Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mystery Of The Long House
Lucile McDonald and Zola H. Ross
1956, Thomas Nelson & Sons
Edition shown: Pyramid Willow Books, 1964

Archaeology!  Barbara’s dark eyes clouded and she tossed her short brown curls crossly.  Of all the dull affairs!  Who cared about embalming life, either past or present.  She wanted to live it – now!

18-year-old Barbara Stratton is used to dealing with new environments; her father’s job in international banking has had the family moving around constantly all her life.  But her latest setting, an island off the coast of Washington State, is a disappointment.  She’d planned a summer of sailing parties, riding trips with the Tack Room Club and dances at the Boat Club.  Instead, she’s dispatched to a remote archaeology dig run by her new brother-in-law, Paul.  The soul of feminine arts, she bakes some brownies as a welcome treat and trips down to the site to introduce herself – and falls into a trench.  Most of the men forgive her quickly, but harried Paul and two of his students remain distant.  They have more pressing concerns than a bored teenager; their dig is of an Indian long house, and part of it appears to be on private land whose owner refuses to let them dig.  With only a partial dig possible, their funding is in jeopardy.  Barbara, meanwhile, is making friends with the locals and poking around in the mystery of the unfriendly neighbor, Mrs. Covey.

As the summer passes, Barbara finds herself becoming more interested in archaeology, and in one particular young archaeologist.  But she disagrees with the group’s aloofness from the locals.  When one man says, bitterly:

“None of these people understand.  They’re stupid and stubborn.”

Barbara counters with: 

…. “He doesn’t understand,” she said slowly.  “And none of you try to make him understand.  Maybe if you did, you’d have better luck.”

Somewhat unusually, the heroine spends much of her time alone.  The love interest angle isn’t developed until late, and Barbara basically rubs Paul the wrong way so that the rest of the team feels awkward befriending her.   Her loneliness and boredom keep her worrying away at the mystery, and finally give her the answer.

Slow, atmospheric and somehow boring.  I liked the other McDonald/Ross collaboration I’ve read, Winter’s Answer, which was similarly slow and atmospheric, but had a liveliness to it that this book lacks.

 Lucile Saunders McDonald (1898-1992)

Born in Oregon, Lucile Saunders became a journalist and worked at various newspapers in the Pacific Northwest.  She married Harold D. McDonald in 1922 and had two children.  She collaborated with Ross on several young adult novels in the 1950s and 1960s.

Zola H. Ross, aka Helen Girdey Ross
Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Washington 1948-1955
Teacher in Kirkland, Washington.  Pseudonyms included Z.H. Ross, Helen Arre, and Bert Lle
Books by both
The Mystery Of Castesby Island
Stormy Year
Friday’s Child
Pigtail Pioneer
Wing Harbor
The Courting Of Ana Maria
Assignment In Ankara
Winter’s Answer
The Stolen Letters
The Sunken Forest
For Glory And The King