Vicky Van

June 18, 2011

I’ve been pretty busy lately — I’m sort of moving tomorrow, for one thing — but today is the 149th anniversary of Carolyn Wells’ birth, and I figured I should a) do something Carolyn Wells-related today, and b) think up something really excitingly Carolyn Wells-related for next year’s 150th.

So. Vicky Van. My usual reaction to Carolyn Wells’ mystery novels is not entirely respectful, to say the least. I mock because I love. But I feel no need to mock Vicky Van.

Our narrator is Chester Calhoun, one of those lawyers who so frequently pop up as narrators in mystery novels, using their clientele as an excuse to investigate a mystery, and usually falling in love along the way. Chester lives with his sister and his aunt in a house on the upper east side, and across the street lives Victoria Van Allen, known to her friends as Vicky Van.

Vicky is a bit of an enigma. She lives in a beautifully and artistically furnished house with her maid, Julie, and no one really knows where she comes from. She’s vivacious and exciting and a little bit Bohemian, but entirely respectable. Basically, Chester won’t hear anything said against her, but he also wouldn’t bring his younger sister to her house. And, in an interesting twist, he’s not in love with her. But he does consider himself her friend, so he’s indignant on her behalf when an entitled millionaire treats her like she’s less of a lady than she is. And when the entitled millionaire is found stabbed to death, Chester is convinced that Vicky didn’t do it, even though she’s disappeared. And then they discover that the millionaire was not merely a random millionaire, but a well-known millionaire who happens to live just around the corner.

This is one of those books where nothing in particular is great, but everything comes together really well. Chester uses the excuse of helping out the deceased’s family to horn in on the investigation, but he’s a lot less irritating than most characters who do that sort of thing — especially when you know from The Gold Bag what else Wells is capable of doing in a similar situation. And Well’s detective Fleming Stone shows up with his assistant Fibsy, but not until pretty close to the end, so you don’t have time to get tired of him. And I like Fibsy. He’s one of the rare sidekicks who is actually allowed to figure out the solution to the mystery sometimes. And the solution to this particular mystery is excellent. It’s all classic Carolyn Wells, down to the young woman who is freed from some kind of oppression by the murder, but none of the other Wells mysteries I’ve read have been anywhere near this much fun.


  1. Hey- and thanks for reminding us of this very important birthday! I am a Patty F. fanatic, and the more aware I become of my own passing birthdays, the more I chide myself for not loving the entire Carolyn Wells oeuvre. I have Vicky Van on my shelves and I am going to move it bedside so it gets read before the end of June. Your wonderful review has intrigued me to give it another try and perhaps at age 47 (I have been reading Patty like gospel since I was 11), I am ready to expand my heart to make room for something Wells that is non Patty.

    I know I have posted on a few of your reviews, but I always love your work, and will comment more in the future.

    BTW I found a cool crafty thingy- where you can make a purse out of an old hardcover book…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4RFH0q0Osk is one tutorial tho there are millions…

    Obviously, in so many ways this is cold blooded murder…but I do run in to some cases where the pages are just destroyed but there is a lovely cover just begging for a new life.

    For instance, my copy of Ruth Milne’s “TV Girl Friday” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4RFH0q0Osk well worth the read). No image to link to- but oh what fun it is with our heroine, Susan Doyle, cheerfully going about her television job while a very smug and annoyed male, hands on hips, gives her the stare down for daring to attempt a man’s job. This is the 1957 version of Mary Tyler Moore!

    So this I intend to sacrifice to the handbag gods in return for a new purse. Once I’ve got the skill nailed I will dare to desecrate my beloved Patty— knowing my reward will be the ability to carry her around with me always- in a utilitarian manner.

    Anyhoo- it looks like an easy project and I think is way cool, so thought I’d share.



    • Thanls for reading! It’s always nice to encounter another Patty fan. Well’s mysteries aren’t very much like her girls’ books — I think I enjoy them in very different ways.

      Part of me is hoorified at the thought of tearing apart a book, but I agree that sometimes the cover is all a book has going for it. I can certainly think of one in my collection that I wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice.

  2. I really enjoy Carolyn Wells’ mysteries even though I find Fleming Stone rather annoying, with his brilliant deductions. I think I’d better read this one again, since it’s been a while.

    • Fleming Stone is a bit annoying, but one of the things I like about the mysteries he’s in is that he usually doesn’t even show up until over halfway into the book.

  3. Peek into Carolyn Wells’s scrapbooks at Yale:

    • Ooooh.

  4. I found Vicky Van very frustrating. I suspected the solution a chapter or two before it was revealed, but thought, nah, that’s too stupid. And then it really was that! I almost wish the character who was suspected all along really had done it, even by accident while struggling over the weapon. That would have made more sense to me than the cockamamie series of events described at the denouement. But I’ll give Carolyn Wells another chance. Going to try Raspberry Jam next. Locked rooms are my favourite kind of mystery!

    • If you don’t like Vicky Van, I don’t know that it’s going to get any better for you. Raspberry Jam is kind of accidentally hilarious and also terrifying, but frustrating as a locked room mystery, and the rest…The Clue is the only other one that I think is worth checking out. Her mysteries are mostly the same as each other, and mostly frustrating. I like Vivky Van because I find the logistics of it interesting, and because the narrator is somehow less hateful than most of her narrators.

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