The Missing Formula

The Missing Formula by Ann Wirt (1932) This is the short-lived Madge Sterling mystery/adventure series (at least I see only 3 books) supposedly written by Mildred Wirt Benson, author of the early Nancy Drew books, among others. It came out a couple of years after the first Nancy Drew—and what's kind of interesting to me is that (though I've by no means read or even am aware of all the kid's series books at the time) is that the girls mysteries seemed to be more in the circle of society, school, and romance books, while the boys more about adventure, the outdoors, sports, and science. The exceptions, to me (so far, in reading, and very admittedly biased) are the Hardy Boys, which are—at least the ones written by Leslie McFarlane—kind of in a somewhat strange, insulated, bizarro Hardy Boy reality of their own. And Judy Bolton, which are very much based in an actual place and time (and I've heard, based quite often on actual events). This Madge Sterling series seems like another exception, at least based on the first book—as it's very much an outdoor adventure, with Madge living in a summer resort run by her aunt and uncle, very hearty and capable, while by no means tomboyish. She meets (and immediately saves from drowning) a troubled young woman, Anne, who is at the center of the mystery. The two become fast friends, and though Madge has an ongoing flirtation with an older, male park ranger, she and Anne have a friendship which—maybe I'm reading too much into it—struck me as pretty romantic. The ranger is a bit of a distant (too busy) hero, and the aunt and uncle are just kind of blah and neutral, and other than that, the two girls are up against a slew of bastards, from the harmless but lazy handyman to the, greedy local speculator, to the soulless rich industrialist (who eventually finds his soul through filet of sole), to the totally underhanded greedy creep. None of them evil—just a catalogue of human failings. The books starts out, like so many Hardy Boys adventures, with weather (I love weather in these books!), and a nearly fatal boating mishap. It then takes on the endless tedium of the characters trying (and having ongoing thwarted success) to find the key to the mystery—so many of these series books are built on that tired device. In this case, it's, you guessed it, the missing formula. Just once I want a story where the thing that's missing just goes on being missing at the end of the book! But I guess for that you have to go to the movies of the 1970s, or absurdist drama, or I'll have to write it myself.