Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Judy Bolton #4, Seven Strange Clues

Seven Strange Clues is the first Judy Bolton book with all the key players and struggles in place. Honey made her first appearance in the previous book, the Arthur/Peter thing is nicely set up, and Judy realizes definitely that Honey likes Horace--and that he likes both Honey and Irene.

A poster contest is being set up by the local department store for the schoolchildren, with health as the theme. I picture WPA-type posters from the same time period. Judy is persuaded to enter by Honey, so that Honey's won't be the worst. Way to be a kind friend, Honey. Judy has the two young men renting part of the family's garage make a work bench in the cellar and invites Honey and Irene to share the space and her paints. Kay Vincent, an unpleasant classmate, unexpectedly shifts from insulting Irene to befriending her, but Judy is unable to discover her motives.

Soon, mysterious things start happening in the cellar. Judy hears whistling, she and Horace hear glass breaking, and Honey hears voices. Blackberry makes the cellar his new haunt and sometimes turns up there unexpectedly. An apple from Judy's still life gets eaten, and she accuses Horace of stealing it. Judy goes to the Dobbs' house early one morning to talk with Honey about the events, and meets up with her as Honey returns from a walk. As they head towards school, they, along with all their classmates, realize that the building has gone up in flames. Kay awkwardly yells the school fight song--fiddling while Rome burns, no? Once the fire is out, Judy joins a committee of the boys to investigate. It's found that a window was forced before the fire was started. Uh-oh.

The girls' posters were almost all in the school building when it burned--everyone but Irene and Kay's. A little suspect? Judy is shocked when she is announced as the winner, since her poster was (a.) pretty terrible and (b.) destroyed in the fire. They discover that somehow Honey's poster, which she never turned in, was submitted as Judy's. So now both Honey and Irene are upset with Judy, Honey because she thinks Judy did it and Irene because she wanted to win the wristwatch and thinks Judy lied about her poster.

Judy invites Honey and Peter over to ponder the (seven strange) clues with her and Horace. Everyone but Judy thinks they're meaningless. Irene joins them and says that Kay has ended their friendship abruptly. However, she's able to provide Kay an alibi for both the fire and the night Honey's poster disappeared. They explore the cellar again and find a secret tunnel, with the remnants of whiskey bottles, leading to the garage. Oops. Guess those nice boarders/garage renters weren't so nice.

Judy's suspicions are aroused and then confirmed when she questions Dickie, Kay's brother. Kay copied the poster from a magazine ad, and she sent Dickie to get the magazine from her desk that morning, so she wouldn't get caught. He accidentally dropped a match in the desk and then dropped the poster in his panic--burning the edge that's missing and causing him to step on it, leaving the footprint. One of the boarders is the son of a man who worked with Kay and Dickie's father in running a speakeasy, and they returned to town to recover the whiskey, of which Mr. Vincent then cheated them.

So Mr. Vincent can no longer run for Mayor, Irene wins a prize, and Honey is acknowledged as the first place winner. Dr. Bolton hires Irene to work in his office, so she can quit at the silk mill. Irene and Honey reconcile with Judy, and the closing of the school sets up the events for the next book, The Ghost Parade. I'm honestly not that fond of that book, because everyone kind of hates Judy in it.
  • I appreciate that Judy is allowed to be a bad artist. You know that Nancy Drew would have modestly painted the best poster ever. It's so bad that Horace thinks the bananas are strange leaves and says, "It takes all tastes to make up a world," when she wins. It's so bad that when Irene thinks Judy won, she says, "Perhaps you can understand how that awful poster of yours won first prize. I can't."
  • This is the book that establishes Honey as an artist, which she later makes her career. It characterizes her to the very end of the series.
  • When Irene tells Judy that Kay lent her paints, Judy exclaims, "Irene, the sky is falling! We must go and tell the king."
  • Kay's picture is copied from a Cream of Wheat ad, showing two Dutch children bowing thier heads over their breakfast. Lorraine's immediate opinion? "'Imagine Kay drawing a picture of children saying grace,' . . . She voiced the very thing that Judy was thinking." Love it.
  • This is totally golden age Judy Bolton: she still "bet[s] something precious that . . ."
  • Peter is the only one of the group that is able to identify the smell of whiskey in the cellar. Interesting.
  • Judy realizes that Honey likes Horace when she hides that her poster was lost. Honey thinks Horace burned it accidentally and will feel bad about it.
So, one of my favorite Judy's. I had forgotten that Dickie was technically the culprit, so I actually got a bit of a surprise at the end. I have to say, going back and getting the first ten with all the internal illustrations was one of the best things I've done as a collector. I love them to death, and I've never paid more than $30 for one (note: my copy of The Riddle of the Double Ring has a dust jacket from a later printing). Next up: The Mysterious Half-Cat.

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