As I said in my review of The Daring Twins, this was the last published L. Frank Baum novel I had yet to read. Now I've read it and there are no known books by Baum that I'll be enjoying for the first time ever again.
This was the first time in a very long time where I'd read a Baum book in a digital form for the first time. My first readings of The Master Key, The Sea Fairies, Sky Island, The Magical Monarch of Mo and Queen Zixi of Ix were on my parents' now long-gone Windows 3.1 computer. This time, I'd found the book available in an ebook from Delphi Publishing titled "The Complete Works of L. Frank Baum" (which isn't complete). I read it on my phone, but I'll save any further notes for a review of that ebook. (There is a lot of say.) There were a few formatting issues I'll note. One paragraph had misplaced quotation marks, and the grocer was called "Tom Eat bun" which I felt couldn't be correct. Also, em dashes had spaces around them.
Phoebe Daring was the second of the Daring Twins series, which Baum began in 1911 in his boldest move of all: non-fantasy works under his own name. It seems he intended to continue the series with a book titled Phil Daring's Experiment, but in 1913, Baum went back to Oz books only. If any of this third book was written, it is not known to exist.
The book opens with catching us up with the Darings and their friends in Riverdale. Judge Ferguson—who took an interest in the Darings and gave them a lot of support before wrongs were finally righted—has suddenly died, and in the midst of settling the Judge's affairs and holdings, one Mrs. Ritchie demands her safety deposit box. When it can be returned to her, it cannot be found. Mrs. Ritchie accuses the Judge's apprentice Toby Clark of stealing the box. After a beaten up box and some papers from it are found in and around Toby's home, he is arrested.
Phoebe and the Darings—Phil Daring is away at college—cannot believe that Toby would have done such a thing, even if he is a poor boy who was crippled while helping the Darings recover their fortunes. The younger Darings get together "The Toby Clark Marching Club," consisting of other children who believe in Toby's innocence, hoping to sway public opinion of Toby.
Phoebe and "little mother" Judith conspire to find out who really committed the crime, because if Toby's innocent, then surely someone else did the deed. Phoebe handles detective work remarkably well, asking questions, checking around for clues and information. By the time some "evidence" turns up that seems to indicate Toby definitely stole the box, Phoebe is sure he didn't do it and is on the trail of discovering the true criminal!
We also discover another relative of the Darings: Cousin John, the state governor. (So... where was he during the last book?) He winds up being quite influential in helping Phoebe find out what happened to Mrs. Ritchie's box.
There is, of course, a happy ending for all, and Toby gets a surprise that has become common for Baum's non-fantasy heroes and heroines. I wish I could go indepth about these recurring concepts, but I'm afraid of dropping too many spoilers. Perhaps some other time.
Baum kept up his regular enjoyable writing style, even when not much is going on in the plot, he keeps it from dragging. Still, Baum falls onto his old tropes a bit too much and with this being the last of his novels that I've read, so I'm hesitant to put it with his best.
On the other hand, if Hungry Tiger Press can finally get their new edition published, I'm totally buying it.