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

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

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

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

The Haunted Fountain (Judy Bolton #28)

By Margaret Sutton

“This can’t be happening to me,” she thought. Never, in her whole life, had she felt so alone and helpless. She felt it was her own fault, too, for not calling Peter and telling him where she was going. But wouldn’t Honey tell him? She knew, and so did her father. Didn’t anyone care?…“They can’t let me just lie here and die,” thought Judy. She had never thought very much about dying. She had always felt so vibrantly alive. But now, suddenly, it seemed possible.

This book has it all! Judy, Lois, and Lorraine go to visit a fountain that Judy remembers from her childhood that seemed to talk to her. Lorraine reveals that she no longer trusts her husband, Arthur, and seems very upset. But she will not open up to Judy or Lois. Judy finds a diamond in the fountain and meets some intimidating shady characters. She enlists Horace to go back with her to the fountain to investigate and they end up getting trapped under it when someone turns the water on. Also under the fountain is a dying man, parolee Dick Hartwell, who discloses that he was coerced by a gang to forge important men’s signatures on incriminating documents for blackmail purposes. Because of leaky pipes, the room they are in starts to fill with water, and Judy and Horace realize that unless they escape, they will drown.

What follows is Judy’s very exciting and tense escape from the deadly fountain, her race to save Horace and Dick from drowning, a terrifying confrontation with hardened criminals (Judy gets slapped!), Judy’s despair when she thinks her brother is dead, a very romantic reunion with Peter, and ensuring the true criminals are brought to justice (remember the Vine gang from The Haunted Attic?. In addition to the action-packed adventure, we also have the marital drama of Lorraine and Arthur and their unhappiness with each other. Will they be reconciled?

By the end, Judy and Horace wind up in the hospital, and Blackberry, Judy’s cat, is awarded a medal for bravery. All the loose ends are tied up, including the mystery of why the fountain talked to her when she was a young teen. This mystery is many loyal Judy Bolton fans’ favorite book in the series. It is not hard to understand why. Her physical courage is at the forefront here as well as very tender scenes with Peter, Horace, and her father. Lorraine and Arthur’s problems lend complexity. It is exciting but it has emotional depth as well. Once again, Margaret Sutton ventures into territory seldom seen in juvenile series of this type.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

November 26, 2021

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021

The Clue in the Ruined Castle

By Margaret Sutton

Peter, [Judy] said impulsively, “why don’t I ever faint and let you hold my head and comfort me? Don’t you wish I would?”
“I don’t ever wish you any different than you are,” and Judy knew he meant it….
“I wouldn’t change you, either,” Judy replied in a sudden rush of tenderness….
“Well, now that we’ve settled that, let’s see if we can’t find out what happened here.”

Judy investigates the local lore of a ruined castle that is mixed up in a scam, missing money, rumors, and a ruined reputation. An elderly old man is missing or dead and two children are feared kidnapped and being held prisoner. The 100-year-old family matriarch, “granny”, is a volatile and trying presence.
This got off to a slow start, thanks to a large number of minor characters being introduced and complicated family history gone into at the beginning of the story. It did pick up in the middle thanks to the inclusion of old friends Lois and Lorraine getting in on the action as well as Blackberry, Judy’s cat which thinks it’s a dog in this one, and Horace’s foul-mouthed parrot. As much as I appreciate new characters being introduced, I do like it when we re-visit the original squad. Lorraine is always a loose cannon or a wet blanket, but she was a pretty good sport in this one.
While Judy and Honey are trapped in a dungeon, the kids are found safe in their beds, the old man escapes and hitchhikes his way to safety, and the bad guy is caught. So kind of a disappointing finish as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 13, 2021

The Haunted Road (Judy Bolton #25)

By Margaret Sutton

Dr. Bolton patted his black-haired daughter on the shoulder…”I have a quotation that may help you get through today…It’s this: A trouble either can be remedied or it cannot. If it can be, then set about it. If it can not be…bear it so bravely that it may become transfigured to a blessing.”
‘Today I’m setting about it,” Judy said. “I’m not ready to bear it bravely and I’m the one who’s transfigured-or disfigured. I can’t decide which.”

I had to take a break from this book because of other commitments, so my memory is a little weak about some of the particulars. This was pretty exciting and suspenseful due to Peter’s disappearance while chasing a highjacked truck. At first, there is a real danger that he was buried in a landslide. When we learn that he probably got away from that, we know he is still in danger because he never comes back. Judy is frantic, and can’t help but think that the worst has happened. At the urging of Peter’s boss, Mr. Trent, she does some undercover work in a factory. The scenes in the factory are interesting, especially dealing with the notorious Twila North. What a piece of work she is!

Judy hides away in a truck, which leads to her finally finding Peter. He has been wrapped up in a sheet for 5 days unable to hardly move with only an occasional drink of water. He hasn’t eaten or, as Peter subtly hints, been able to use the bathroom.

Despite the grim proceedings and Peter’s life being really feared for, there is some good amusing banter between Judy and Horace including some banter regarding how she looks with her new disguise of black dyed hair and glasses. I also like the brief appearances of Holly, Honey, Lois, and Lorraine.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

July 14, 2021

The Forbidden Chest (Judy Bolton #24)

By Margaret Sutton

Judy sets out to prove that her new friend Holly did not steal some valuable glassware from her aunt Cleo and Uncle Fred. Along the way, she meets a “poor little rich boy,” Harold Wilson, who is the Number One suspect. Once Judy meets his abominable parents Judy’s heart is touched and she does what she can to prove both suspects innocent. We are treated to a secret underground fort, a forbidden chest that disappears seemingly into thin air, a cross-country train ride (with prisoners headed to “The Rock!”), and a visit to a horse ranch arranged by the FBI.

We also see some charming glimpses of Peter and Judy together and are re-introduced to people we met in The Black Cat’s Clue, including Aunt Cleo the Drama Queen, and her phlegmatic husband. When we learn why Holly’s dead mother made her promise never to open it, it is quite poignant. Once the chest is opened it is quite the shocker! No body parts though, I promise! 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

May 19, 2021

The Black Cat’s Clue (Judy Bolton #23)

By Margaret Sutton

Although I did like some aspects of this book, it also had some problems for me as well. I liked the twist at the end and the introduction of Holly Potter. I also liked that her difficult family was somewhat redeemed at the end.

Judy meets a 15 year old orphan, Holly, and befriends her. She has run away from an unhappy home to live with her beloved uncle, David Potter. Upon her arrival, she learns that her uncle has recently come into some money but has been killed and his relatives are now ensconced in his house. Very suspicious, no?

One of the characters. I can’t say who, because it would be a spoiler, really rubbed me the wrong way. I did not like his personality at all. And one of the characters who I don’t think I was supposed to like (because Judy didn’t), was really a hoot, so I did like him.

The major problem I had was with one of the keys to the mystery, the existence of which was totally unbelievable bordering on the bizarre. Usually, Margaret Sutton does manage to make the happenings fairly believable and tie everything up and together for a very satisfying end. Although she did explain the ghosts or “transparent people” at her home to my satisfaction, the solution of the mystery to the haunting of David Potter’s house was lame. All of the dots did not seem to connect in this story.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

March 20, 2021