Sunday, April 5, 2009

C&L Mystery Stories for Girls #9, Escape by Night

Honestly, I had trouble believing that this book was by the same author as The Dormitory Mystery. It was published in 1941 and falls in patriotic war propaganda territory, to the detriment of any character/plot development.

Wendy, an orphan, lives with her crippled* Uncle Ed and yet another harsh-but-secretly-loving housekeeper, Sarah, in what used to be the Edgewater Inn, formerly operated by her parents. She's received a letter from a Mr. Schmidt requesting that he and his family be able to stay at the inn all summer--and he'll pay well for the privilege. Wendy talks her uncle into taking out a loan so that they can fix up the inn and take guests again. She wants the money that the profits would bring, so that she can go to college for hotel management.

She gets the inn ready with the help of her buddies, Duke and Eva. Neither is as charming as Chubs. Miss Abbott, a nurse/nutritionist/former inn patron, also hires on. The Schmidts come, along with several other guests, who all just happen to want the south wing. In her rush at the sudden influx of guests, Wendy brilliantly hires a maid and her sister without checking their references. Some normal guests also come, but they get driven away by strange events (snake in the bed of a child, salt in the soup, theft of Mrs. Schmidt's pearl necklace).

Wendy has several suspicious encounters with the guests, and she basically ignores them all. For example, she overhears Mrs. Schmidt and the maid speaking in a foreign language, which, when caught, they claim is Czech. Mr. Schmidt also asks that a "high line" (something electric/radio related?) be installed in his young son's room, supposedly for the son's experiments. Miss Abbott, who nursed oversees in the first World War, also recognizes one of the guests, but can't place him. When a hometown boy in the military brings comrades to stay in the hotel, the guests are pretty clearly attempting to spy on the group. At this point, Wendy's finally figured out that SOMETHING is wrong, but her suspicions don't solidify until the regretful/fearful wife of one of the men confesses that they are Nazis. Well, that and when escaped German POWs are found on an island in the lake. That Wendy, she likes to be sure before she takes action.

Wendy decides to poke around in the room with the high line, which is full of radios. She accidentally does something to one of the radios. When the men unexpectedly come in, she has to hide in the closet (series stereotype #549). She overhears their plans for a mass synchronized bombing of the US. And a bunch of "Heil, Hitler!"s. Of course, she gets caught when someone on the radio asks the men about the signal, and they seach the room. She gets bound and gagged, and they seriously toss her over a cliff into the lake. She saves herself by praying that she hits water(not the jagged bottom of the cliff) and arching herself into a dive. They somehow don't notice this, and she makes it to shore and gets rescued by a woman and her daughter. They take her to a doctor, he takes her story seriously, and they alert an FBI agent staying at the woman's hotel. The gang gets rounded up, Wendy is a hero to her country, and the publicity ensures that the Inn will stay full of guests.
  • The front flap synopsis tells you the entire story, spoilers and all, including the ending. Not that there's much doubt about the ending, but it's still annoying.
  • It was never clear to me if Mr. Schmidt wrote to Wendy about staying at the Inn completely out of the blue, or if she had advertised for guests. My impression was the former, which is kind of weird.
  • Duke isn't a romantic interest; the book really doesn't have one. I got some vibes from the Steve the Hometown Hero military boy, but nothing ever came of it. Duke and Eva are also not together. Not a drop of romance in the whole book.
  • They give a dance at the Inn for guests and locals. Wendy wears "a pale blue crisp pique," Eva a "white organdie, full-skirted and ruffled." A real guest worries that her short summer frock isn't appropriate, and Wendy reassures her that any natives in long dresses are her fellow graduated seniors, who are just "delighted at a chance to wear our class-party clothes again!"
  • When the POWs are caught, it's not known that they're escaped prisoners--just some people found on the island who don't seem to speak English. Miss Abbott attempts to interrogate them and find out their identities. She tries a couple of languages, then says, "Heil, Hitler!"They click their heels and return the phrase. Um, wouldn't escaped POWs be a LITTLE more cautious?
  • I don't want to know what sort of people are going to Google up here now that "Hitler" has been named on this blog.
  • Only after the guests are arrested does Miss Abbot remember where she's seen the guy before--he was her patient in Paris, a captured German naval officer.
  • I'm a nurse specializing in spinal cord injury rehab, so I hate to use the word crippled. However, the book doesn't elaborate on Uncle Ed's condition, other than to say he uses a wheelchair.
  • The orphan living with housekeeper is very typical. However, her uncle is completely uninvolved in the mystery, unlike other parentless heroines. He sits and carves in his workshop, while his teenage niece runs the hotel.
In case you couldn't tell, I didn't enjoy this book. I'm not quite sure what I'll review next--my huge TBR pile includes the final two Sara Gay books, a few Sally Baxter, and some Mildred Wirt Cupples and Leon titles. I'm still on the lookout for The Pledge of the Twin Knights.


  1. This is a good review. While I own this book, I have not read it.

    I had to laugh at your mention of the kind of people who would land here because of the mention of Hitler. It probably will cause some interesting types to visit this page.

    I use my Google Analytics account to look at the search terms people have used to get to my site and blog. "Sara Gay" brings in some interesting results. I'm sure you can figure out why. I also have noticed that a few people seem to be searching for risque stuff with little boys and girls. Creepy!

  2. I can't say that I would recommend reading it. Alice Anson seems to write boring, rather weak heroines. It's okay in The Dormitory Mystery because the secondary characters are so good, but it's just tedious in this book.

    The most interesting person was actually Steve the Hometown Hero, who talked a lot about his training and what he got out of his job. Then I realized that, hey, this is still total propaganda, just more interestingly written. Since this book was published in 1941, very soon after we entered the war, it must have really been cranked out. I suspect this is why the character development is so lousy. With a little more polish, the rest could be more like the Steve parts.

    I may try some of my Mildred Wirt single titles next--I'm in the mood for some great new secondary characters. The only single titles I've read by her are Connie Carl (mediocre) and Kristie at College/Quarry Ghost (my absolute favorite Wirt title).


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