JUDY BOLTON #39
THE STRANGE LIKENESS
It's hard to believe that diehard Judy Bolton fans have waited since 1967 for this book. In the back of Judy #38, The Secret of the Sand Castle in 1967, it was promised as the next title to come. But it never did. The series was canceled and no more Judy Boltons were written.
Somtime in the 1980s Margaret Sutton was interviewed by a fan (you can read the interview on judybolton.com) and she talked about this story and how she would have written it. It was to take place in the Panama Canal Zone. Judy would end up down there after following a suspicious man who looked like Peter, hoping to find her missing husband. Judy would give birth to twins Peter and Pam at the end of the story.
Sounds exciting, eh? Especially because there was a lot of historical intrigue going on down in the Canal Zone at that time in the late 1960s when the book would have been written. To have a pregnant Judy running around down there in those steamy jungles looking for Peter - well, it all sounded very interesting to me. In fact, I probably would have written my own version of this story, but I knew that someone else was writing it, with Margaret's approval, and that eventually it would be available to fans.
Then, somewhere around September of 2009 we started hearing chat that the book might soon be published by Amereon, who had earlier put out very nice editions of some of the Judy Bolton books.
A fanzine editor, for whom I had written a six page fanfiction article about Judy Bolton at this time, chopped it down to 3 paragraphs and published it that way, even though it made no sense. He was afraid he might get sued if he printed an article using Judy and her chums as characters. Of course I wondered, 'Why?' Margaret had always encouraged fans to write fanfiction about Judy. But now that she was gone, the editor believed things were different.
I forgot about the matter for several months until, while reading a new edition of The Whispered Watchword, the fanzine put out by the Phantom Friends, I saw an advertisement on the back offering The Strange Likeness for sale from Amereon publishers. Great! The book was coming out. I immediately called Amereon and ordered 3 copies. I was told that they would be delivered in a few weeks, and then I relayed the information about the book to the Internet newsgroups I posted on. I knew there were plenty of others who wanted this book we'd been looking forward to for so long.
Imagine how surprised I was to receive an email from the executor of Margaret Sutton's estate the very next day warning me to stop telling people about the book and how to order it! No explanation. No additional information. Just stop it. I had no idea what was going on; I had merely passed on information like we always do, collector to collector. So I called Amereon and was told that a stop had been put to the publishing of the book. As we learned afterward, the author was going forward with the publishing of the story without the executor's OK. That person found out about it from my post on a newsgroup and stopped the publication, saying she would write her own version.
I shrugged my shoulders - drama! There was always plenty of it in the series book collecting world where acquisitiveness and greed often come between personal relations. But I sure was disappointed in not getting the book. Obviously, it was written. All I wanted to do was read it!
Then, a while later, maybe a few months, the next that was being chatted about in newsgroups and emails is that the executor had decided to go ahead with the already-written book. But she would bring in another writer to help with extensive rewriting to make the book the way she wanted it, and she herself would do the editing. Well, great. This was good news; they were still using the already-written story, just spiffing it up. It would still be be the story Margaret would have written, and the book would soon be coming out.
And so it finally did, from Applewood Books. They have been publishing Judy Boltons since 1993, almost twenty years now, when I hooked up Phil Zuckerman, the boss at Applewood, with Margaret Sutton and he put out facsimile editions of books 1, 2, 37 and 38. I had driven all the way to Iowa to give him these books in person at the Nancy Drew Conference at the University of Iowa that year for Applewood to copy for their excellent facsimile editions. A few years ago I contacted him again about reproducing the entire Judy Bolton series, which Applewood has done. And now it is the only series of its type to have been reproduced in its entirety with original texts and artwork. So now I eagerly ordered a couple copies of The Strange Likeness and looked forward to receiving them in the mail.
They arrived quickly, within a few days, and I was excited. I couldn't wait to sit down and jump into the story and follow Judy down to Panama as she stalks the man who strangely resembles Peter, all the time getting involved in danger and intrigue only an FBI man (and his tag along wife) can be part of.
Wow, was I ever in for a surprise!
When I actually looked the book over, I became very annoyed. It was nothing like the story Margaret would have written, that we were led to believe the original author and the new one were writing. After all, it was stressed that it was being written according to Margaret Sutton's wishes, as learned in talks with her over the years. But Judy does not go to Panama in this book. It all takes place in Pennsylvania and New York City. She follows a Peter look-alike around in bleak snowy weather in the days following Christmas, a man suspected of robberies and swindles. There is no Canal Zone. No steamy jungles. No international intrigue. And Judy does not give birth to twins in the end!
Well, so much for writing the story Margaret wanted.
This published version of The Strange Likeness is a mediocre book - not very exciting, not very inspiring, and not anything like Margaret Sutton herself said she would have written. It's not even like the other Judys; it is a lot more juvenile than they are, childish and dumbed-down. It reminds me of the revised Nancy Drew books, good stories gone bad. It lacks the spark of magic and intrigue that the Judy Boltons are noted for, and it is very redundant. It goes over and over the backgrounds of Peter and Honey when they were children, to the point where you wish Godzilla or King Kong would come roaring along on the snowy streets of New York and stir up some excitement.
Gosh, didn't we already have enough of that in the early books of the series? It seems we already knew enough about Peter and Honey's past. Like, we could write books about it ourselves. LOL! Why does this final book have to obsess with that? Isn't there anything about Judy herself to obsess over? Bad enough we're not down in the steamy Panama jungles having real adventure, but we gotta be in Brooklyn, of all places, looking for still more of the long ago past about secondary characters?
LOL! Guess I really was wanting to read the Panama version of this story!
I suspect that the original version of this book was much better, a whole lot better, in fact. But the chopping it up to add new episodes and plot points, and the sometimes writing of the additional author are very apparent. What I've heard from several readers so far is that they agree with me - it's mediocre. I've also heard from some who like it. But I have yet to hear from anyone who raves about it. Because it's a Christmastime story, several fans I know are waiting till Christmas to read it. Maybe I'll do that myself, read it again at the time of the holiday and see if the spirit of the season injects any life into it.
I suspect that most Judy fans will like the book. No one else but me, of course, hahaha, will care that it doesn't take place down in Panama. PA and NYC are more palatable for the greater percentage of Judy Bolton readers. But not too many fans will be 'crazy' about it. Most will wish it had more of a jolt to it. It's just not a fitting story to end the great Judy Bolton Mystery series. I think it's a dud like the one before it, The Secret of the Sand Castle. But a dud or two are OK in any series. But that leaves us still needing a really good one to top the series off. Hopefully there might be another in the works?