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Book #5: Mystery and Adventure Stories for Girls, edited by Eric Duthie

Title: Mystery and Adventure Stories for Girls
Author: Various; edited by Eric Duthie
Genre: short story, anthology

This book, from 1962, is a collection of stories that - even while being labelled “for girls” (since girls are at least one of the main characters in each story, I wonder?) - I think can be enjoyed by anyone. Some modern readers may need to get used to some of the word choice, narrative styles, and some descriptions of girls' roles and expectations – in some cases the 'period piece' quality is quite clear. Another thing that may draw some readers out of the story briefly, or at least make things a little unclear, are indicators of the past such as now-defunct money denominations.

Wind, William Mayne
The wind as a force of nature is the main character in this story, which also features a practical little girl. But something about what should be a story of high adventure of a terrifying sort didn't work for me. I don't think I liked the structure of the sentences, which left the story seeming more like it was “told” (in the sense of 'X happened. Then Y happened. Then Main Character thought she'd do Z and went to do it') rather than “shown”. It ended a bit abruptly for my tastes; I was left wanting to know more about what happened, and not in the good sense.

Ship Aground, Kathleen Fidler
This is one of the longer stories in the book and tells the tale of Mark, Myra, and their cousin Celia having an adventure on a boating holiday. I like the interaction between the kids; Celia is regarded as “mousy” by the twins, from their previous experience with her, but she soon proves that she isn't always shy or quiet...and the twins do realize when their snobbery may be going too far. What's also interesting to note is the way the bad guys treat the kids, calling one of the girls “young madam” at a point when, if this story had taken place today, he wouldn't have been as polite. At the same time, the closing line of the story left me wondering a little about what Celia's self-esteem was like. Not a bad tale.

Risk, Margery Sharp
Four friends discuss 'what's the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? (wartime barred, of course)'. Three are pretty mundane...but the fourth is a rather large one, which one of his companions is shocked to hear about. As it turns out, the fourth man is lucky he wasn't taken to court for obstruction of justice by the end of the story.

Sir Richard, Rosemary Sutcliff
This is a nice story – again, one of the longer ones in the book- about a girl who is presented with a chance to investigate her family history when she and her widower father move to an inherited property. I like the girl and her father and the way Sutcliff writes their relationship (influenced by being a single parent-only child one, I think). The protagonist operates on an interesting mix of instinct and determined work to solve the mystery of her ancestor, the titular Sir Richard.

Peril in the Hills, Gillian Baxter
A trekking trip turns into a high-stakes escape for two brave girls and one resolute Scottish Highland pony. Interestingly, the hiking trip is taken by a group of six...but we only ever hear from four: the leader, our main point-of-view character, her best friend, and the best friend's brother. I wondered about the other two in the group, particularly when it's decided that a distraction must be made to allow the escape of our POV character and someone she meets. I wish the others had gotten at least a line of dialogue to agree with the plan.

Flight to Adventure, Elisabeth Beresford
A great story with a protagonist, Anne, that I think Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of. It's also interesting as a time capsule: Anne's parents feel her dream of being a journalist and photographer is a “silly whim” and expect her to do a secretarial course instead; and she uses a camera with rolls of film, of which colour is considered “precious” (I was around before digital cameras, but not before colour photography was the norm XD).

The Silver Chain, Rosemary Weir
An interesting little story about, ultimately, belonging and identity - including that of a grand old house which has been converted into a tourist attraction; of Carole, a young girl working on the grounds (the “period” setting of the story shows itself again, because it, accused of a wrong she had nothing to do with; and two little boys.

Just Fishin’, Margaret Ruthin
A humourous tale about the adventure that a group of Rangers get into on a fishing trip courtesy of their resident “troublemaker” (as classified by the story's first-person narrator, the Ranger Captain). Ruthin gives the Captain a believable voice as an alternately proud and frustrated adult having to deal with a headstrong young woman.

Adventure with a Film Camera, Michaela Denis
A great story from wildlife film-maker Michaela Denis, recounting adventures that she and husband Armand had while filming lions in Africa and on a shoot in the Andes. It's interesting also because it describes what they did to get good “action shots” of the lions; I wonder if one of those practices would be considered improper today. This piece, from “Leopards in My Lap”, must also have been/was written early in her many-year career, because she is just beginning to realize that the sequences with animals that thrill people on film are the “high-spots of weeks and even months of routine work, of constant disappointments, back-breaking journeys, and danger.”. A great read, though.

Caroline and the Lunch Hour Mystery, Pamela Mansbridge
Not a bad tale! A lot of the action rests on the intuition of Caroline, the main character, as well as her sense of what’s ‘proper’; and some of the freedom she's given (in the sense of being allowed to go out after missing an important deadline, for which her mother is annoyed with her). I’m not sure that things would have worked out like they did if the story was set today; for example, I think that sixteen-year-old Caroline was very lucky that some of her interactions with older males didn’t end quite differently.

Into the Blue, Viola Bayley
A trip to Italy ends up involving some adventure for Val, John, and their father. Not a bad story, but I do wonder about some points – when the family's car breaks down their father gets a ride to a nearby garage, thinking he's “sure I can bribe a mechanic to come with me” (why the need to mention a bribe? Does he think a mechanic won't come to help otherwise?); when John wants to take some photos, he just wanders onto a nearby farm and starts getting ready to shoot without bothering to take any permission (there weren't any people in sight, but it reads to me like he went quite close to the house); and when he and Val (who are English) and an Italian boy need to communicate, it seems to be quite easily done...despite the fact that no one really speaks the other's language. But otherwise, an interesting story. I like the way it started and ended, too, and how that related to the title.

Chienniang: A Chinese Ghost Story, retold by Lin Yutang
A nice story about two young lovers whose romance is made uncertain when the prospects of one, born in a family of lower standing than the other's, means family tension. The two main characters are the most developed ones in this retelling, although we do learn a bit about the girl's parents and their motivations, particularly her mother's. The others unfortunately suffer a bit for being peripheral characters, though we do learn just about enough for us to understand the central characters' predicaments. Generally, though, everyone apart from the two lovers get the 'tell-not-show' treatment. One of the illustrations in this edition is a bit of a spoiler for the answer to a mystery presented towards the end of the story.

The Sire de Malétroit’s door, Robert Louis Stevenson
An…interesting short story about the adventure that befalls a young man named Denis de Beaulieu. I’m not sure I like how it ends, though, although I didn’t really want the alternative. But the ending felt a little abrupt and it seemed like the only real ‘winner’ at the end was the titular Sire de Malétroit…which is not something I’d really have desired, all things considered. Perhaps this would have done better as a novella, or perhaps the crispness and brevity was the point of it…I’m not sure.

Finders Keepers, Showell Styles
Great little short story about three people who become involved in a puzzle to find hidden treasure, even if the ending is a bit pat…but here I don’t mind it as much as I usually do, because said ending is pleasantly ambiguous. I had read this story before, and as I started re-reading it realized that I recalled what one part of the puzzle’s clue meant. This story really does make an impression.

The Saint, Antonia White
A group of youngish girls at a convent think one of the nuns looking after them is a saint, but are less charitable to another woman teaching them. Everyone's favourite has qualities that might be considered saintly (one of her acts seems to fit one of the “requirements” the girls discuss) but I was a little surprised by their reaction to one incident in particular. Maybe I've never felt as devoted to a teacher like these girls appear to have had, or maybe it's my adult perspective, but as I read the story the situation - was there or was there not a saint in the girls' midst? - seemed pretty clear to me.

The Children of Camp Fortuna, Pamela Brown
A great little adventure story set in Egypt in the 1940s. The five titular children - though one seems considerably older - have distinct voices and personalities, which is great work in a story so short, and with so many characters. Perhaps things worked out a little too 'pat' at the end (the bad guys capitulated perhaps a tad too easily), but I liked it.

Sentimental Value, Gerald Bullett
an interesting short story (considering that it came from a collection called Ten-Minute Tales (XD) about the antiques business, and what happens when a man walks into a shop owned by a youngish widow and sets his eye on a particular piece. There are lots of hints here that could well be developed in another story about the same characters...including some things that may not go so well for the main character and a friend, particularly given a point the friend himself raises. This is another one where the use of older currency may be a bit strange for modern, or younger, readers - for example, the antiques dealer is shocked when she's offered five pounds for an urn...when she put the price in shillings.

The Snake Pit, Gerald Durrell
This was great, and Durrell had me laughing out loud in a few segments...and gasping out loud in another, because now (on my second read of the story) I know more about the snakes he had to face, from having seen them on a nature documentary. I like what he concluded after this adventure, which is that animal-collecting (and/or being a naturalist, I wonder?) is “only as risky as your stupidity is” - an interesting point. This is a story where the crispness is a great strength and it’s inspired me to keep an eye out for the book it came from in order to read more.

Overall, not bad at all. Most of these stories were hits rather than misses for me.
Tags: adventure, africa, animals, british, mystery, non-fiction
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