Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Secret of Magnolia Manor: Review

The Secret of Magnolia Manor (1949) is the fourth book in the Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess mystery series. It is credited to Helen Wells, but many sites say that Julie Campbell (author of many of the Trixie Belden books) started writing these stories with Magnolia Manor. Vicki begins her career in New York, but in this story she has been reassigned to the New Orleans-to-Guatemala City run. A friend of her family has recommended that she make a pension owned by Paul Breaux and his niece Marie her home base in New Orleans--promising Vicki that she will love both Mr. Breaux and Marie. Vicki quickly becomes friends with the lovely young woman, but Paul Breaux seems awfully severe and moody, especially where his niece is concerned. He often forbids her to leave the pension and becomes very upset when she forgets small things like shrimp for gumbo.

Marie will soon turn 18 and is engaged to Bill Graham, a hard-working young man who is renovating Magnolia Manor, the old Breaux plantation. At first the new owner, Mr. Carlisle, plans to make the manor into a home for himself and his wife, but when they find that the dampness from the bayou does not agree with Mrs. Carlisle, he decides to convert the manor into a club/inn. Part of the new renovation plan calls for a wall to be torn down between the parlor and the library to make a spacious dining room.

When Breaux hears of the new renovation plan, he becomes unreasonably enraged and insists that his former home not be desecrated in such a way. Bill apologizes for bearing bad news, but says that he must follow the orders of his employer and the new owner. Marie's uncle forbids Bill to ever set foot in the pension again and tells his niece that her engagement is off. 

The family chalks Breaux's behavior up to moodiness and eccentricity. But when Bill mysteriously disappears, a "ghost" is seen at the manor, and Breaux, who has formerly been a late-sleeper, starts changing his daily habits, Vicki is convinced that Marie's uncle is up to something. She convinces her new co-worker, Dusty, that her suspicions are well-founded and they borrow a helicopter to search for Bill among the Cajuns in the swamplands. The rescue of Bill and a search for missing family papers in the manor reveal the true reason Paul Breaux doesn't want Magnolia Manor renovated.

Unlike Nancy Drew whose mystery-related travels are more pleasure trips turned detective outings, Vicki Barr represents the career girl as girl detective as a side-line. Her detective radar goes off when passengers act strangely or locals in cities along her flight runs seem to be troubled. And her position as a stewardess gives her valid reasons for becoming involved in mysterious circumstances in so many different places. But like Nancy, she is independent and resourceful--representing the modern young woman in the post-war world. Her independence is particularly apparent in this story where Paul Breaux uses Creole customs as an excuse to curb his niece's freedom.

The story itself is on a par with other girl detective stories of the era. The clues are fairly obvious to those well-read in the mystery genre (and we wonder why they aren't so obvious to those involved in the story), but it is good clean fun with little violence and no murders. Another series that I'm quite certain I would have enjoyed thoroughly when I was in my Nancy Drew phase...and even now I enjoyed the story and the introduction to the New Orleans of the late 1940s. ★★

This fulfills the "Crime Other Than Murder" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.


fredamans said...

Just the mention of Julie Campbell and you have me wanting to read this one, or even the series. I read all the Trixie Belden books as a kid... passed down from my grandparents. Looks like a solid story to me. Great review!

Ryan said...

Sounds like a light, fun read.

Unknown said...

Ive never heard of Vicki Barr, but I've read most of the others, Cherry Ames, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton. I'm going to go look for some Vicki at my local used book store.