The Dana Girls #1: By the Light of the Study Lamp

June 25, 2007

So, The Dana Girls books are nothing special, really, but they are kind of interesting. Apparently they were meant to be a sort of cross between Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

On the Hardy Boys side:

They’re siblings, and one has dark hair and the other has light hair.

On the Nancy Drew side:

They’re girls

Hmmm. That seems to be about it. The fact that they’re amateur detectives could count towards either side, and the fact that they’re in school and actually, you know, go to class sometimes couldn’t count towards either.

My three Dana Girls books are the first, third, and ninth in the series, which apparently means that Leslie McFarlane wrote By the Light of the Study Lamp and In the Shadow of the Tower, and Mildred Wirt Benson wrote The Secret at the Gatehouse. McFarlane is the author most often associated with the Hardy Boys, and the same goes for Benson and Nancy Drew. MacFarlane hated writing The Dana Girls, so Benson took over. The Dana Girls are very much a Stratemeyer Syndicate family production: the girls’ guardian, Uncle Ned, and his sister Aunt Harriet were named after Edward Stratemeyer and his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. And then, they’re published under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene”, which is certainly the most well-known Stratemeyer name these days.

I know much less about the Stratemeyer syndicate than I’d like to, and I realize it every time I find out a story like that. But then every time I get to the point of reading a book about Stratemeyer or something, a research paper intervenes.

Anyway, the Dana Girls:

Louise is the elder sister, dark-haired, pretty, quiet, and serious. Jean is a year younger, blond and boyish and high-spirited. Their first foray into detective work comes in By the Light of the Study Lamp, which is basically a big fat string of coincidences.

Uncle Ned gives the girls an antique lamp for their study at the Starhurst School, but ten minutes after they receive it, it is stolen. They catch a glimpse of the car driven by the thief, and when they recognize the car outside an antique dealer’s shop, Jean goes in and accuses the owner, a slimy sort of guy named Jake Garbone, of stealing the lamp. He denies it, of course, and Jean leaves, but not before seeing a gypsyish, evil-looking woman in the back of the store.

On the way home, they run into a young man with a dog.

Young man: Hey, could you tell me how to get to Captain Ned Dana’s place?

Jean or Louise: Actually, we’re going there ourselv —

Dog: nearly gets run over by a car. somehow ends up in the river, heading towards a waterfall or something.

Man: goes in after dog.

Dangerous situation: quickly escalates.

Louise rescues the guy, and they bring him home with them because he’s unconscious.

Uncle Ned: Hey, it’s Franklin Starr! Come to think of it, he said he was going to bring me a dog. Guess he’d rather drown or crack his head open on a giant rock than lose the dog and disappoint me. Nice guy.

Dana girls: His name is Starr? Then he must be the brother of our friend Evelyn Starr, and the former owner of the Starhurst school! The Starrs used to live there, but then their dad died and they had no money left.

Then things get complicated. Starr recognizes Jake Garbone at the train station and then I think he disappears, or goes crazy for a little while, or something. It’s not exactly clear. Then in the train on their way to school, the Dana girls see the gypsyish woman steal some woman’s ring, starting off a mostly unnecessary subplot that I’m going to ignore.

The Dana girls see a lamp exactly like theirs in a store near Starhurst, and they buy it. Turns out it is the same lamp, and that it used to belong to the Starrs, and in fact used to sit in the same room that the Dana girls now have for their study. And then Evelyn tells them that Franklin has disappeared or gone crazy or something, and at about the same time, a mysterious plumber with dark hair and a light moustache shows up and takes a peculiar interest in the Dana girls’ study, but nobody realizes that it’s Franklin Starr, even when Evelyn is introduced to him.

And then, you know, some stuff happens, and it turns out there’s a jewel case hidden inside of the lamp, and the Starrs’ money troubles are over, except that they can’t buy their house back, only no one mentions that. The end.

I forgot to mention that Starhurst features a particularly virulent form of the typical Stratemeyer school bully. This particular form of bully only ever appears in books. In the real world, bullies don’t concentrate all their mean tricks on the most good-looking and popular people in their school, even if they do hate them as much as Lettie Briggs hates Louise and Jean Dana. I think Lettie has a little more courage than the Danas give her credit for, although she really is kind of despicable. But of course she’s despicable. She was written with no other purpose.

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