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review 2020-07-09 21:07
The Circle of Footprints, Dana Girls #6
The Circle of Footprints - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene

Terrible news! The newspaper reports that a plane has crashed on the deck of the 'Balaska', their Uncle's ship, and injured several passengers. A telegram is delivered that day to inform Lettie Briggs that one of those (minorly) injured was her father. The telegram giving the news is delivered by the plane's pilot's son.

 

All in a typical day at the Starhurst School for Girls.

 

The telegram boy ends up getting fired for being slow to return from jobs (his bicycle tires were flat, and then the bicycle got hit by a truck - excuses, excuses). The Dana Girls (and Evelyn Star, before she gets tired and gets out of the mystery) take sympathy on him and want to pump him for more information about his bad pilot of a father.

 

At the boy's home, they find the house in disarray: "Mother would never leave the house untidy!" Sure enough, there's a crook tossing the place and he almost gets away with a tin box full of cash. Except he runs in a peculiar way, turning in a circle before running off.

 

There is some doubt as to who actually owns the money as it was obtained dishonestly. The girls are asked to find the real owners and foil some other crimes along the way.

 

This was ridiculous and fun, but there were two strikes against it. First, there is the black cook at Starhurst, Amanda, who had had a brief cameo in 'By the Light of the Study Lamp', whose man friend resorts to theft to keep her supplied with fancy cologne. Oh man. I've talked enough about that garbage this week. Next! The other, more minor point, but still pointing to some underlying cultural rot, is the character of Lettie Briggs. The girls are constantly thrown together, and when the girls should react with sympathy or admiration with each other, they fall back on snobbery and cold shoulders. When Lettie and Louise are caught in the crossfires of a mad woman accusing them of vandalism (somewhat accurately, but don't let's get into that now) to a policeman. Jean creates a distraction and allows them to make a run for it. Lettie is thrilled, but the Danas impatiently wait for her to leave them alone before getting on with business. Later, at a fancy dress dance where the girls partner the girls as was the custom at a girl's school, Lettie tries fighting off a prowler on the grounds. It's even the frontispiece picture, but no one comments on her efforts except to say she was clearly losing. Written nowadays, the girls would develop a grudging respect for each other at least.

 

Dana Girls

 

Next: 'The Mystery of the Locked Room'

 

Previous: 'The Secret at the Hermitage'

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review 2020-07-08 21:32
The Secret at the Hermitage, Dana Girls #5
The Secret at the Hermitage - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene

'The Secret at the Hermitage' wastes no time in signalling to the reader that there are changes afoot. Louise and Jean are relaxing in their room after classes joking about an item in the paper. Jean is "sprawled" on the window seat and is described as "inclining to boyishness". A suddenly cheeky Evelyn Star appears in the doorway joking about the school food and is invited to grab a cookie. A quick trip to a shop to get a wristwatch repaired is suggested and Jean rushes out to grab the hat she left in Doris Harland's room. Who are these girls? It's an unremarkable scene, except for that we've never seen anything half as natural so far in the Dana Girls books. Mildred Wirt Benson brings a little life to the archetypes.

 

As is becoming traditional, the latest mystery really begins with the girls giddy with excitement at the chance to escape from campus, if only for a few hours. The article they were reading earlier in the paper had to do with the former warden of the women's penitentiary in Penfield. Howard Norton had been dismissed for negligence, especially after the escape of an inmate. Little do they know they're going right into the heart of case.

 

They are surprised at the bus stop by Mrs. Grantland, the woman for whom they retrieved a pearl ring in 'Study Lamp', who offers them a ride into town with a quick stop so they can admire her newest hobby: art collecting. There they admire a particularly fine statue signed N.R. that Mrs. Grantland was told had been made by an inmate of the prison.

 

Later, in the shop where watch is being repaired, the girls are accosted by Norton. He is near-sighted and convinced that the sixteen year old Louise is the much older escaped convict Nina Regan! This begins a bizarre game of cat and mouse where Norton continues to pop up in distant woods, parlors, and other locations to accuse Louise of being Nina.

 

The Warden's menace is such that Lettie Briggs comes up with a brilliant prank to spook Louise on a field trip by dressing up as Norton and scaring her. It works, but unknown to the fleeing Lettie, Louise is hurt and accidentally left behind by the class. Louise is hurt, alone in the woods, and winds up in a stranger's car and deposited 40 miles from Starrhurst. A hermit finds her and offers her shelter for the night, which Louise takes, but is genuinely freaked out by the whole situation.

 

Are things not weird yet? That's because I've forgotten the girls digging deeper into the story of Nina Regan, her wrongful conviction, and the plight of another inmate who is separated from her sick child. The solution rests in the hands of Mrs. X.Y.Z., if Jean doesn't get eaten by a tiger first. Yeah. you read that right. A tiger.

 

Bring on more of these, please.

 

Dana Girls

 

Next: 'The Circle of Footprints'

 

Previous: 'A Three-Cornered Mystery'

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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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