Spies and First Ladies! (childhood books filter)
August 26, 2017 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I was just reading this thread asking for good mysteries for children. I wanted to chime in with a great story/series which of course I cannot for the life of me now remember. As I recall it was at least two, maybe more short stories or novellas. The letter Q always seemed to be involved (nod to James Bond no doubt?). There was one which I think was entitled The Four Quarters which featured a kidnapping solved by triangulating homing pidgeons.

More distinctly, I remember one story in which the children figure out that the wife of a cold war country dictator must have passed off the microdot of important documents when she briefly touches the glass at the Smithsonian First Ladies exhibit, by casually mentioning that John Quincy Adams was the only president with a Q in his name.

My google-fu is coming up blank!
posted by eglenner to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are either of these stories in the anthology "Spies and More Spies"? I'm pretty sure I have the book, but I'll be darned if I can turn it up at the moment. I think the story about the two kids who are kidnapped and send a letter with instructions how to find them by release the homing pigeons from different locations is in it (the girl pretended she had a horse and wrote about the horse's forequarters) but I am not sure about the story about the wife of the dictator. Is that the anthology you were thinking about?

The story I liked best was the one called "The Future of the Service" because of the scene where a British assassin is camping out on the moor overnight with his dog waiting for a traitor to come and he sees the ghosts of ancient horsemen.

But there was another book I got around the same time, also an anthology of spy stories for kids which I think was called "Adventures in Black" - No, that was probably a history of spying. I know there were at least two anthologies of spy stories. I'm wracking my brains for the name of the second anthology.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:49 PM on August 26, 2017

I read and enjoyed these too. I think Q was the agency. I think I read the Smithsonian story in "Spies and More Spies" as Jane the Brown suggests.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:06 PM on August 26, 2017

The story is "Adventure of the Four Quarters", by Robert Arthur, who wrote many adult and children's short mystery stories, along with radio, TV, and many other credits. He notably wrote the Three Investigators series.

I agree the book you read it in is probably Spies and More Spies. Here is the contents list:

"The People of the Peacock" by Edward D. Hoch
"The Case of XX-2" by Julian Symons
"The Future of the Service" by Michael Gilbert
"The Road Without Turning" by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson
"Ladies With a Past" by Patricia McGerr
"The Proverbial Murder" by John Dickson Carr
"Adventure of the Four Quarters" by Robert Arthur
"Belgrade 1926" by Eric Ambler
"The Spy Who Did Nothing" by Edward D. Hoch
"Call For Help" by John West (Robert Arthur)
"Selena in Atlantic City" by Patricia McGerr
"The Three Good Witnesses" by Harold Lamb

Here is the plot summary of "Adventure of the Four Quarters":
Nick and Bettye Layton find themselves kidnapped by mysterious men. The pair soon discovers that the men are spies looking for information from their father. They also think the spies are crazy because their father is not involved in any kind of military factory or research, but the men have kidnapped the brother and sister, so they know what they want.

Their kidnappers ask Nick and Bettye to tell their father to provide certain information in order to secure their return. Nick and Bettye write notes to their father, carefully reviewed by the head kidnapper. Will Nick and Bettye be able to escape their kidnappers before their father gives it to the kidnappers? There is so much tension!

I don't think this is a series, but there are four possible explanations to the continuing "Q"s:
- One of the other stories might have the John Quincy Adams clue in it
- One of the other stories in this collection is by Julian Symons, and his detective is Frances Quarles
- One of the other stories might have a Q in it by coincidence
- You might also have read The Mystery of the Silver Spider around the same time. This is one of Arthur's Three Investigators stories, and in it Jupiter Jones mentions a trick he learned from a short story, and that story was "The Mystery of the Four Quarters." This is the same as the Spies and More Spies story with a slightly different title, and it was in a different anthology called Alfred Hitchcock's Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries.

You might have read this story there, but I can't see anything in the other Solve-Them-Yourself stories that would make you remember a series having to do with Qs. And I can guarantee you that none of the other stories is the microdot/John Quincy Adams one.

Both anthologies have been reprinted so dates probably won't help. You can see a picture of two of the Spies and More Spies covers on the page below. This page also has a listing of other similar anthologies by Arthur with the Tables of Contents, so maybe you will recognize the microdot story title there:


Good Luck remembering!

posted by lockedroomguy at 9:20 AM on August 27, 2017

My memory is that there were two or more stories, by the same author, about Bettye and her brother, the kids who get kidnapped in "The Adventure of the Four Quarters". The author is definitely Robert Arthur Jr. and they had a Q theme. But I remembered the story about the dictator's wife and the microdot only when you wrote about it.

I think there is another anthology with the dictator's wife story in it, although it isn't listed in any of the Robert Arthur Jr. anthologies that I am finding on line. But he was a pulp author who wrote prolifically and under pseudonyms, so I am willing to bet the information I have found on line is incomplete. In the eighties libraries were shedding "Spies and More Spies" as badly dated and it was turning up at the big book sales a lot. There were a lot of them around then. That's where I got my copy. The other anthology with the dictator story is more obscure and I haven't read that, I think, since the seventies.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:12 PM on August 27, 2017

I just found a mention on-line giving the plot of "Ladies with a Past" as being "Selena finds a microdot at the Smithsonian..." so I think my memory is faulty, there is no link to Robert Arthur Jr. and his characters Nick and Bettye. That sounds like it has to be your story about the first ladies.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:25 PM on August 27, 2017

You are all brilliant, and I thank you so much! Definitely Spies and More Spies (with the second cover as in the link from lockedroomguy), and I'm sure my 11 year old self just linked "quarters," "Quarles" and the "Quincy" Adams clue to be a designed theme!
posted by eglenner at 9:32 PM on August 27, 2017

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