(This is based on my article published in the February, 2013 issue of Yellowback Library magazine)
Meg Duncan is the heroine of a six-volume book series that was published by Whitman Publishing Company between 1967 and 1972. In 1978 the series was reprinted as Golden Press paperbacks, and translated into hardback foreign editions. (The Meg books were available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch.) Not bad for a grade-school age girl living near the tiny village of Hidden Springs, Virginia!
I became acquainted with Meg Duncan when I bought a copy of The Secret of the Witch’s Stairway found in a Goodwill Store’s 25¢ book bin. Since I already owned way too many books my plan was to read the novel, and then donate it to my library’s next used book sale. That plan gave way to collecting all six books, then researching, writing, and posting an article about the series on Wikipedia. Such is the power of what I call Chronic Book Ownership Syndrome.
The Meg Duncan mysteries were developed by Whitman editor Dorothy Haas, and written by Holly Beth Walker, a pseudonym. Some researchers believe all of the Meg books were written by Gladys Baker Bond, but the 1981 volume of Contemporary Authors lists only the first book, The Disappearing Diamonds, among Mrs. Bond’s writings.
I could play amateur scholar and write several paragraphs on the authorship question, but I’ll cut to the chase and tell what I know about.
Here are brief biographies of the main characters, followed by the gist of the six mysteries:
Margaret Ashley Duncan is called Meg by most people, though her Uncle Hal calls her Maggie-me-love. She is an only child, and her Siamese cat, Thunder, partially makes up for not having a large family.
Her father, Mr. Duncan, has an important government job in Washington DC and is often away. He calls home regularly, and he and Meg have a loving relationship.
Mr. and Mrs. Wilson live with the Duncans. They take care of the house and yard, and attempt to keep mystery-loving Meg out of trouble.
Harold Ashley is the handsome younger brother. of Meg’s deceased mother. Uncle Hal works at a small museum, drives an antique Duesenberg roadster, flies his own plane, has an apartment in Washington DC and a cabin in Maine. (It’s possible the small museum pays fabulous wages, but I suspect the presence of family money.)
Meg’s best friend and sleuthing partner is Kerry Carmod. Kerry and her family live on a farm near the Duncan home. The seven Carmody children call their parents “Ma’am” and “Sir.”
Constable Hosey is the Hidden Springs law officer, and is dedicated to protecting the community. When called, he always arrives quickly, even in the middle of the night.
I list the books in the chronological order of the original copyright dates:
Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds (1967) I consider this to be the weakest mystery, since Meg has to deal with a villain who should have been arrested for criminal stupidity.
Mrs. Partlow invites neighbors to a garden party, which is crashed by a woman with three misbehaving poodles. After Mrs. Partlow’s diamonds are stolen, Meg and Kerry suspect Kerry’s young cousin, who borrows things she wants to play with.
Any self-respecting diamond thief would either sell the gems, or hide them in a safe location, but this villain stashes diamonds in bizarre places, including one that’s easier for Meg to access than the thief. It’s hard for a girl sleuth to be at her best when faced with silly plot developments.
The Secret of the Witch’s Stairway (1967) Meg learns that an ancestor’s colonial silver was hidden, and then lost, during the Civil War, and she hopes to find it in order to help out her elderly cousins. A runaway boy camping out on the cousin’s property has a Civil War era diary with rhyming clues to the location of the valuable silver.
The story is exciting, with nary a witch involved. (The stairway had been named as a joke many years earlier.)
The Treasure Nobody Saw (1970) Meg solves this mystery without the help of her best friend, for Kerry and her family take a long vacation – which caused me to wonder if the folks at Whitman Publishing knew how much farm work must be done during the summer.
Meg has other things to wonder about, for she discovers a family hiding out in the Haywood house while the owners are working out of state. Meg befriends the family, and promises to keep their presence a secret. But why was someone else prowling through the house, when the Haywoods had been told none of their belongings had any value?
The Ghost of Hidden Springs (1970) Long ago, Kathleen Hannigan drowned on the night no one came to her 16th birthday party. The Hannigan mansion has been left to another Kathleen – if she and her mother will live in the mansion for one month, then give a party for the descendants of those invited to the first Kathleen’s party.
Meg solves two mysteries – who wanted the modern Kathleen to believe the mansion was haunted, and why townsfolk shunned the first Kathleen’s party. The answer to the second mystery is especially poignant.
The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave (1971) Meg and Kerry go to Maine with Uncle Hal to help a friend who had received threatening letters. Meg finds clues to who wanted Emily Hawthorne to leave the area, plus she investigates rumors of a coven of witches.
The unmasking of the so-called witches is amusing; a pleasant contrast to the somber reasons why Emily had been nearly driven from her home.
The Mystery in Williamsburg (1972) Meg and Kerry go to Colonial Williamsburg with Uncle Hal, and work as junior hostesses at an antique toy show. While Uncle Hal is preoccupied with a secret project, Meg looks for two missing dolls.
Others show interest in obtaining the lost dolls, and after they are found Meg learns about the investigation Uncle Hal had been conducting.
I consider this one of the best books in the series. It provides both a compelling mystery and an interesting “tour” of Colonial Williamsburg.