Tuesday, May 5, 2009

C&L Mystery Stories for Girls #1, The Jade Necklace

Roslyn Blake is the orphaned child of a scientist/explorer and a mother who died when Roslyn was four. Since her father's death, she's been under the guardianship of the Chiltons, consisting of the horrid father, the lovely mother, sweet and beautiful daughter Muriel, and son Bob, the wannabe inventor. Roselyn's ambition is to be a professional pianist, but Mr. Chilton appropriates her personal funds that she was to use for lessons to buy this folly of a house, Belleview, out in the country.

Almost as soon as they get there, they're put upon to host a Chinese lord (Mr. Wang), his valet Hop Kee (and the valet's pet monkey), and his older friend/advisor (Mr. Han). Roslyn has a snuff bottle and what she believes to be an imitation jade necklace, both posthumous gifts from her father. The latter disappears, and she alternately suspects Hop Kee and his monkey. She thinks she's recovered it from the room of Mr. Wang (placed there, she believes, by the monkey), but she's actually stolen the real thing that her necklace imitates. Oops.

In the end, Mr. Chilton moves to New Zealand, to sponge off of his wealthy cousin; Mr. Wang (who is half-American, the son of the former owners of the house) proposes to Muriel and buys the house from Roslyn for his mother--giving Roselyn the money for piano lessons; and Bob goes to University, courtesy of his aunt. The necklaces are each restored to the appropriate owners.
  • Roslyn keeps telling herself that she'll be of age in three years. I'm not sure if "of age" means 18 or 21, therefore I'm not sure if she's 15 or 18. Whichever, Muriel is 4 years older.
  • I've read far too many Agatha Christie novels. I've been conditioned to believe the brother and the adopted daughter will always fall in love and was sadly disappointed/honestly confused when this didn't happen. I mean, they call each other Bobsy and Rosey!
  • The Honorable James Chilton is really almost TOO bad. He's unpleasant to read about, and it was distracting to be thinking things like, "How's Pem going to get out of this one? Killing him? How?"
  • That said, Pem does give you some insight into the guy. He's been disowned by his wealthy British family, and he thinks he knows more about money than he does. He enjoys the misery of others, especially if it's directly controlled by him. He makes Muriel wretchedly embarrassed by his matchmaking efforts with Wang--reading about it made me just wince in sympathy.
  • There's definitely some racial stuff in this book about the Chinese. Think "How do they even see through those eyes!"
  • Pem is just so good at writing about emotions and feelings, with a mixture of showing and telling. Roslyn's passion for music, her love for her adoptive family (especially her relationship with Bob), and her frustration with Mr. Chilton and his use of her money come across as being very genuine.
  • The family's pet name for Muriel is "Mew," which I think is rather cute.
  • Roslyn wears"the old yellow silk that had come from Bangkok and the gold woven band that had been a savage's bracelet," while Muriel has a "soft green" gown with "rhinestone fringes." Mrs. Chilton wears"coral sequins," and other guests at a ball wear a "mound of pink satin," a"beaded cerulean crepe," and a girl has a gown of "flaming red, with sparkling heels to her red velvet slippers and a huge red ostrich-feather fan."
  • Finally, this story takes place in a fictional town in Pennsylvania, where Pem was from. Bob goes to Lehigh University in the end, and Mrs. Chilton moves with her sister to Clinton, which is near Pittsburgh.
It's hard to explain why I like this so much--all I can say is that it's in the details. Highly recommended. Next up, The Thirteenth Spoon.

Pemberton Ginther

Well, I was right to be tempted by Pemberton Ginther's The Jade Necklace. Before the first chapter was even over, I was bowled over by how great the writing quality is compared to other series books of the time. Her writing reads like a really good period book, not just a cliched, cranked out Syndicate manuscript (although heaven knows I love those, too!). I ran right through this book and straight into the next one, The Thirteenth Spoon, which was every bit as good. At this point, I'm actively pursuing ANY title by her.

Pemberton Ginther was the pen name of Mary Pemberton (Mrs. George A.) Heyer. She was an artist as well as a writer, and she illustrated many books, as well as painting and working in stained glass--a real renaissance woman. From what I can tell, her art career pre-dates her career as a writer, beginning in the 19th century. She then wrote several series in the 1910s and 20s: Betsy Hale, Miss Pat, Beth Anne, Nancy Lee, and Hilda. I've not yet read any of these, so I'm not sure what their focus is (mystery, romance, adventure, etc.), but I certainly intend to investigate.

The titles that I've read, as well as a third, The Secret Stair, were originally published by the Macrae Smith Company in 1928 and 1929 and then republished in 1932 by Cupples and Leon. While I've never examined a Macrae edition, the page numbers match up, so I assume the two editions of each are identical. I imagine the dust jacket art is different, although I've been unable to find pictures online to confirm this. The frontispieces of both of the books I've read are initialed "FW," so they are not illustrated by her.

The fact that these weren't written specifically for the Mystery Stories for Girls series probably explains why they're so different from the other titles. The heroines and subject matter are a little older and their problems/situations are more adult--another title, The Door in the Mountain, is especially childish in comparison. At 305-308 pages, they're also almost a hundred pages longer than The Clue at Crooked Lane, for example. Pem is also very thorough in fleshing out characters--there are no colorless sidekicks, but a lot more emotional turmoil. There's fewer series stereotypes, and they just don't have the same feel as a typical series book. I'm very curious to see how her actual series books read.

I'll have reviews of the books I've read up shortly. This actually started out as the review for The Jade Necklace but got FAR too long. Can you tell how excited I am to finally find another good author/book?
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