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review 2020-07-07 21:23
A Three-Cornered Mystery, Dana Girls #4
A Three-Cornered Mystery - Carolyn Keene

Louise and Jean are cantering about the mountains above Starhurst when they come out of the woods near a service station and tea room. They are surprised to see a car with a license plate registered in their hometown of Oak Falls - the plate begins with the same serial numbers as many others there. The car belongs to a realtor, Taylor Lott, who is on the trail of his clerk who absconded with rental payments and many valuable papers. He expected the thieving Mr. Carrillo to come along this route, but is losing hope. The Dana girls promise to keep their eyes open.

 

In due course, as the girls enjoy their lunch, the girls spot Mr. Carrillo stopping at the same service station! They bluff that they haven't heard of any robberies and chat him up for details, but ultimately can't get the information to Mr. Lott in time.

 

Later, the girls are invited to stay for the weekend at the home of Miss Darrow, a new reporter, and her mother. At the Darrow Farm, they discover that Carrillo had worked at the farm in the past, spending a great deal of time in the barn.The girls find a cache of papers there that the man will likely return for, and get permission to spend the night in the barn.

 

Things begin to get complicated. An injured man staggers into the barn, the Darrows are missing from the house without an explanation, and the girls must head home for spring vacation without finding any more clues and surprisingly unconcerned about the mother and daughter who went missing in the middle of the night while entertaining guests.

 

One of Carrillo's victims, a shrewish widow, is played for laughs and the girls spend ages finding her a housekeeper. A detective is employed to track down Carrillo, and he doesn't give the girls much credit for the information they give him, perhaps its because of the rattlesnake he took care of for them.

 

Oh no! I'm forgetting the foreign spy angle! These books are chock full of excitement, can the Dana Girls get through this slog and save the day? I just want to write about the plot of these books and diagram it on a cork-board, preferably with lots and lots of colored string to clear things up. There's just so much going on in 200 pages.

 

Since this is the last of Leslie McFarlane's role in the series, I do want to point out something strange. His 'Hardy Boys' books were full of humor, chums, and lengthy descriptions of food. The humor he wrote into this "girls" series was much dryer, about social standing mainly, and the supporting characters were undeveloped. The Dana Girls have their hands in a few pranks, but they appear to be an island in and of themselves except for their "friend of the week" who is the center of the current mystery. It's a shame more effort couldn't have been shown. The Dana Girls get into all sorts of trouble, take risks, and are shown to be as smart as any man and capable as any professional detective, but their original author couldn't bring himself to develop their world. Thankfully, Mildred Wirt Benson was called in after Leslie refused to go on with the series, and rocks the boat a little.

 

Dana Girls

 

Next: 'The Secret at the Hermitage'

 

Previous: 'In the Shadow of the Tower'

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review 2020-07-06 21:14
In the Shadow of the Tower, Dana Girls #3
In the Shadow of the Tower - Leslie McFarlane,Carolyn Keene

On a winter excursion the Danas seek shelter in a cave and happen across Josie Sykes, a girl with a hunched back reading a letter. Startled, the girl lets the wind take the letter and a piece of green paper with it - revealed to be a $1000 bill! A fox takes the paper and vanishes.

 

The Danas do their best to help the distraught Josie find the bill and the letter to no avail. The letter had the only information Josie possessed on her only living family, an uncle. The girls offer to help Josie find a place to stay at Starhurst while she searches for her money and letter and they listen to her tale of woe. Josie has lived most of her life at a home for "crippled children", but was lately accused of theft and ran away because she was afraid they wouldn't believe her explanation for the $1000 bill. She wants to find her uncle, but also a way to live independently.

 

The language around disabled people has changed a great deal in 85 years, Josie is referred to as crippled mostly without malice, it was the appropriate word at the time. The Danas also endeavor to boost Josie up by not allowing her to define herself by her disability or accept the ridiculous judgements she receives from bullies like Lettie Briggs. There's nothing wrong with that side of Josie character. However, when the owner of the fox farm in broad daylight mistakes the teenage girl for a wild animal because of her hunched back and almost shoots her, we begin to have some difficulty.

 

Speaking of difficulty, the plot brings the Danas to their cousin's farm for the Christmas holiday, and, coincidentally, a neighbor has found Josie's letter with the money still inside of it! The issue comes when that neighbor's employer, an artist with a tower studio, has a black housekeeper called Mammy Cleo. Mammy Cleo speaks in dialect, but is shown to be knowledgeable of her employer's work and gives the Dana girls a guided tour of the studio, pointing out paintings of interest. A positive stereotype is still a stereotype, however. McFarlane - or the Stratemeyer Syndicate as they often made very specific instructions in their plot outlines - makes matters worse when we get to superstition and the language used to describe Cleo and other black people who come into the story. The reader is meant to sympathize with the rational Danas as they confront the ignorance and fear displayed by black people confronting Josie's "monstrous" silhouette or the sight of her on horseback. What the hell, McFarlane. What the fuck.

 

The real plot involves art theft and the Danas reuniting Josie with her uncle after Josie runs away. After the worse elements of the book are through, there is some comfort to discover that Josie gets herself a job and makes a career of it on her own, without the help of the Danas.

 

Context is important when reading books from a different era. Language evolves and its important for writers to attempt to tackle difficult subjects, even if they don't succeed. The problems of 'In the Shadow of the Tower' go beyond outmoded language and "cultureal expectations", however. Despite the efforts of the book to provide readers with a mostly positive depiction of a disabled person and the prejudice they face every day, it is undermined by prejudice of a different kind.

 

Dana Girls

 

Next: 'A Three-Cornered Mystery'

 

Previous: 'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage'

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review 2020-07-05 21:01
The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage, Dana Girls #2
The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage - Leslie McFarlane,Carolyn Keene

The Dana Girls have been invited on an outing by their favorite English teacher, Miss Tisdale. She is shown in her element, engaging her students by reading from 'David Copperfield' and otherwise being an excellent teacher.The girls are excited to meet Miss Tisdale's parents.

 

As Miss Tisdale's car leaves the gates a man tries to flag her down, but is dimissed, and the girls put him out of their minds. When the girl's meet Miss Tisdale's parents, they are charmed by her mother, but her father is ill-tempered and prone to monologues about his poor health. Apparently any great shock could kill him. Soon after this visit, their teacher receives a note in the middle of class, leaves the school and fails to return.

 

Naturally, Mrs. Crandall the headmistress summons Jean and Louise to her office to tell them that Mrs. Tisdale wants to engage them as detectives. Informing the police would mean her husband would find out and that would surely kill him. Mrs. Tisdale had heard all about how the Dana girls had solved the perplexing mystery of the study lamp, after all, so a missing persons case should be no trouble. Mrs. Crandall reluctantly gives permission for this assignment and agrees to help the girls several times even as the case gets more dangerous. This will keep Starhurst School out of the papers.

 

The girls find her car forced off the road in a remote area. Investigating, the girls find a lost toddler and return her to safety. The toddler's babysitter is an unpleasant woman at first, but proves to be a good person. This is a little lesson that crops up in these books often. Unpleasant women are often worth getting to know, unpleasant men almost never, and Lettie Briggs and Ina Mason should never be given a chance.

 

As the plot unspools we have an estranged twin sister, fierce guard dogs, rough sailor types and out-of-season boat rides that get nasty. The Dana's Uncle Ned, captain of the 'Balaska', comes in handy more often than you would think.

 

'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage' is the second book of the Dana Girls series, but the first three were published simultaneously in 1934 and were written at the same time by the reluctant Leslie McFarlane. Still, it's another overstuffed, fun mystery story.

 

Dana Girls

 

Next: 'In the Shadow of the Tower'

 

Previous: 'By the Light of the Study Lamp'

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review 2020-07-04 21:36
By the Light of the Study Lamp, Dana Girls #1
By the Light of the Study Lamp - Ferdinand E. Warren,Carolyn Keene

You're several years into a depression and of all your assets: Tom Swift, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and even the Bobbsey Twins, the one most people are interested in buying are two juvenile detective series. What's a publishing syndicate to do? Enter Louise and Jean Dana, orphan sisters who solve mysteries while attending the prestigious Starhurst School.

 

The Stratemeyer Syndicate was eager to match the success of the 'Hardy Boys' and 'Nancy Drew' when they created this sister series. Originally printed with lilac boards and jackets that featured bold deco designs highlighting the adventures within, the books are striking. Later printings in the 1950s would replace the cover design with the more modern picture-covers of the girls hiding in shrubbery and looking aghast at various scenes.

 

Notably, the entire back cover of the jacket - usually a valuable space used to advertise titles of another series - eagerly proclaimed that the 'Dana Girls' was written by the same author as Nancy Drew!

 

Of course, it wasn't. At least not at first. Credit for these books was given to 'Carolyn Keene', but in reality the first four books were written by Leslie McFarlane, the original writer of the bulk of the original Hardy Boys books under the 'Franklin W. Dixon' pseudonym. The syndicate needed another girls series and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams preferred working with McFarlane over the more opinionated Mildred A. Wirt who also wanted more money per manuscript. The first three books also were written in 1933, during which time Harriet had another ghostwriter writing Nancy.

 

Apparently, however, McFarlane disliked writing from a girl's perspective, especially under a female pseudonym. The poor dear. There were also problems with the increasingly lengthy and convoluted outlines McFarlane had to work from for the series, as well as his other Stratemeyer work.

That's a lot to get into before we even discuss the book itself! Despite McFarlane's lack of enthusiasm, I found the book to be fun reading. The only criticism is that the girls have an interchangeable personality - a similar problem plagued the Hardy Boys for awhile. To help you readers out, Louise is dark-haired and serious, while Jean is blonde, impulsive, and a year younger.

'By the Light of the Study Lamp' opens with the girls packing their trunks to go back to school for their sophomore year. A letter has arrived from their uncle, the captain of an Atlantic liner, informing them to keep an eye out for their farewell present, an antique lamp he is having delivered to the house. The girls are excited, because a lamp is precisely what they need for their shared study - at Starhurst girls have private study-rooms separate from their bedroom. When the lamp arrives the girls have only just unpacked it from the excelsior when they are brought to the hall by a shriek from Cora Appel, their aunt's clutzy maid who they refer to affectionately as "Applecore". A lot of time is spent developing her character considering she rarely shows up after this scene or in subsequent books.

After they calm Applecore down the girls return to the kitchen to find the lamp missing! How could it have been stolen so soon after its delivery, and why? The girl's search takes them to a shabby second-hand store with an obsequious shopkeeper who enjoys rubbing his fat hands together. There is also a glimpse of a mysterious gypsy-looking woman who the author takes pains to point out does not appear to be of Romany ancestry....thanks? The ungypsy will continue to turn up throughout the story.

Starhurst School was once a fine, private estate. The Star family fell on hard times, with the final blow being the theft of family heirlooms. The estate was sold to the Crandalls who run the school. A classmate and member of the old family, Evelyn Star, becomes close to the Dana girls this year when it appears her financial situation is becoming desperate. Her brother has gone missing and there may be no money for her tuition! She is too proud to accept a loan from the girls, so it is up to Danas to discover the whereabouts of Evelyn's brother as well as the secret of the lamp, which deepens when they find it - or one very similar - in the window of a nice second-hand store. They buy it for full price from the shopkeeper, angering their rival, the nouveau -riche and crass (oxymoron, am I right fellow elites?) Lettie Briggs, who was trying to haggle the price down despite her reputation as being the wealthiest girl at Starhurst.

There's a whole lot more going on with the plot, but I'm discovering that it is extremely hard to write about what happens in these books. There are dozens of coincidences and twists leading up to a fairly simple conclusion. This book was charming and holds up alongside its peers. Of course, you have to love this kind of thing (which I do!).

Dana Girls

 

Next: 'The Secret at Lone Tree Cottage'

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text 2020-07-02 22:06
Reading progress update: I've read 115 out of 215 pages.
In the Shadow of the Tower - Leslie McFarlane,Carolyn Keene

Oh no. I enjoyed the first two - reviews to come, naturally - but the plot here involves a black community that is superstitious to the point of endangering themselves and the wealthy white people they work for. Leslie McFarlane also doesn't seem to be able to write about black people without describing their "rolling eyes" and "great, shiny faces". This was written at about the same time as 'The Mark on the Door'. McFarlane (perhaps at the Stratemeyer Syndicate's behest as their plot outlines were sometimes incredibly detailed and weirdly specific) wrote novels with a distinctly racist vibe in this period.

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