Saturday, March 24, 2018

Kay Tracey #1 The Secret of the Red Scarf

The Kay Tracey Mystery Stories series consists of 18 books that were originally published by Cupples and Leon.

  1. The Secret of the Red Scarf, 1934
  2. The Strange Echo, 1934
  3. The Mystery of the Swaying Curtains, 1935
  4. The Shadow on the Door, 1935
  5. The Six-Fingered Glove Mystery, 1936
  6. The Green Cameo Mystery, 1936
  7. The Secret at the Windmill, 1937
  8. Beneath the Crimson Briar Bush, 1937
  9. The Message in the Sand Dunes, 1938
10. The Murmuring Portrait, 1938
11. When the Key Turned, 1939
12. In the Sunken Garden, 1939
13. The Forbidden Tower, 1940
14. The Sacred Feather, 1940
15. The Lone Footprint, 1941
16. The Double Disguise, 1941
17. The Mansion of Secrets, 1942
18. The Mysterious Neighbors, 1942

Kay Tracey is sixteen years old and lives in Brantwood with her friends, twin sisters Betty and Wilma Worth.  Betty has fair hair and a lively personality.  Wilma has dark hair, is timid and serious, and recites poetry at strange moments.  Kay has a jealous rival, Ethel Eaton, who is always causing trouble.  The girls all live in Brantwood and commute by train to Carmont High School.

Kay lives with her mother and Cousin Bill, who is an attorney.  Kay's father worked at a newspaper and is deceased.  Kay has a boyfriend, Ronald Earle.

The Cupples and Leon editions contain the original text.  Later printings by other publishers may be slightly revised, greatly revised, or not revised at all.  Three books were never reprinted outside of the Cupples and Leon editions:  The Mystery of the Swaying Curtains, The Shadow on the Door, and The Forbidden Tower.

The Kay Tracey series is often criticized because the stories tend to be rather absurd and crazy.  The plots consist of a bunch of seemingly unconnected events that sometimes come together as part of the same mystery.  Other times, the events are truly unconnected. 

I have always enjoyed the Kay Tracey series.  Life is often full of random events, like car accidents and conflicts, that come out of nowhere.  Life takes unexpected detours all the time.  The Kay Tracey series is just like that.  The reader never knows what will happen next, since the events can be so random.  I find the stories highly interesting and amusing.  As long as a story holds my attention and doesn't bore me, I will enjoy it, random or not.  Kay Tracey meets all of my requirements for good entertainment.

In the original text version of Kay Tracey #1, The Secret of the Red Scarf, Kay Tracey rescues a boy who was thrown from his horse.  Kay learns that the boy is Dick Ludlow, and he is looking for his sister, Helene.  Helene ran away from home to become an actress and hasn't been seen since.  Dick father has passed away, and most of Mr. Ludlow's fortune was stolen by crooks.

Kay goes to a masquerade, dressed in a red scarf with a design copied from a magazine.  Another guest has the same scarf, and Kay believes that the girl is Helene, who goes by the name Barbara Brown.  Barbara will not admit to her true identity and runs away frightened.  Kay soon learns that two swindlers are making unwanted advances upon Barbara and her friend and that these swindlers might be the same men who stole the Ludlow fortune.  Can Kay speak to Barbara in time to save her?

I notice that Kay Tracey acts a lot like the revised text era Nancy Drew.  She is unruffled and cool in this story.  I like her.

On page 129, a statement is made about the villains.
"So they've descended to the level of pickpockets," he added scornfully.  "Instead of being so-called gentlemen crooks, they're now just common thieves."
I don't see a difference.  A thief is a thief, whether a swindler or a pickpocket.

This book was written by Elizabeth Duffield Ward, author of the Blythe Girls series, many Outdoor Girls books, and most of the May Hollis Barton books.  The book reads a lot like early series books, which have a slower pace than most series books published after 1930.  I did not like this book years ago, but I found it much better this time.  I suspect that this is because I have read many early series books in the years since I first read this book.

In the revised text of The Secret of the Red Scarf, Kay, Wilma, and Betty find a young man unconscious in his car.  They take him to the Tracey home, discovering that he has been robbed of his papers and money and has amnesia.  Kay decides to call the young man Bro, since he at first thinks Kay is his sister.  Kay has a scarf that looks like one owned by Bro's sister.  Kay copied her scarf from one pictured in a magazine, so Kay deduces that the girl in the photo is probably Bro's sister.

Ethel Eaton overhears Kay speaking about Bro and spreads rumors that Kay has a crazy brother who has been released from an institution.  Betty decides to play a trick on Ethel to get back at her.

Early in the story, Kay and Wilma cause an explosion in the chemistry lab at Carmont High School.  Kay absentmindedly places a chemical in the wrong location, and Wilma uses it without reading the label.  The explosion causes some damage, but the girls are fine.  There is really no point to the explosion, and it is an odd scene.

The explosion scene is atypical of the Kay Tracey series, since Kay and her friends never cause trouble or any kind of destruction.  I have no idea why the revisionist felt that this explosion was appropriate, since it has nothing to do with the story.  The revisionist should have had Ethel cause the explosion rather than Kay and Wilma.  The explosion is a complete anomaly.

In the revision, the basic story elements are the same, including a man after an inheritance, the search for Helene, the masquerade, and the red scarf.  However, the text of the story is completely different.  Both stories are enjoyable.  I enjoyed the original text much more this time than I did years ago, but I still feel that the revised text is an overall better story.


Jack Cleveland said...

I especially like Kay when Mildred started ghostwriting the series. I'm pulling my copy to see if I can read it quickly.

J F Norris said...

You're not exactly correct about all thieves being alike -- at least in the world of fiction. The "so-called gentleman crook" and a pickpocket are VERY different. A gentleman crook or gentleman thief is not a swindler at all. He's a very specific type of thief who never resorts to violence, who plans out his crimes with meticulous detail and timing, whose aim is to rob the rich and the corrupt in order to give back to the poor or to rob someone who has acquired something through immoral or criminal means and restore it to the owner or institution. The term is also used to describe clever con men who planned elaborate capers to outwit and ruin amoral criminals. A pickpocket is an opportunist who acts on the spur of the moment for personal profit. No real planning involved and no good deeds behind the thievery. Utterly different methods of committing crime. That's what the speaker of that quote means. If you read old adult crime books you'd recognize the term "gentleman thief" as a term that describes Simon Templar, Raffles, Jimmy Dale, the Gray Phantom, and dozens of others.