of Avon. Justin Alistair is an iconic character in the romance world, upon which many many subsequent romantic heroes by many other authors has been based over the years. I don’t think Mr. Garrett understood his character. He plays him in a voice that is too high-pitched and is sometimes bombastic and querulous. There is little nuance and little comic timing. In my own mind, I hear Avon’s voice as somewhat affected but not effeminate. I hear the unhurried, dry, and quiet tones of the late great Alan Rickman. Cornelius Garrett is no Alan Rickman.

That off my chest, although I was entertained, and enjoyed revisiting one of my old-time favorites, I wasn’t as charmed and admiring of Leonie this time around. Her devotion to “Monseigneur” and her impish spirited antics (“Egad, you wildcat!”) after restored to her true female self were a little much. But the plot, the dialogue, and all of the other characters, including Justin Alastair, as written, if not played, were as entertaining as always. It is no wonder that so many aspects of the book have been so copied, even to this day, almost 100 years later.

Two oft-criticized aspects of the book are the age gap between Justin and Leonie (40 vs. 20) and the other is the emphasis of birth over breeding in the determination of character. As far as the age gap, I do not have a problem with it. It is not all that much more than Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Bogie was 45 and Bacall was 20 when they met. Cary Grant was 59 and Audrey Hepburn was 25 years younger when they starred together in Charade. As far as the importance of genetics in the determination of character, the criticism hits home a bit more strongly. Genetics is certainly a factor, but it doesn’t trump everything. Despite 20 years of being raised as a peasant, we are told Leonie never exhibits any coarseness. And conversely, in regards to the peasant with whom she was exchanged at birth, despite being raised as an aristocrat, he is awkward in society and wants nothing more than to be a farmer. Of course in my early readings of this book, I didn’t think a thing about it. And you know, some difference between the two can be explained by the behavior of both sets of parents who knew the truth. But I mustn’t digress.

These Old Shades is a most entertaining read. It has it all: romance, wit, comedy, adventure, suspense, cheer-worthy moments, triumph, and emotion. I love the descriptions of the fashions and toilettes, the glitterati, both fictional and real, and the settings. Although it’s too much to ask any book to recapture the joy it may have first brought once upon a time, it’s good to revisit books that once brought that joy. **5 stars, of course.**

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 2, 2022

The Phantom Friend (Judy Bolton #30)

By Margaret Sutton

“Oh dear! wailed Clarissa. “I look terrible. My hair is dull. My hair is drab….”

“Turn her off, somebody!” Pauline interrupted. “We’ve heard that record before.”

It kills me to give a Judy Bolton book less than 3 stars but this one was not only flawed but “dull and drab.” Sorry! Judy is still in New York with Irene after their last adventure sorting out the scary Lake family and they have been joined by their friend Pauline Faulkner and another girl at Radio City Music Hall. They are going to tour a TV studio and watch Irene’s local variety show which seems to owe a lot to the old Shirley Temple’s Storybook TV series. They meet the naive and tiresome Clarissa Valentine, an aspiring actress from West Virginia, who wants to return home after not making it in New York City. Her money for her ticket is stolen by a cashier and the girls give her money to go back home. When she disappears from the group during the show, it is suspected that it was all a big scam to get their money. During the tour of the TV studio, the girls are victimized by Subliminal Advertising, and the reader is victimized by a never-ending diatribe on its dangers. Judy and Clarissa constantly bewail their dull and drab hair and can’t stop thinking about Golden Hair Wash. Somehow, a con man who specializes in kidnapping people and scamming churches out of their money gets involved in the story. Clarissa gets kidnapped because she is mistaken for a famous guest actress on Irene’s show and the actress ends up in the hospital and Peter gets shot. It’s all a big muddle and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Especially when Clarissa with her kidnappers posing as her mother and father end up at a surprise party in Judy’s house in Dry Brook Hollow. I might have been generous and given it 3 stars but Judy’s out of character swanning around as if in a trance talking about her nightmares and her dull and drab hair just got on my last nerve. Pauline Faulkner with her cynical outlook and sarcastic remarks was my favorite character in this one.

According to her daughter, Lindsey Stroh, Margaret used Vance Packard’s milestone book, The Hidden Persuaders as research, and apparently it really got to her. She wasn’t alone as subliminal advertising and mind control concerned a lot of people in the 50s and 60s. But it is called “as dangerous as an atom bomb” several times which is way over the top. Judy and Clarissa’s overreaction to the commercial for Golden Hair Wash which contained subliminal tactics overshadowed the mystery and adventure and even Peter ending up in the hospital (again) and in trouble with his boss. Unlike much of her laudable social commentary, it is not subtle and not integrated smoothly into the plot. It’s as if Margaret felt compelled to warn her young readers about mind control, but by the time she got back to writing a Judy Bolton story, it was too late.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

February 27, 2022

Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe

By Debbie Johnson

As sweet and pleasant as this was, I don’t think the style of this author is for me. I listened to this on Audible and am not sure how much this influenced my lack of enthusiasm. I was drawn in by the narrator’s voice and charming accent at first, but after about halfway through it started to get on my nerves. On the surface, this seemed very reminiscent of a Rosamunde Pilcher, D.E. Stevenson, or Marcia Willett at first.

Laura, a young widow with a young teen daughter and a younger son finds herself in need of some income. She sees an advertisement and writes a long letter to the owner of the Comfort Food Cafe in Dorset and is offered a job there for the summer. She is still grieving, we are told and told, the sudden death of her husband about 2 years prior. He was her childhood sweetheart and they were married for 14 years. But she didn’t come across as still devastated. She seemed pretty chipper, actually. (Maybe it was the narrator?) Her daughter Lizzie is a typical teen girl with no more brattiness or rebelliousness than is normal for a girl that age. She seemed like a pretty nice kid. The son, Nathan is pretty much a nonentity.

She settles in smoothly to her job with the quirky ex-hippie owner, Cherie, and her merry band of quirky customers who are like family. She meets cute with a very nice and sexy Veterinarian who looks like a “young Harrison Ford” and who goes around shirtless a lot. Romance ensues. The meet-cute involves underwear flying out of her suitcase and landing on his head. It was cute but at least two of my favorite authors would have created laugh-out-loud comedy out of the situation. Two bad things happen near the end, but in one case, it leads to opportunity, not tragedy, and the other is foreshadowed pretty expressly. It was too bad so sad, but, not heartrending. Laura goes out on a limb and organizes a reunion for two people who haven’t seen each other in 50 years. She is very nervous about it but it all goes fine.

In the end, to her children’s and her new friends’ and her new boyfriend’s dismay she decides to go back to Manchester at the end of the summer as planned for no good reason. That was the one occurrence in the book that really stirred my feelings. Unfortunately, that feeling was disgust. I was so turned off by her senseless decision to leave her godsend of a situation to go back home, that I was totally unmoved by the inevitable change of mind and happy ending.

This book is an amiable diversion with a shadow or two here and there that we are told about. There is very little tension, suspense, or anticipation. It’s smooth going, but I guess I prefer my fiction with more peaks and valleys, hilarity, and tears. But you know, you get what you are promised, “comfort food”, and there is certainly a place for that. But not for me, at least not at this time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2022

Summerhills

by D. E. Stevenson

**Spoilers for Amberwell**

I still love Clare. I haven’t forgotten her. For years I was utterly and absolutely miserable, but now it seems as if it had all happened in another life—or as if it had happened in a dream.” Dennis nodded. “I think I . . . can understand. But life is real, isn’t it? We can’t go on living in dreams. Look here, Roger, supposing you’d been killed in the war would you have wanted Clare to go on being miserable all her life?” “Goodness, no! What a horrible idea!” exclaimed Roger. Then he saw what Dennis had in mind. “Oh, I see,” he said slowly. “I never thought of it that way.”

I can’t imagine that this book would have much of an appeal unless one had read Amberwell. I think the Ayrton family would probably only be interesting in the context of the earlier book. Of course, having seen the Ayrton children through their troubles and triumphs in Amberwell, I was very interested indeed. The fact that Roger, Nell, and Anne, the characters we are most concerned with in this book grew up to be so happy and healthy is a major accomplishment considering their disturbing upbringing, and, in the case of Anne, her horrific marriage. It is a testament to the resiliency of children.

We meet all of our old friends to a greater and lesser degree and meet some new characters as well. Most are friends, but some are not. The book centers around Roger and Nell mostly. Roger is home from the war but still in the service. He has decided to set up a school for boys primarily so his son Stephen, so beloved by his beloved sister Nell does not have to be far from home, but can be toughened up, make friends, and cease being the center of the universe. His ambition is to include the scions of the privileged who can pay well to send their sons there but also to include the sons of less well-off servicemen. Much of the book concerns how the school takes shape. While Roger comes and goes, we meet Arnold who lost a foot in the war and will become the headmaster of the school, and re-meet Mary who sells Roger her old estate that she and her elderly parents can no longer take care of.

Intertwined with the building of the school are the love stories of Nell and Roger. There are also parties, an emergency trip to Italy, and an accident that puts a key member of the household out of commission. We see that Anne is happily and determinedly unmarried and ensconced with her Mr. Orme, the elderly vicar. Will she remain that way? One man is hopelessly in love with her. Poor guy. Along the way, we are treated to entertaining and thoughtful characterizations of everyone we meet. I was impressed with the author’s treatment of Roger, for example. He is somewhat of a stick in the mud and very traditional and somewhat stuffy. But though he may start off wrongheaded and mistaken in his opinions, when presented with evidence that contradicts his first instincts, he sees his way clear to wisdom and change. Another interesting character is Georgina, Stephen’s governess. She starts out to be a breath of fresh air and is certainly good for Stephen. But she changes into a manipulative and very foolish woman who is inadvertently responsible for bringing about the happiness of two couples. Poor Georgina. She was born a couple of decades too early. Poppet Lambert is back and is a delight. But I couldn’t help but think of a shocking interlude that took place in the first book. It is obliquely kind of explained in this book, but I always thought it was a very strange incident for the author to include in the first place.

So many deft sketches of so many characters I haven’t even mentioned. Not every loose end is tied up neatly and happily, but this is a dear gentle book with no darkness in it. And so it is a fitting and satisfying sequel to Amberwell. I confess I’ve become a little addicted to D. E. Stevenson.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

February 13, 2022

The Clue of the Broken Wing (Judy Bolton #29)

by Margaret Sutton

“I dozed off and didn’t wake up until I heard those police sirens.”
“Then what?,” asked Judy. “I don’t suppose you knew they were coming to arrest me?”
Peter grinned. “I should have known it. Past experience should have taught me that something was bound to happen. You enter a queer old house. The police arrive. You vanish. It all adds up.”

The cheer of the kitchen had vanished. Like the rest of the house, it was suddenly filled with ghosts. Their names were fear and suspicion and guilt. Prejudice was there, too, and panic that drives a person who runs away.

Like many of Margaret Sutton’s books, this one has some dark elements in it which reveal her social consciousness. Although those children reading it in the ‘50s or even today may not have picked up on these, an adult reading it today surely does.

A little girl, afraid of a temperamental and harsh mother’s punishment, runs away from her in a department store and is helped by a woman who finds her at a bus terminal. The little girl tells her she is alone in the world and the woman takes her with her while visiting her estranged mother who is neighbors with Judy Bolton. Her mother disapproved of the man she married, who is poor, and will not accept him. She tells her mother that “Anne” is her own little girl in hopes that when she dies (she has a terminal illness) her mother will not try to take her real daughter away from her husband and his mother. Anne is happy with her loving grandmother but still thinks of her real family and misses them.

The book picks up a year later with Judy and Peter traveling to New York City at Christmas time to visit her friend Irene, her husband Dale, and her daughter, little Judy. When they get to Irene’s address, they are surprised to find Irene’s house is razed to the ground and an apartment building in its place. She goes across the street while Peter, tired from his long drive, takes a nap, to find out what happened to Irene and her family. It is the home of the Lakes, the same family that lost little their little girl and believes, along with the police, that she is dead. They suspect that Judy is part of a gang that kidnapped their daughter “Sukey” for reasons I won’t go into here, and the adventure begins when the witch-like Mrs. Lake locks Judy in an upstairs room and calls the cops. Plus we have the mystery of what happened to Irene and her family. They soon find out that Irene and Dale moved out to Long Island and didn’t tell Judy and Peter because Irene wanted it to be a “surprise.” It was a surprise all right. Irene is a real dingbat among other things, but after we get past that bump in the road, she turns out to be a valuable partner to Judy while she tries to help the dysfunctional Lake family against their will.

While the ending results in a happy reunion between the Lakes and their girl, Mr. And Mrs. Lake’s behavior throughout the book has been alarming, to say the least. While their actions are smoothed over at the end, we can’t help but be concerned about their parenting skills and can only hope for the best as far as the fates of their younger children. (Polly, their oldest, seems to have escaped their negativity and is remarkably likable and well-adjusted.) Margaret does a good job balancing the bleakness of the Lakes with the cheerful Christmas celebrations at the Meredith’s new home. (when they finally find it.) Despite the loose ends, I think it’s one of her best. **4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

January 8, 2022

Madam, Will You Talk?

Charity suffereth long and is kind.-1 Corinthians 13:4

“Where’s David?”
“Who’s Johnny?

This is the first published work of Mary Stewart, who is widely credited with inspiring what became a whole genre of fiction: Romantic Suspense. So I guess you could say that this is the book that started it all. Set in the early ’50s this first novel introduced readers to the evocative descriptions of exotic locales that she became so famous and appreciated for. To say the least, her heroines do not suffer from dreary lives. Mary’s exciting adventurous novels must have been a welcome respite from the gloom and hardships of post-war England.

It has been decades since I last read this story but there were a few things that I had never forgotten from the 4 or 5 times I read this previously. This time I listened to it on Audible read by famous actress Emilia Fox. A friendship blossoms between a young widowed English tourist and a haunted but charming young boy in France and his evident fear of his father. She is determined to protect him at all costs. I remembered the tense cat and mouse chase between Charity Selbourne, our heroine, and her very scary “enemy” through the countryside and towns of France. Charity sabotaging his car using a secret trick her late husband Johnny taught her in order to buy her some time to get away from him. The ghost of Johnny, who was a race car driver before he was killed on a mission over France during WWII, is present throughout the novel. The war looms large in this story. Johnny taught Charity how to handle fast powerful cars. That skill saves her life.

“When you let excitement in, Johnny would add, in a lecture-room sort of voice, fear will follow.”

That quote always stuck with me.

The episode that stood out for me more than any other was her car race to rescue her love and the boy David from the hands of their potential murderers. Her use of her considerable driving skills becomes a deadly weapon. Charity’s development from just a nice and very frightened young woman to a formidable adversary is just awe-inspiring.

I remembered how quickly and shockingly the love story flared when I first read it. With my modern sensibilities, It was a little troublesome how firmly trust and long-term commitment between the two were established. But I went with it. I guess it does happen like that sometimes. Two other things that were also difficult for me on this re-read were the constant smoking and the way that Charity was marginalized and kind of infantilized by the hero after her courage and heroics.

But after the darkness and fear, the closure, joy, and hope of the ending were so satisfactory.

“And so it ended, where it had begun, with the little Jewish painter whose death had been so late, but so amply avenged. And, ten days later, with The Boy David carefully boxed in the back of the Riley, my husband and I set our faces to the South, and the Isles of Gold.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

January 7, 2021