11. The Unfinished House (1938)
12. The Midnight Visitor (1939)
13. The Name on the Bracelet (1940)
14. The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt (1941)
15. The Mark on the Mirror (1942)
I’m continuing to read my way through the Judy Bolton series in five-book chunks, because if I’m honest, the books get a little same-y after a while, and they go down better in batches instead of all in one go. At the end of The Riddle of the Double Ring, Judy became almost-engaged to Peter Dobbs, who is probably my favorite character in this series. Steady and intelligent, Peter is a great balance for Judy’s tendency to be impulsive and sometimes too trusting. Now that Peter is a lawyer, Judy is working as his secretary, and it was quite delightful to have an adorable little couple working together without any hanky-panky going on. Instead, here’s a concept, Peter works all day, and so does Judy!
Way back in the beginning of the series, the small town in eastern Pennsylvania where Judy (and Peter) lived was destroyed in a flood when a dam burst. Since then, they have all been living in a town about 30 miles away, Farrington. Now Roulsville is being rebuilt, and The Unfinished House begins there, with some crazy shysters giving away completely useless lots in an effort to sucker people in. This is the first book where Peter’s lawyering has a significant impact on the story – Judy works to find and expose the crooks, and Peter works to make sure they get their just desserts! That aspect was kind of fun even if, as always, the story is a bit melodramatic. This was also the last book in the series that I remember reading, so since then none of these stories seem remotely familiar to me.
These books definitely build on each other, so while they can be picked up and read in any order, reading them in order makes the whole process a great deal more cohesive. Judy makes friends and helps them solve problems, so by this point in the series there is quite the little gang, all with backstories and shared histories. While Sutton doesn’t make a great deal of effort to develop her characters, they still do have some personality and it is interesting to see where they go.
Judy seems like a pretty forward-thinking heroine for her time. She isn’t big into all the “girly” stuffy of housekeeping and babies, but is totally supportive of her friends who are – The Name on the Bracelet is all about Judy going to visit a friend who is married and just had her first baby, and Judy is completely happy for her. While marriage is viewed as a stable and good thing, Sutton is honest about how it doesn’t always work out. The Mark on the Mirror talks a lot about why people get married, and why those marriages can break apart. At this point, Judy and Peter are officially engaged and planning their wedding, and it was interesting to see how Sutton doesn’t act like that that will be the grand finale of Judy’s life, or her “career” of solving problems. Instead, she emphasizes how the happiest marriages are the ones where the participants both support the other as they grow as individuals and grow together as a team. Judy loves Peter, but also has some doubts about whether or not marriage is right for her. Peter isn’t dismissive of these doubts, but instead works to show her how sincere he is in loving her for who she is.
I also thought that it was interesting that Judy’s parents had hoped that she would go to college instead of “just” getting married! It isn’t a big part of the story, but it’s mentioned in The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt that they were somewhat disappointed that Judy decided to become Peter’s secretary and later his wife instead of pursuing her studies further. Out of Judy’s gang of friends, one is married and one is engaged at this point – the other girls are all pursuing their own careers and education in a manner that isn’t made a big fuss of – pretty solid for those “backwards” times in the 1930’s!
Probably the most thought-provoking book out of this batch is The Name on the Bracelet. Judy goes to visit her friend Irene, and Irene’s husband Dale. They’ve just had their first baby, and Judy arrives on the day that Irene and the baby are coming home from the hospital. In hospital, Irene has made friends with another first-time mother, Jane. Now, this book was nothing if not predictable – we spent a literal couple of chapters leading up to the fact that Irene and Jane have dressed their babies JUST ALIKE, so it’s not big surprise to the reader when the babies get mixed up as the ladies leave the hospital. Interestingly enough, this is another case where Sutton isn’t afraid to create an unhappy marriage situation – Jane has a “terrible” husband and in-laws that she is trying to escape from, at a time when women – especially young mothers – didn’t have a lot of options for earning money. ANYWAY the point is, Dale and Judy realize that the baby is the wrong baby. At this point, Dale decides, emphatically, that Irene will not be told! Judy is very unhappy with this decision, as she is an honest soul, but Dale insists that this is what is best for Irene. As Dale and Judy are unable to locate Jane – who has done a runner in an attempt to escape from the husband/inlaws – for a while it is uncertain as to whether or not Dale will ever get his real baby back. Watching the way this lie impacts his relationship with Irene, and the way that Judy contemplates whether or not it’s best to have true honesty in a marriage, is quite interesting. In the end, of course everything is made right, and Dale even receives confirmation from the doctor that lying to Irene was what was best for her health. Judy, however, remains convinced that truly good marriages are built on absolute honesty and transparency, and even asks Peter to promise that no matter what happens in their future, he will always tell her uncomfortable truths instead of comfortable lies. While the story itself, in all honesty, wasn’t that great, I did find the whole truth/lie/protection question to be intriguing.
All in all, while these books haven’t been amazing – pretty solid 3.5* reads all around – they have been interesting. I hear a lot of people being very dismissive of the early part of the 1900’s, as though “the patriarchy” was forcing all women to be enslaved housewives, but actually reading books from that era reveal a much more layered and nuanced society (surprise, surprise) wherein yes, being a housewife was the “regular” pursuit of women at the time, but not the only one, and not the end-all of a woman’s life. It’s also no true surprise to reasonable people to recognize that many men, like basically all the men in Sutton’s stories, were supportive and encouraging to the women in their lives, wanting them to grow and learn. While Peter and other menfolk in these stories can be protective of the women, it’s always with an acknowledgement of the inherent autonomy of the women they love.