Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ashes and Diamonds

'Tell me, Commander, how far does your expertise extend into the field of diamonds?'
- 'Well, hardest substance found in nature, they cut glass, suggests marriage, I suppose it replaced the dog as the girl's best friend. That's about it.'
"Diamonds Are Forever"

I don't think I have mentioned it here before, but I absolutely loved The Famous Five when I was a kid. I think I still have most of the novels somewhere. Anyway, they may have been quite formulaistic, but at the time, I thought they were wonderful as mystery adventure stories. But I don't remember myself reading many other children's mystery fiction when I was a child actually. I watched Scooby Doo! (heck, I still watch Scooby Doo!), but can't really recall any other series.

Bad news never comes alone, the saying goes, but sometimes the opposite holds as well. Judy Bolton, daughter of a doctor and an accomplished amateur detective, was not only proposed to by her childhood friend Peter, she also received news that her recently married friend Irene, who lives in New York, became the mother of a healthy child. Because a recent break-in in her father's practice also supplied Judy with a clue directing her to New York, she decides to combine her visit to Irene with further investigation into the break-in. At the hospital, Judy learns that Irene had become close friend with Jane, who gave birth to a child on the same day as Irene. The two mothers prepare to leave the hospital together, but then chaos strikes: the diamond of Judy's engagement ring falls from its setting, while Jane and her baby disappear. But true horror gets a hold over Judy when she realizes Jane and Irene's babies got mixed up. Judy has a busy day planned as she has to solve the break-in at her home, find her missing diamond, and retrieve Irene's newborn in Margeret Sutton's The Name on the Bracelet (1940).

Actually, I did not read The Name on the Bracelet, as you might have guessed from the cover art. What I read was Judy no Suiri ("Judy's Deduction"), a Japanese translation published in 1980 as part of children's fiction publisher Kin no Hoshisha's Girls - World Mystery Masterpieces Selection line. As the title suggests, this series consisted of thirty translated mystery novels written for girls. Other authors/house pseudonyms featured in this series were Carolyn Keen (Nancy Drew), Clair Blank (Beverly Gray) and Frances K. Judd (Kay Tracey series). The translation of Judy no Suiri was later revised and published by another publisher, who gave the book new art and a new Japanese title: Kieta Diamond ("The Lost Diamond").

Like I said, I wasn't really familiar with juvenile mystery fiction when I was a child, so I had never heard of the Judy Bolton Mystery series before, actually. The first novel in this series was released in 1932, only two years after the debut of the much more popular Nancy Drew. Unlike the way Nancy Drew was written though, author Margeret Sutton did actually write all 38 novels herself and while Judy never became as well-known as Nancy, it appears that Judy has been received fairly well by its readers, as Judy was apparently seen as a more realistic, and better role model for girls than Nancy. Nancy Drew of course nowadays still persists in a way in popular culture, with both new books, and new games being published even now, while Judy Bolton is perhaps not forgotten, but certainly not a big player anymore.

As for why I read this book... The East-Asian library of my university would sometimes clear out old books, which you could pick up for free. I sorta liked the old artwork on the cover and inside, so I took it along, though it took me quite some years to actually read it (at the time, I had no idea the book was a translation of the Judy Bolton series).

The Name on the Bracelet is the thirteenth volume in the Judy Bolton series, and as a mystery novel it's... not particularly exciting. Like a lot with juvenile mysteries, the plot is fairly compact, which means a lot of events hinge on (series of) coincidences. The break-in at the Bolton practice for some connection to the disappearance of Jane in New York, even though the chances of those two cases ever intersecting should be close to zero. Despite the Japanese title, Judy doesn't need to deduce much on her own, as not more than once she's just plain lucky that events turn out in her favor. That's perhaps the biggest disappointment. Judy, in the end, doesn't really detect a lot in this story. It is a juvenile mystery, so I don't expect highly complex plots, but I do wish that Judy's investigations were more clearly a direct result of her own actions, rather than coincidence. It kinda takes away from her agency as a (series) detective, I think.

Though I have to stress, I love the neat line art in this book. The way every illustration features a signature suggests it's original art from an original (American) publication, though the artstyle does look very different from the American covers I can find....

Anyway, The Name on the Bracelet is a rather mediocre mystery novel, even if you keep in mind it's a juvenile mystery. Based on this one single book, there's little I can comment on the similarities and differences between the Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew series (I have only read one or two Nancy Drews), but as a standalone book, this one is forgettable.

Original title(s): Margaret Sutton 『ジュディの推理』

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