Swamp Island by Mildred A. Wirt (1947)

Being out in the swamp reminds me of the overused political phrase “drain the swamp”. Others have written on this subject but I will trespass on it again. It remains true that swamps covered large swaths of the eastern United States before American expanded and those swamps were drained for agriculture and personal gain at the expense of plants, animals and natural ecosystem. The swamp was here first; the unnatural suburbs and farmland appeared second. All smart-alecks remember to “flood the farmland” instead of “draining the swamp”. Or you could just grow up and not parse trivial, obscure political references. I bet Penny Parker wasn’t musing upon political phraseology while quietly paddling through the swamp.

Penny and Louise, who had rented a small dingy, paddle out into the swamp to collect swamp flowers. Penny going ashore accidentally lets Bones, Louise’s dog, run off leash into the swamp. While searching for the dog, they chance upon two men talking suspiciously. When they notice the girls, they threaten the two high schooler with guns to stay away. Unable to look more for Louise’s dog, the girls return to Riverview dejected. Will Louise ever see her dog again? At home Penny learns that a convict has escaped and is rumored to be heading back to Riverview. He had stolen fifty thousand dollars from a local bank and though charged with the crime the money had never been found. Penny wonders if one of the suspicious swamp men is the recently escaped convict. Rent a dingy and push off towards Swamp Island.


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Signal in the Dark by Mildred A. Wirt (1946)

The publishing industry is rough these days. Newspapers profits are spilling like water through publishers hands and many papers have been forced to close or layoff staff. Looking back on former ages of newspaper popularity make bygone eras seem like paradises in contrast with current difficulties. This Penny Parker mystery illuminates the difficulties of publishing a paper in the average American town 70 years ago. A journalist fired over investigative reporting that exposes his boss and a local paper struggling to retain talented writers corrupt that rosy picture. Maybe the news industry has always been a frenetic, cutthroat business with more losers than winners. One wonders which era was more stable for publishers.

The ever curious and adventurous Penny Parker is pushed into another fast paced Riverview mystery. Convincing her father, a local newspaper publisher, to allow her to work in the newsroom Penny is immediately confronted with the exciting but tiring life of the professional reporter.  Staying late to finish her copy she is called to report on explosions at a local chemical plant. While interviewing plant employees she and her colleague are confused with the saboteur because the criminal and Salt Summers, the Riverview Star’s ace photographer, were wearing similar coats. A mob of workers descend upon him and Penny as they pursue the real criminal. Fearing that Salt’s camera and pictures will be broken by the mob Penny stows them in the next available spot, the open window of a passing car. Noting the license plate as the car drives away she proceeds with a policeman to Salt’s aid. The next day Riverview Star has great first hand information but the photos are lost. Where are the photos and who sabotaged the chemical plant? Turn off the lights and wait for a Signal in the Dark.


free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34850

Hoofbeats on the Turnpike by Mildred A. Wirt (1944)

We’ve all imagined ourselves acting courageously in dangerous circumstances. Everyone of us likes to believe that we could keep a level head in a time of panic and make decisions that would save lives. Stepping out of the daydream and back into reality I humbly admit that I don’t believe I am capable of that level of heroism. My mind is not quick and precise. Instead, my mind plods along slowly and comes to conclusions by the process of elimination. There is a high likelihood that the shock of those dangerous circumstances would freeze me in my tracks making it impossible to help myself let alone others. Taking ownership of those split second decisions would also be difficult. I prefer to live life “hands off” and taking responsibility over the situation would give me nightmares for years after. On second thought, those nightmares would likely haunt me regardless. Penny Parker does not have these same fears. She instead acts first and worries about the results afterwards. She steps towards the unusual noise, I step away from it. For this reason she has my respect.


When Penny Parker sniffs a hint of a mystery, she can’t help but pursue it to the ends of the earth. This time her curiosity takes her to a small town with rumors of a headless horseman. She soon realizes that the town has another more credible fear; the local dam is need of repairs. As rumors swirl around the dam and the horseman, Penny and Louis put on there Sherlock cloaks to find out the mystery of the Hoofbeats on the Turnpike.


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The Wishing Well by Mildred A. Wirt (1942)

Present in multiple Penny Parker mysteries is Penny’s charitable nature. Most people are unable and unwilling to drop everything without a second thought to help someone in need unless they are already acquainted. In this book, Penny helps out Rhoda, a new school transfer, and Mrs. Marborough who used to live in Riverview as a younger woman. If I witnessed this level of generosity in everyday life, I might become defensive but by reading it I want to emulate that kindness. This is the power of books. The characters are not viewed as competitors and so they can more easily act as role models to our future actions. Just a thought.

The untiring busybody, Penny Parker, is back at it with another mystery. A club field trip to a local wishing well turns into a multilevel conspiracy. Why are lights shining around the well at night? Why won’t Mrs. Marborough invite anyone into her fancy house? Why are two ancient rocks covered with Native American writing found within days of each other lying around town? As the coincidences keep piling up Penny and her friend Louise prowl around in search of answers. Only time can tell the mystery of The Wishing Well.


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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34689


The Secret Pact by Mildred A. Wirt (1941)

There is a weird hypocrisy with detective novels. They are frequently dangerous and sometimes morbid yet that danger doesn’t seem to ever directly affect the detective. You can read about any detective from Sherlock to Miss Marple and arrive at the same conclusion. Any danger the detective finds themself in is only temporary and merely a distraction from the overall case at hand. All readers of detective fiction know this to be true. At the same time, we read quickly through the dangerous areas as a small part of us still hopes that the main character will once again solve the case and escape unscathed. To summarize: fiction is weird.

Teenage sleuth and adventurous busybody Penny Parker gets wrapped up in another local mystery. A chance meeting at a bridge brings an unusual case to Penny’s attention. Her attempts to publish an account of the mystery are foiled by the school paper so she decides to start a citywide paper with only a few friends for help. Skeptical readers find the story fantastic and assume that it has been exaggerated to sell more newspapers until she receives a threatening note. How will she run a newspaper, go to school and solve the mystery of The Secret Pact?


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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34682


Clue of the Silken Ladder by Mildred A. Wirt (1941)

Every time I read another book in this series I envy Penny’s courage and quick thinking more and more. If only I had those qualities as a teenager… oh well! I was surprised to find that I had some previous experience with this mystery. The discussion of fake mediums and spiritualists is a topic I’ve explored in my own plodding way. Usually the discussion of spiritualism glosses over the methods and focuses on those being duped. People who believe in the frauds are frequently described as stupid in a very demeaning way. That’s not quite fair. This novel accurately describes both the mechanics that manifest “spirit phenomena” and the psychology that makes an individual susceptible to these scams. To me the psychology is most fascinating. Belief usually manifests not from stupidity but from desperation. Those most likely to visit mediums are people who have recently experienced death in the family. Factoring in their emotionally difficult state, the closure temptingly offered by mediums can be hard to turn down. Curious readers will find many old and dusty volumes happily expose the methods used by fake mediums at the time this book was published.

Mrs. Weems, the Parker’s housekeeper, receives happy news in the mail. A distant cousin has died leaving her a fortune of $6,000. Dreams of a vacation to the Grand Canyon seem finally realized. On the other hand, a medium performing a seance at friends house informs Mrs. Weems that her cousin would rather she invest in safe securities than go traveling out west. Mrs. Weems finds herself caught between the Parkers and the medium. Should she believe the medium who knew so many things about her cousin or instead believe the skeptical Parker family? Penny is suspicious of the medium and decides to investigate. The whole case might rest on the Clue of the Silken Ladder.


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The Clock Strikes Thirteen by Mildred A. Wirt (1942)

Penny Parker and her friends are fun to be around. She gets into trouble, trouble and more trouble. Reading about quick witted teenage sleuths is always a level of wish fulfillment for me. I wanted for a few years to be a similar adventurous detective and fantasized constantly about my exploits. This series scratches that itch perfectly.

This time we find Penny tugged into a complex case by the most innocent of means. Driving home at midnight she hears the clock chime thirteen times. Amused by the oddity Penny asks her father if he’s heard the odd number. Instead of confirmation, he laughs at the silly pronouncement. Penny is adamant and goes out of her way to prove her dad wrong. In the process, the Parker family bumps into a criminal ring and searches for answers. Eat some melon and listen until The Clock Strikes Thirteen.


free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34403

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