Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Miscalculated Risk (Kim Aldrich Mystery #1)

Miscalculated Risk (Kim Aldrich Mystery #1)
Jinny McDonnell
Western Publishing, 1972

Genre: Mystery


Kim Aldrich works as a secretary at WALCO Limited, also known as World at Large Insurance Company. Her boss gets assigned a case when Commissioner Saunders has come to see Mr. Rydell from the town of Neadham. His town is insured with the company and is being sued for $500,000. A seven-year-old boy fell on some rocks that angled down the middle of the public beach. He sustained fractures of the skull and pelvis. The Commissioner declares that no investigation is needed because the claim is false. If they go to trial they will win hands down. He wants to prove contributory negligence on the part of the child and his mother. They had absolutely no right to be on the rocks. The area was roped off and clearly marked to keep off. He says the boy was trespassing and should be prosecuted. Kim decides to think over the facts of the case. Some things she finds odd include the large sum of money being requested. How was poor Pete? No one seems to care how the boy is doing.

Kim decides to check out the accident scene and meets Andy Hill. He is a lawyer who happens to be working on the boy's case. He is there to take photographs of the area. He believes that certain changes have taken place in the area after the accident. Kim, her boss, and Andy all visit the boy and his family. Kim is confused about the attitude of Pete's mother. The Commissioner had called her an opportunist. She seems to not want Pete to have any hope for his future. She seems to be more interested in making the town pay for her son's accident then paying attention to Pete and his feelings. As Andy and Kim leave, they are nearly forced off the road by a black sedan that was following them. Andy admits to knowing that someone had been tailing him, but now that the trial is set for two weeks from now whoever it is must be getting anxious.

Andy tells Kim that he knows for a fact that the rock area had been open to the public during the past summer. Two of the lifeguards had told him so and had agreed to testify. The signs and ropes had been put up after Pete Madden's accident. Furthermore, the rocks were supposed to be sprayed three times a week to prevent algae formation, to keep them from being slippery. The lifeguard said the money was supposed to come from the administration charges collected at the turnstiles at the beach entrance. No spraying had been done all last summer. Kim wonders where the money was going if not for the spraying. Andy wanted access to the town sheds in order to examine the spraying equipment and determine how recently it had been used but he has been denied access. The two lifeguards said that they turned over pictures they themselves had taken of children playing on the rocks last summer but the photos have disappeared.

Kim’s brother, Tom, brings home a puppy that was abandoned at the airport. Because they live in an apartment the Aldrich's can't keep him. Kim automatically thinks of Pete and how a puppy would be exactly what he needs. She is distracted when she receives a letter that is an offer of employment as a secretary in a hotel in Puerto Rico. Her passage would be paid and her salary would be nearly double what she is currently making. She has never heard of the company before and wonders why they would want her? Is this a ploy to get her off the case? Kim heads over to Pete's house to give him the dog. Pete wants the dog and his parents seem open to it and let him keep it.

When Kim tells Pete at the dog is a “poor orphan” she senses tension in the room. She wonders why parents would react that way to the word orphan. Kim takes a look at father and mother both of which are tall, thin, and dark-haired and dark eyed. Pete, on the other hand, is stocky, has freckles, and has red hair. Kim begins to think that maybe Pete is adopted and doesn’t know it.

Kim discovers that Pete’s only friend, Bill, is one of the lifeguards who said he’d testify at the trial and has since disappeared. Pete says Bill has been writing him and Kim learns that Bill received a Fellowship from the Dier Foundation to work on his painting. They offered him a cabin in the mountains of California for free and enough money for food. Bill had not even applied for help and told Pete he didn’t even know how they even found out about him. Kim decides she and Andy need to find this cabin and find Bill. When they arrive at the California airport and go to get Kim's rental car they are told that the reservation has been canceled. Andy makes up a story for it but confesses to Kim that he did not cancel it. He believes that the Commissioner has something to do with this and quite possibly has someone posted there to follow Kim. When they reach the town of Santa Elena they try to find Bill, but the post mistress refuses to give out any information. A man at a local diner says that he has seen the young man once or twice. He says that he's probably staying out at the Saunders shack. When asked him who this Saunders is they are told that he is some guy from New York and pretty rich. It looks like Commissioner Saunders is very much involved. They find the shack and in it a very much dead Bill.

Andy begins searching through anything that is lying around the house. He does happen to find a letter addressed to the Commissioner. In the letter, Bill wanted some answers from the Commissioner. The first was about the grant to come to California and work on his art. Bill was uneasy about it because he had not filled out an application and not conducted an interview. When he arrived in California and found out that the cabin belonged to the Commissioner, he began to worry and decided to check into the foundation. He discovered that there was no record of any such foundation existing. He wonders why the Commissioner would do this considering the fact that all summer long Bill was bugging him about getting the rocks at the beach sprayed. He point blank asks if the Commissioner got him out of the way so he wouldn't tell someone that the Commissioner was to blame.

Andy finds a phone booth to call his office to speak to his boss. As Kim watches from the car she sees Andy's face and knows something has gone horribly wrong. He explains that the Maddens have decided to drop the suit. Someone warned them that they were going to bring the adoption out in the court. The parents knew that the lawyer was going to twist things to make them look like monsters.

Kim and Andy make it aboard an airplane back home. When they land and he sees someone following them, he tells Kim to go into the ladies room where they have phones and telephone her father. Kim calls home and leaves a message with the housekeeper to let him know that they’re at the airport and that it is six o'clock. When Kim leaves the restroom, a man attacks her and she’s chloroformed. Kim wakes up in a fishing cabin of some sort. A gray-haired lady is nursing to her. The woman tells her to be quiet as there is a very frightened little boy sleeping in the next room. They had been there together since last night. The little boy happens to be Pete.

Soon Andy shows up as another captive. He has investigated the island they are stuck on but could find no boats. Kim decides that the only option is to swim for it. Andy refuses because the water is freezing cold. Hunting around the little cabin they end up finding some fins and a face mask. It is a girl suit and Kim says that she will swim to shore. She asks Andy if he thinks that he can make a swim and determines that if he ends up needing help she’ll rely on her Red Cross lifeguard training. Halfway to shore a boat rescues them. It is Kim’s father—he got the message when they’re housekeeper knew something bad had happened and phoned the FBI.

The trial is the next day. Andy's first witness is a nun named Sister Josephine. She tells the story of an infant named Peter Gallagher whose parents were killed in a car accident. No relatives were found but there was a couple anxious to adopt a little boy as they were unable to have children of their own. Peter was technically a foster child and they were little reluctant since he was not up for adoption. The Maddens feared that they would get to love him and one day he would be taken from them. Peter was a sick child so the Maddens took care of him on a month by month basis. Eventually, however, the family left town suddenly, taking Peter with them and left no trace. A stranger appeared at the orphanage one day and said he was looking for missing heir to a fortune. This man was Saunders. He said he had reason to believe that this boy may be Peter.

Kim is called to take the stand. Andy questions Kim on their trip to California and how they came across the body of Bill Jones and the letter he was writing to Saunders. When Andy mentions that the last time Bill was seen was with a bullet in his forehead, Saunders jumps up and says, “What do you mean, a bullet hole? I never said to kill him, only to keep him out of sight. All right! You can accuse me of a lot of things, but not murder. I had nothing to do with murder!” Realizing he has been caught, Saunders volunteers information as to how for years he had taken funds from the beach turnstiles. He needed the extra funds because he intended to campaign for office of the Mayor. At first he was uneasy about the court case but then decided that he could emerge as hero. The case is officially dropped as a settlement between the plaintiff and the town in the amount of $10,000 is reached.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Kim is like a girl version of James Bond (hello—the wetsuit cover should trigger that thought alone), which is awesome considering the fact that she was written in the 1970s. Kim is obviously a bit older than most teen detectives (she’s already out of school and a professional) but she is still young and relatable.

Let’s first look at gender roles in the story. Kim’s father is Dan Aldrich, an FBI agent. They live in an apartment in New York City with Kim’s older brother and sister and their housekeeper, Gerta. Kim's mother died an unspecified time ago. Kim’s brother, Tom, is a copilot with Panoramic Airline. Her older sister, Cindy, is a nurse. Here we have some typical careers. In most teen detective series, the parents have a hand in detecting. Her Kim’s father is in the FBI while the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s fathers also worked in the police field. Of course, her brother gets to be a pilot and her sister is stuck with the typical career path of being a nurse. Tim also flew a scout plane in Vietnam and won a Distinguished Flying Cross. Kim, while she has detective aspirations of her own, went to “college” for the typical career path of most girls—secretarial work. She finished her course six months prior to the book opening, and ever since has been making a commute to her job at an insurance company.

The book opens with Kim and her father commuting into NYC via the subway. Here readers get to see how protective her father is over her. It is written that Kim makes a point of smiling warmly at the strangers she sees every morning. Her father warns her to “take it easy on this reception-committee-of-one bit. It's risky, Kim. Take that young man over there, the one who is ready to invite you for coffee because he thinks you gave him a come-on signal. He could be an armed killer. Or that perfectly innocent-looking grandmother type with the shopping bag stuffed with—what? Stolen securities? Dope? Think about it before you go rationally about, practically shaking hands.”

Kim herself is tired of being treated like a child. One morning she says maybe she'll take flying lessons. Gerta, the housekeeper, says, “It was bad enough when you are falling out of trees. Then you persuaded your father to get you that fast little sports car [described as her pride and joy—a sleek little Triumph]. And last year you decided to take up skydiving. Broke your arm, too, didn't you?” It also appears that Kim has also had trouble with skin diving and surfing. Gerta admonishes her by saying, “Next thing, you'll be trying to be the girl astronaut, first girl to go to the moon.”

Body image is discussed briefly. It is nice to see Kim described as having shiny brown hair and blue eyes, instead of being the typical blonde girl. One morning, Gerta tries to make Kim a breakfast of orange juice, bacon, eggs, and coffee. Kim jokes that she's going to have to go on a diet and Gerta says, “You need some meat on your bones. Look at you; no more than 110 pounds soaking wet.” Andy is also given a sexualized appearance when Kim meets him and finds him attractive. The narrative states, “Andy Hill's face kept popping up between her and the typewriter. Every detail was clear. Brown eyes that held a glint of humor. Right eyebrow that quirked when he grinned. Dark hair cut short, as befitted a legal eagle, but that didn't mean he lacked the confidence needed for originality; witness Victoria [his car]. Slight cleft in the strong chin. Hint of a bump in an otherwise perfectly chiseled nose. Football injury? Married? Engaged? Ah, well, at least Kim was wearing blue today. Much as she adored yellow, blue did glamorous things to her eyes, turning them almost gentian. She was almost tempted to dash out during her coffee break and invest in a set of false eyelashes. On second thought, no. Ten to one she'd drop one in her soup.” So poor Kim, not only does she become enamored with Andy, but she is concerned about what she wears around him and appears to be awkward with other means of beautifying herself for his approval.

There is also a moment when Kim accidentally thinks she has stepped on Andy’s pride and insulted him. When Andy informs her of the missing lifeguard, Kim asks why he doesn't hire a private detective. Andy says he does not have that kind of cash and Kim offers help. She quickly realizes her error: “It was a mistake. Her timing was wrong. She could have been more subtle. Now she'd gone and offended his male pride. Oh, stupid, stupid! But she did want to help!” She also darn near insults him when at one point he tries to compose a letter all “hunt and peck” type on the typewriter and she shoves him aside saying they’d be there all day if he composed it and again after they nearly get forced off the road and suffer a flat tire. Luckily, this time she catches herself. She starts to get out to change it when Andy demands she stay in the car. While totally capable of changing the tire herself, she “leaned back, allowing herself the luxury of feeling fragile and protected. She would have resented it and argued hotly if Tom had treated her that way. But this was not Tom.” So, she willingly admits that she would have stood up to her brother treating her that way but a potential love interest takes the feminist right out of her.

Despite Kim’s lack of an awesome job, her boss, Mr. Rydell, seems to be very forward thinking about the career prospects of women (or at least Kim). She is a curious girl and likes to wonder and know things. One of the reasons why she loves her job at the insurance company is because it was company policy to have a new secretary rotate from department to department in order to gain an overall picture of operations. They also encouraged their girls to study foreign languages and consider assignment in overseas branch office. When Rydell is interviewing Saunders and Kim is taking notes, Saunders dislikes Kim offering her own suggestions. He snorts, “We don't need questions or opinions from a two-bit stenographer.” Mr. Rydell stands up for Kim and tells Saunders that she is a secretary and “as for questions and opinions, we encourage all our staff to ask, to think, to become involved in company business. And we promote from within the ranks. Ms. Aldrich, for example, has a feeling for this field. Perhaps one day she will become an investigator.”

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