Wednesday, September 30, 2015

the 13th Spoon - a Mystery Story for Girls

Yes, yes, I know.  "A Mystery Story for Girls."  So, what am I doing reading it?  Well, for starters, I enjoy most children's series from the first half of the 20th century - from Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins to Garry Grayson and Mary and Jerry.  Also, I enjoy the girls' mysteries generally more than the boys' "mysteries," as the boys' series are usually more about adventure and less about mystery.  Hence, my reading of "A Mystery Story for Girls."

I've only previously read one other Pemberton Ginther book, and that was The Secret Stair (also one of the mystery stories for girls, in this same series).  That book was rather lackluster, but I thought I'd give this one a try, particularly since I am a completist and feel the need to have every book in a series that I start to collect.

The underlying mystery of the 13th Spoon is actually rather intriguing.  As described on the inside flap, "The Twelve Apostle Spoons were worth a great deal of money, but the Thirteenth Spoon, the Master Spoon, was as valuable as all the other twelve.  Alan Hoyt, after years of effort, had collected the complete set.  They were the prize item of his collection, although a Wattean fan was, also, a valuable and rare item.  When Carol comes to be his secretary, Hoyt showed her the spoons and the fans.  Then strange things begin to happen...[and] waking in the night, Carol discovered Mr. Hoyt unconscious, and the spoons and fans gone."  Now, if that doesn't sound like the set up for a pretty good mystery, I don't know what does.

Unfortunately, Ginther doesn't focus solely on the mystery.  Ginther's writing is rather off-beat, in that the reader doesn't just follow the main protagonist, Carol Breck.  Instead, the story jumps around, from Carol's perspective, to her friends' perspective, to her competitor's perspective, to a suspect's perspective, and even the actual criminal's perspective!  Thus, at any given moment, while the reader may be reading the story from Carol's perspective, the next page may jump and you find yourself reading about Frederick Parsons over in Brussels...or Gilman in New York...or even Claire (Carol's rival) as she waits for her boyfriend (in a chapter aptly titled "Entirely About Claire").  For me, this took away from the smooth enjoyment of reading the tale, as it revealed too much about the various characters and removed the "mystery" from the actual mystery.

Now, that being said, I do enjoy the main character, Carol Breck.  She is fleshed out nicely and very well-rounded, possessing the perfect humility and demeanor of a proper girl of the 1930s (yes, this book was published in 1932 - just 17 years from being 100 years old), but she's also determined and mindful of things around her, picking up on clues that other miss (a somewhat tamer version of the original Nancy Drew of the '30s).  Her benefactor, Alan Hoyt, lacks depth - we know he is recovering his strength, as he is dependent on a wheelchair, but we get very little background on him.  In fact, we get more information about his neighbor, "the Major," than we do about Hoyt.

As with Nancy Drew, Carol has two friends who are uniquely different - Alice and Beatrice (a/k/a Beefy).  Sadly, they are very underused in the story, basically there as friends from college who join Carol in a venture to earn money to pay for schooling by creating jewelry and fans that other girls might buy.  It would have been interesting to see how this story might have gone if Ginther had maintained Carol's point of view throughout the entire tale and allowed Alice and Beefy to come along for the ride.

But, alas, it is what it is, and while it certainly was not one of the better reads from the collection of books I have from the 1930s, I will admit it was a step above Ginther's other book, The Secret Stair.  Of course, after these two books, it leaves me wondering if it's even worth it to seek out her third mystery story for girls, The Jade Necklace.

RATING:  4 out of 10 apostle spoons for centering a mystery around a stolen item that is unique (and, apparently, true, since a search on the internet reveals that apostle spoons do exist, having originated in the early 15th century in Europe)

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