Monday, March 30, 2009

Shirley Flight #6, The Great Bullion Mystery

I hate to quote Red from That 70s Show, but seriously, sometimes Shirley is a total dumb ass. She's surrounded by even dumber people, which is about the only reason she gets away with it.

And end rant. In this book, Shirley has taken a temporary assignment on a "flying boat" or amphibious plane, going from Southampton to Canada, by way of Reykjavik. At the last minute, they're loaded up with special cargo: 500,000 pounds in gold bullion. Mrs. Dellery, another of those mean old ladies with a heart of gold, is Shirley's special charge. Mrs. Dellery is extremely demanding (she has Shirley sit with her, then pumps her for information about herself), which earns her a lot of grief from the obnoxiously, annoyingly chauvinist steward, since this prevents Shirley from assisting with the rest of the on-flight duties. Mrs. Dellery also attempts to smuggle a small gun onboard, which causes further conflict between Shirley and the steward over what to do.

Once in Reykjavik, Mrs. Dellery somehow convinces Shirley to ride with her and a menacing chauffeur to her house outside of town. Stranger danger, Shirley! I got so frustrated with Shirley after this point--everytime she rightfully gets her hackles up, someone (usually Mrs. Dellery [or *spoiler* one of her alter egos]) offers her a stupid explanation, that she swallows hook, line, and sinker. From at least the car ride, Mrs. Dellery is clearly up to no good, but Shirley ignores her instincts until she's taken prisoner in the house and ordered to remove her uniform. She does so and hides. Once the other two give up on finding her and leave the house, she finds an empty wheelchair and a grey wig. Shocker! Mrs. Dellery is not really crippled or elderly!

Somehow Shirley gets out of the house, determined to make it back to the plane before it leaves Reykjavik. There's a genuinely tense struggle in the Geyser Plateau that I really enjoyed. She's walking and spots the evil chauffeur and decides to lure him out of the car to steal it. She deliberately shows herself, then leads him on a dangerous chase through the steam and snow and hidden boiling springs. She manages to get the car and make it back to the plane but can't convince the guard that she's really a flight attendant, since she's wearing native costume. She also sees someone who looks exactly like her, wearing her uniform. Finally they're convinced and let her onboard.

Once on the plane, a girl claiming to be an Icelandic flight attendant getting training shows up unexpectedly. In a Transcontinental uniform. And Shirley's not at all suspicious. For real. Until she sees a British passport poking out of the girl's bag, and even then, she tries to think of an innocent explanation. She does start getting suspicious about a group of mining engineers, but when she tries to tell the obnoxious steward, he refuses to listen. And it's too much of a breach in protocol for her to directly approach the flight crew. She finally decides to open the engineers' cargo for proof, but of course by the time she finds the tommy guns, it's too late to go for help. They take over the plane. The female impersonator is really the male leader of a notorious gang, who plans to leave them abandoned in middle-of-nowhere frozen Canada. Luckily, Shirley uses the equivalent of knock-out drops from the first aid kit to spike their coffee. They're captured, the crew and passengers are rescued, and Shirley is vindicated in front of the steward. Since she's somewhat less dumb than everyone else.

  • While there's a huge amount of guards for the loading of the gold, there's absolutely no security on board the plane. NADA.
  • I hated the character of the steward. He's even more stupid than Shirley, impossible to please, and takes bribes. He won't report Shirley's suspicions because he would have to admit that he (a.)took a bribe and (b.)helped smuggle a gun into Iceland. I know he's supposed to be seen as a silly villain, but he was extremely annoying.
  • I need to find pictures of old planes. This book mentions a bar, tables, card games, etc.
  • The gang leader is described as short and slight, a master disguise artist. I can vaguely believe that he could make himself up convincingly as an old woman, but not as a gorgeous young girl.

I've been a bit disappointed in the Shirley Flight books so far, especially considering how much I enjoy other World Distributors series (Sara Gay Model Girl, Sally Baxter Girl Reporter) and the early Vicki Barr books. Next up is Escape by Night, which I admit was not much like The Dormitory Mystery.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shirley Flight #3, Desert Adventure

Shirley Flight was published by the British company, World Distributors, in the 1950s and 60s. My copy of this book doesn't list a copyright date, but the inscription in the front is dated January 1959, and the first four titles are listed on the back cover. Shirley is an air hostess for Transcontinental Airlines and a trained nurse (as air hostesses were required to be at the time). The books differ from the Vicki Barr series much more than I would have expected. There's a definite international flair, and Shirley's family really isn't mentioned. The Vicki Barr books use flight as a way to get around to solve mysteries, while Shirley Flight mysteries center around the plane itself. There are also male stewards on board, and Shirley's experience of sexism is an element in both books I've read.

In this book, Shirley and her passengers are setting out from Beirut to Bahrain. Onboard, passengers include Wally the pop star, Mrs Rutter the harsh old lady with a heart of gold, and Carmen Vidette, an obnoxious ex-Folies Bergere chorus girl on her way to a gold-digging marriage with an Indian prince. The first hint that something is wrong occurs while the plane is still on the tarmac, with Shirley discovering and apprehending a native in the crew cabin.

Once in the air, the plane gets caught in an electrical storm, screwing with their flight instruments. They get off course, then lose most of their engines. The pilots make a forced landing in the middle of the desert. After ten days, it becomes obvious that they're going to run out of food, water, and strength before the plane can be repaired. Then they get captured by a band of Arabs, who, naturally, are the members of a secret society that vows to kill all white people. They've been after Carmen, whose interracial marriage for profit displeases them. Luckily, they manage to hide her identity somehow. Wouldn't they recognize her, though, if they really had a hit out on her?

They're taken to a hidden valley, where the origins for this vow are explained as shipwrecked English prisoners in the 1790s taking all their treasure. Now no white people can leave the valley alive as long as the treasure is gone. Shirley manages to convince the ruler to let them live by saving the life of his sick son with her nursing training and the onboard first aid kit. The ruler still keeps the vow by making them stay, albeit alive, in the valley.

The son befriends Shirley, though, and tells her about a secret passage out of the valley. The passengers plan to sneak out every night, repair the plane, and then finally make their escape. Of course, Shirley finds the secret treasure room and figures out the cobra belts worn by the assassins are the the key to the room. Really. So the treasure is restored, they have a feast, then get to fly off to England. At the last minute, they put the son on board the plane, so that he can see England.
  • The 50s Brit xenophobia/colonialism is pretty offensive. Shirley says things like, "You big boy bring big truck 'long medical stores!" to communicate with her very adult ground foreman. The narration also explains that the local phrase, "If Allah wills it!" is used as a scapegoat for the natives' natural neglect and laziness.
  • The sort of love interest is First Officer Tony Luckworth, who is described, I kid you not, as "ferociously moustached." Maybe that's him on the cover? He has a lucky teddy bear that's stolen by Carmen. Random much, for sure.
  • All non-BBC English British accents are spelled phonetically. In particular, Alf, one of the stewards', Cockney speech is featured, with extensive use of Cockney rhyming slang.
  • Shirley cures the son by giving him penicillin (an antibiotic) for what she believes to be a viral infection. Sense, it makes none. She also sets up an oxygen tent, opens the windows, and kicks out the oh-so-backwards-and-superstitious, incense-waving Arab physician.
  • I have no idea who is supposed to care for the son, who is a child, once he gets to England. It's never explained.
  • They describe the rather large amount of luggage brought for the son, but both SF and VB talk about how critical the weight of the cargo (and even the passengers!) and its distribution are on board the plane.
So that's Shirley Flight Air Hostess in Desert Adventure. Up next, The Great Bullion Mystery, which is also rather strange, if more Nancy Drewish.


Long time no post! I was out of town for about three consecutive weekends and got out of my reading habit. I read two Shirley Flight books this weekend, though, so expect posts on them shortly.

I also got a copy of the other Alice Anson title in the C&L Mystery Stories, Escape by Night, for which I have high hopes. I managed to get the only copy in dj on ABE, Amazon, and eBay, for only $17--got to love the Best Offer feature. And it is MINT. I'm also very excited about some early, early Dana Girls books in dj that I got, By the Light of the Study Lamp and In the Shadow of the Tower, both listing to latter. They were $19 and $25, respectively, in dj (with all the listings on the back), four glossies, etc. While I don't love Dana Girls in general, I do LOVE the early cover art (very thirties/sophisticated for a children's book).

As you probably figured out from my widget, I've started a booth on Bonanzle for all my extras. I also decided to sell off my Kay Tracey books. It seems silly, when I've spent so long collecting them, but I really don't care for them (how can one series have such a combination of the bizarre and the boring?), and I need the shelf space in a bad way. I haven't sold anything yet, but I'm optimistic. I really love the community feel and got several welcome messages within hours of opening it.

I also got a message saying that the copy of The Clue in the Stagecoach that I have listed is a first edition. Points are synopsis on front flap, lists to self on back flap, and Dana Girls to Bamboo Bird on back cover. However, I found a completed listing on eBay, with the same info, only listing to Haunted Lagoon, so I'd think that was an earlier printing? *shrug*
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