Monday, October 08, 2012

Mary Louise Solves A Mystery

On to book three!

This copy, I am told, is indeed a first edition. I got it at the Winkie Convention this year. Eric Gjovaag had asked me to watch the Swap Meet Table for him so he could try his hand at the auction and asked if there was anything I wanted he could try to bid on for me. While the auction has many delights, I decided this was the only thing I really wanted. (Anyway, you can actually add quite a bit to your collection at Winkies without spending a lot of money.) He managed to win the bid at my maximum price, so thanks again, Mr. Gjovaag! (And I had a lot of fun manning the Swap Table as well!)

This one had a surprising opening. For the first several chapters, Mary Louise, Grandpa Jim, and Josie O'Gorman are not present at all. It's as if the story was originally not going to be about them at all, but as we'll see, Baum is just opening the story in a very different manner.

Mrs. Antoinette Seaver Jones is close to death and needs to get her final affairs in order, so she sends for her separated husband and painter, Jason Jones. Jason is given money to come in, but upon him seeing Antoinette, she promptly dies. Jason is now the sole guardian of Alora Jones, Antoinette's 11 year-old daughter and is to manage her great fortune until she turns 18.

Jason takes Alora back to his small studio apartment, and soon, a woman Alora recognizes only as her mother's nurse arrives and demands money from Jason. He grudgingly gives it to her. Soon, Jason gives up painting and takes Alora to live in Italy.

Here the story jumps ahead four years, and such a time lapse is unique for Baum, I must state. Mary Louise and Grandpa Jim happen to visit Italy and meet Alora when their carriage breaks down outside their home. Mary Louise feels sorry for Alora, who has only had her basic necessities met, while Jason spends his time reading books, otherwise ignoring Alora, who grows to despise him.

The two girls become friends, and when Jason becomes unnerved about Italy joining World War I, he decides to move back to America, Mary Louise and Grandpa Jim suggesting they move to Dorfield so the two girls may maintain their friendship. Finding a modest cottage, Jason takes the suggestion.

In Dorfield, Alora finds a letter from Italy saying Jason's "prisoner" was released as was wished. She shrugs this off. Soon, though, she is relieved that Jason finds a new hobby: airplanes. This means she'll see him even less.

The maker of the airplanes that catch Jason's fancy is none other than Stephen Kane, brother of Orissa Kane, the titular character of The Flying Girl series that "Edith Van Dyne" published in 1911 and 1912. No mention is made of Orissa, so one may assume that she is either still flying her airplane at this time, or she has retired, or possibly she died in an airplane accident. Since she is not mentioned, I may guess her time of fame has ended and one of the latter two possibilities are the case. Hopefully, she retired from being an "aviatrix" and was either married, or helps Stephen train his customers in flying their airplanes.

Mary Louise and Grandpa Jim invite Alora to go with them to Chicago. Jason is reluctant, and mentions that according to the will of Antoinette, if Alora is completely neglected for sixty days, she is to be given over to a new guardian, and Jason will not have any further share of this income. He had earlier revealed to Mr. Conant (who he hoped to hire as lawyer) that he was using some of Alora's money to make investments in his own name so he could live modestly after Alora turned 18. Alora, however, defies his reluctance and he lets her go.

In Chicago, Alora suddenly disappears and Mary Louise instantly fears that she has been abducted, and thus, Josie O'Gorman is called in to find the missing heiress.

While Josie and Mary Louise confer and make inquiries, we shift to Alora and reveal that "her mother's nurse"—who introduces herself as Janet Orme—did indeed manage to enter Alora's hotel room and kidnap her, taking her to an empty house where Alora is imprisoned, until Janet is paid more money. About two weeks in, Alora is about to pledge $50,000 to Janet when Josie boldly enters and rescues the heiress.

Meanwhile, Mary Louise notices an announcement of an art exhibit, noting that a Californian artist named Jason Jones has won the grand prize. She decides to see this piece of art herself and talk to Jason, surprised that he turned from airplanes and reading long enough to create an amazing piece of artwork.

What Mary Louise discovers solves many questions as to Alora's wondering of why her mother married such a man, and why any father would neglect his daughter affection. The Jason Jones she has known the past four years is not her father. The man Mary Louise finds is indeed the actual husband of Antoinette Seaver Jones, and is indeed an artist who went to California to improve on his art while his cousin, also named Jason (it ran in the family, he explains) produced subpar art, and both artists used the same name, thus attaching the "real" Jason to the "false" Jason's work.

A confrontation with the "false" Jason is cancelled when word arrives that he died in an airplane accident. Instead, his actual estranged wife, Janet Orme Jones, comes forward and reveals she had conceived the plot to get a share of Alora's inherited millions. It was also she that served as the mysterious "prisoner" when she arrived in Italy.

Janet is let off very easily. The actual Mr. Jones allows her to reap the rewards of one of her late husband's investments, forcing her to live modestly ever after.

The story is very intriguing, but par for the course of the Mary Louise series, Mary Louise remains a bland protagonist. While she helps Josie get the information to find Alora, her "solving a mystery" as stated in the title is simply her trying to meet Jason Jones at the art exhibit. The book is titled after this incident: a mystery solved by sheer luck. She was in the right place at the right time.

Josie again proves to be a winsome heroine, and Irene returns from the first book and also befriends Alora as well. To be honest, it would have been more interesting if Irene was the lead character, as she is a girl in a wheelchair who has decided not to fall into despair over her lot in life. That alone makes her more interesting than Mary Louise.

I do have to wonder why Baum never made Mary Louise interesting. Certainly it was no difficulty for him in practically everything else he'd ever written. One of two possibilities arise: either he kept her neutral for story ideas or it was intentional. After all, even Josie tends to point this out very blatantly...

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