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Sunday, August 27, 2023

Mystery Series - Melody Lane

alt text Lilian Garis
The Melody Lane mysteries were written from 1933-1940 by Lilian Garis. She and her husband Howard Garis are considered the most prolific writers of ficton for younger readers in the early 1900s. The Melody Lane books feature Carol Duncan, a high school girl, and other young people in "Melody Lane." The books are typically dramatic of the time period, but I like the characters. The writing style is a little "breathless," and may take a bit of getting used to. Garis herself was editing the women's page of a newspaper when she was yet in high school, so her own experiences probably influenced how grown-up these girls seem to be.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Carol Duncan
Cecy Duncan her younger sister

#1 The Ghost of Melody Lane, 1933
Carol Duncan is a high school girl caught in the depression like so many others. She lives with her father (her mother is dead), who is out of work, and her younger sister, Cecy. Carol has taken on the responsibility for bringing in some income by playing organ at the local movie theatre, but so many movies are beginning to have their own music that she loses even that job, and the book begins with her looking for another similar position. She is depressed, and goes to the home of her organ teacher, a friend, and retired actress, Katheryn Becket, fondly known as "Cousin Kitty."

Kitty lives in an old rambling mansion on Melody Lane. The estate was built years ago with a huge pipe organ built into the house. It is this organ which Carol plays to calm her tensions. However, the house has developed a reputation for being haunted, and a rumor that the organ is heard to play by itself. There is an odd young man (Stubby Flint) who pumps the organ when the power is out, and a rather suspicious old repairman who seems unlikely to be playing ghost, but he is certainly menacing. A German caretaker and wife live in the gatehouse, and their niece is currently living with them, having come over from Europe. She is not at all friendly, and efforts to contact her to enroll in school are even futile.

Meanwhile, Cousin Kitty, Carol and her friend Thalia (Thally) Bond, and Cecy all have experiences with seeing the "ghost." Then they have to catch it and find out what it means to preserve the value of the homes on Melody Lane.

#2 The Forbidden Trail, 1933
Carol Duncan is waylaid by the eccentric aunt of a young friend, Veronica Flint (sister of Stubby from book 1). Aunt Marah wants Carol to protect Veronica from following "the forbidden trail." That trail involves a family history of tragic loves and the secret of Veronica's father, an explorer who disappeared in the Arctic leaving Veronica with a cryptic message of valuables hidden in a cave.

The Duncans are now living in the gatehouse at Katheryn Becket's estate, since the caretaker and his family have gone back to Europe. Cecy is away at boarding school.

#3 The Tower Secret, 1934
The story opens with Carol and her friends being kind to some circus people who are traveling through town after the break-up of their act. The girls arrange for this family to stay at "Splatter Castle" (see book 2) to act as caretakers. Meanwhile Thalia Bond's family is moving to a large house with a tower on the property located on a point of land which juts into a lake. The tower has a reputation for being haunted; a round window high up in the tower sometimes winks like a huge eye.

Mary, one of the circus girls, leaves the group and goes off to marry her beau. The local concern of the summer is a case of corn borer, resulting in produce being stopped at state lines, and Mary's new husband is caught trying to take ears of corn across the border. Mary is overheard to say that she will "take care of those Bonds." But what does it mean? How could people new in town be connected with old rumors? When the girls also see the "eye" wink they search the tower, but find nothing.

Carol's good friend, Glenn, also does some searching and finds the solution.

#4 The Wild Warning, 1934
It is summer vacation and Carol's younger sister and their cousin, both of junior high school age have found what they consider to be a robber's cave hide-out. Carol discounts their story, believing their discovery to be a boys' play area. She is caught up in another strange affair at the local drugstore which is a substation for the Post Office. A registered package disappears while Carol is actually at the store. The only person they saw enter the building at that time is a very poor girl who is always eager to work for a few extra pennies. The sender of the package chooses not to press charges. But who took it, and why, and why is the beautiful young clerk so nervous?

#5 Terror at Moaning Cliff, 1935
Carol's father is out of town on business and their great aunt Isabel has written to the girls that she is going to come visit because she wants to talk to them in secret. Isabel asks them to take some of their friends and spend some weeks at a house she owns at the rocky seashore. It is hers by inheritance, but the will is rather odd in that she must either live there or put it to profitable use or she will lose the property to a distant cousin. She has tried to rent the place for years, but tenents never stay long, complaining of odd noises. The girls are asked to try to discover the secret of the old house.

The girls do go, and are aided in their quest by the boys, Glenn and Ted who are able to come visit occasionally on their time off from the nearby boys' camp where they work. A young couple, on vacation nearby, are aided by the girls when Barry takes a nasty fall. This new friendship with the young engineer proves to be the key to the puzzle.

This book had a lot of potential, but the girls were just totally out of character. They were flighty, frightened, and always looking to have a man around to help. Thus it just didn't seem consistent with the rest of the series.

#6 The Dragon Of The Hills, 1936
Carol is caught in a thunderstorm while driving home and seeks refuge at a house occupied by an old lady and her granddaughter, Priscilla. The woman does not like strangers. Carol goes on to a tearoom which turns out to be run by an old friend of hers. The tearoom is named "The Dragon of the Hills," and its colorful sign is attracting a lot of attention. The sign was painted by a Japanese friend of hers, and may have a deeper meaning that leads to problems for Carol's friend, Dorothy. The next night there is an intruder trying to get in the tearoom.

Meanwhile, Priscilla reports that someone was also trying to get in their house, and that her grandmother has died.

A salesman who had previously had an accident in front of Priscilla's home returns when he is released from the hospital looking for something valuable that is missing from his car.

The plot of this book is fun, but it does contain quite a few references that would be considered racial slurs in the present era. That said, there is not type-casting. For example, not all the Gypsies are bad people.

the mystery of stingyman's alley typical cover of the series

#7 The Mystery Of Stingyman's Alley, 1938
This book really changes the direction of the series. Carol is now out of school. They have moved to a city in New Jersey. In constrained finances, Carol and her father live in a modest brownstone house. Carol is the teacher in a day nursery in the factory district of the city. (Cecy is in the midwest with great aunt Isabel.)

This plot is much more adult and realistic than the previous books. The children in the school come from factory families who need day care for children who are too young for regular school, so the parents can work. One can get a good idea of the plight of poor children of that era. The nursery is about to be shut down because the society women who run it are having trouble raising enough money to keep it open.

Meanwhile, a toddler is abandoned in the care of the nursery, but then someone else tries to kidnap the child.

#8 The Secret of the Kashmir Shawl, 1939
Apparently readers did not want Carol to grow up, and the series shifts again, now to feature Carol's younger sister Cecy. Not wanting to be a drag on the family finances, Cecy takes her first summer job as a companion to an older lady. But this lady acts very strange in many ways. Some people from the Middle East are hounding her to return a kashmir shawl she bought in Egypt a year previous. One of her own servants seems to be in on this plot.

The woman, whom Cecy is to call Aunt Bessie, is determined to keep the shawl because she likes it and she paid for it and paid the customs duties, and she's not going to be deterred. But the "gang" is persistent with their threats.

There is a sub-plot involving another girl from a previous book.

#9 The Hermit of Proud Hill, 1940
This mystery is mostly solved by Cecy and her friend Kay Findlay. There is a dual theme throughout the book. One is a real estate scam in which many local people lost their homes during the difficult period of the 1930's. There is also a curious man who lives alone in a small shack on a hill. However, when they meet him he seems to be quite cultured, almost academic, not their conception of what a hermit should be at all.

Can the girls restore Kay's family home in the face of opposition from the mean caretaker of the land? The caretaker is trying to gain full ownership. Who is the strange hermit on Proud Hill?

#10 The Clue of the Crooked Key, planned as the next book, but never written

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