Monday, April 15, 2019

Judy Bolton Series Final Thoughts

I read the first three Judy Bolton books for the first time in the fall of 1991.  This was in the first six months that I collected series books.  I had found those three books in tweed editions at different times in antique shops.  The Haunted Attic was the very first Judy Bolton book I purchased, and I did so because the dust jacket reminded me of the Nancy Drew dust jackets.  I soon thereafter found tweed copies of The Vanishing Shadow and The Invisible Chimes and read all three of them.  I thoroughly enjoyed all three of them and hoped to complete my set eventually.

I was able to purchase most of the books by 1997.  For the higher-numbered titles, I purchased the Aeonian reprints.  I read through the set, except for the three books that I did not have which were #14, 21, and 32.

After I finally finished my set in 1998, I read through the entire set.  This means that I had read the first three titles three times apiece and most of the set twice.  As far as I know, I enjoyed all of the books.  I never recall thinking anything negative about any of them.

Around 15 years ago, I put together the Judy Bolton page on my website.  At that time, I at least partially read some books again in order to write summaries of them.  In the intervening time, I did not touch the books.  I had read the opinions of others, and I now realize that those opinions influenced my memories.

I did clearly remember #22 and #23 as my two favorite titles in the series.  Influenced by others, I thought that I didn't like #1 and #8.  I thought the series was weak from #30 through #38.

After reading the books again in late 2018, I was surprised by how much my opinion of many of the books changed.  I ended up liking some books more than I ever did before, and I ended up disliking some books that I had previously enjoyed.

Here is a list of how I rank the books.

  1. The Vanishing Shadow, 1932 - excellent
  2. The Haunted Attic, 1932 - very good
  3. The Invisible Chimes, 1932 - very good
  4. Seven Strange Clues, 1932 - very good
  5. The Ghost Parade, 1933 - good
  6. The Yellow Phantom, 1933 - excellent
  7. The Mystic Ball, 1934 - good
  8. The Voice in the Suitcase, 1935 - good
  9. The Mysterious Half Cat, 1936 - somewhat good
10. The Riddle of the Double Ring, 1937 - good
11. The Unfinished House, 1938 - very good
12. The Midnight Visitor, 1939 - very good
13. The Name on the Bracelet, 1940 - excellent
14. The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt, 1941 - excellent
15. The Mark on the Mirror, 1942 - very good
16. The Secret of the Barred Window, 1943 - very good
17. The Rainbow Riddle, 1946 - do not like
18. The Living Portrait, 1947 - good
19. The Secret of the Musical Tree, 1948 -  excellent
20. The Warning on the Window, 1949 - excellent
21. The Clue of the Stone Lantern, 1950 - excellent
22. The Spirit of Fog Island, 1951 - excellent
23. The Black Cat's Clue, 1952 - excellent
24. The Forbidden Chest, 1953 - very good
25. The Haunted Road, 1954 - do not like
26. The Clue in the Ruined Castle, 1955 - very good
27. The Trail of the Green Doll, 1956 - do not like
28. The Haunted Fountain, 1957 - very good
29. The Clue of the Broken Wing, 1958 - very good
30. The Phantom Friend, 1959 - do not like
31. The Discovery at the Dragon's Mouth, 1960 - good
32. The Whispered Watchword, 1961 - do not like
33. The Secret Quest, 1962 - very good
34. The Puzzle in the Pond, 1963 - good
35. The Hidden Clue, 1964 - do not like
36. The Pledge of the Twin Knights, 1965 - excellent
37. The Search for the Glowing Hand, 1966 - excellent
38. The Secret of the Sand Castle, 1967 - excellent

The Vanishing Shadow is often mentioned as being a boring book where nothing happens.  I did not find it boring at all.  I found the story thoroughly engaging, and my reading experience was enhanced by reading all three versions and comparing them.  The suspense about the dam possibly breaking and Judy's great fear are what make the story compelling.

I now like The Voice in the Suitcase better than I once did.  I still find the messy house a bit disgusting.  The lengthy performance near the end of the story bores me, but otherwise, I like the book now.

My opinion of The Mysterious Half Cat went down.  The story is strange and not very compelling.

I have always had trouble remembering the titles of #13 through 16.  I'm not sure why, but it's like they were never memorable to me and all blended together.  For that reason, I have had a negative opinion of that group of books in the years since I read them.  After all, I couldn't remember them.  If I couldn't remember them, then I concluded that I didn't like them.

I still find #16 The Secret of the Barred Window to be a bit depressing, but the book is very good.  #13 through 15 are rather good books, so hopefully I will be able to remember them now—or maybe not.  Several times in the last month I have mentally reviewed those titles to see if I can remember them.  I continue to struggle and have to think really hard about them before I can recall the titles.  I can quickly recall every title in the series outside of that group easily in order with no struggle.

I believe I liked #17 The Rainbow Riddle the first time I ever read it.  The next time I read it, I didn't find it very interesting.  This time I found it boring and did not like it at all.  Other readers consider it their very favorite title.  I suspect that those readers who love the book happen to love sentimental books.  I don't enjoy reading chapter after chapter of sentimentality about Judy and Peter getting married.  Very little happens in the book aside from the wedding and honeymoon trip.

The main Roberta books, #18 through 21, are overall as good as ever.  My opinion of #18 went down significantly, but my opinion of #19 through 21 increased considerably.

#22 and #23 were formerly my favorite titles in the series.  I still consider them excellent, but they are no longer necessarily my favorite books.

I no longer like #25 The Haunted Road.  This time I found it boring with the plot creeping along at a snail's pace.

I had a negative opinion of #29 The Clue of the Broken Wing, but this time, I found it excellent.

I have never been very fond of #30 The Phantom Friend, and I liked it even less this time.

I like #31 through #34 much less than I once did.  #32 is excruciating.

I have never liked #35 The Hidden Clue very much.  This time was no exception.

The series ends strong with all of #36 through #38 being quite good.  It's unusual for a series to end with really strong books.

I very much regret that Peter ever became an FBI agent.  I wish he had remained a lawyer.  Peter being in the FBI gives him a superiority over Judy that is a bit obnoxious at times.  He also keeps secrets from her because of his job, and that is also obnoxious.  I do not like it.

I find the Judy Bolton series to be a bit uneven.  Margaret Sutton wrote the books over the course of 35 years that included much change in her personal life.  Furthermore, Margaret Sutton had different editors over the years, and each editor had different expectations about the books.

The series can be divided into four parts.  In #1-10, Judy goes to school and is caught in a love triangle between Peter and Arthur.  These mysteries tend to be quite odd.  In #11-16, Judy is engaged to Peter, and he is an attorney.  In #17-21, Roberta lives with Judy and Peter and is like their daughter.  In #22-38, Judy's adventures tend to involve various friends and sometimes Peter's cases.

For readers wishing to try out the series, no single book will be representative of all of the books due to the variance in premise and style.  My suggestions for the very best titles to try are #18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, 36, and 38.  These titles are the ones that would most easily be enjoyed by people who have never read a Judy Bolton book before and have no knowledge of the series.

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