Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

KATHRYN HEISENFELT – Ann Sheridan and the Secret of the Sphinx. Whitman, hardcover, 1943. Illustrated by Henry E. Vallely.

   If it were dark and the lights were on, the neon display would be much more effective. But even now, swaying from the suspended black bar, it did have the look of an old sampler. Since she turned the last corner, Ann Sheridan had kept her eyes on it, eagerly, expectantly. She thought to herself, “Tess has come up another notch in the world. And I’m glad — glad!”

   Again, braving the ferocity of the wind, she was forced to bend her head, to put her free hand to the small blue hat atop the gold-spun hair that fell almost to her shoulders. In her left hand, her spacious bag was cradled against her side. The gold tweed suit, with its short fitted jacket and wide striped scarf, was intended for lamb-like weather. But March in Coreyville, Ann decided emphatically, was on the lion side.

   In this age of the celebrity, we think we have seen everything, but truth is there is nothing new under the celebrity sun when it comes to exploiting fame. Whitman, the people behind the Big Little Book, came up with a series of books for older readers in the 1940‘s, and beyond the usual cowboy stars, and comic strip heroes they carried it one step farther with adventures of Hollywood stars like Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers, Deanna Durbin, John Payne, and others.

   This one features the Ooompf Girl from Denton, Texas, red-haired Ann Sheridan, who visits her friend Tess Whitehouse at her new beauty salon and soon finds herself up to her pretty neck in a mystery involving a mysterious Egyptian Sphinx cult:

   She saw now that the man’s face was a deep reddish tan. Black hair grew back from a high forehead. He was facing the light from a wall lamp, and his cheek bones seemed to jut out in a sunken face. His eyes were snapping black and mercilessly intent. Ann pulled her gaze from those eyes and in a brief moment studied the unusual clothing, the long-sleeved, black embroidered coat that hung loosely, the baggy dark trousers, gathered tight at the ankles. Around the man’s waist was a wide, red sash. Tucked in the sash was a curved knife, sharp and shining.

   Without knowing it, Ann’s hand that held the key came up to her mouth. She felt her heart mounting in her throat, almost exploding with her terror. She heard a strange, strangled cry and knew it was her own voice.

   With a leap like a panther’s, the man was at her side. Fingers of steel closed over her mouth. Wings seemed to beat over her head, faster, faster, the whirl of sound growing so that all thought, all fear was drowned out.

   Of course Ann solves the mystery with help of an attractive young man named Crunch, without the slightest hint of romance, but well within the B movie mystery formula the book falls into.

   The best part of the book are the attractive illustrations by Henry Vallely, the king of the Big Little Book illustrators whose work graced the adventures of the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, the Green Hornet, and the Big Little Books own superhero, Maximo. His illustrations are outstanding examples of the art, more than can be said of the story.

   Other adventures in this series include Betty Grable and The House With The Iron Shutters, John Payne and the Menace at Hawk’s Nest, Jane Withers and the Phantom Violin, Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume, Ann Rutherford and the Key to Nightmare Hall, Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak, and Deanna Durbin and the Feather of Flame.

   It may strike you almost all of these titles fall into the mystery genre in one way or another. If most are like this they are simple low level reads for slightly older children — eight and up — along the line of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys or the Rover Boys and Frank Merriwell before them.

   There is a little mystery, a few minor scares, and a bit of action. I grant this one is more collectable than readable, but its worth the effort if only for the handsome Vallely illustrations.

   Looking at Harry Potter, Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider, and the Hunger Games we can at least note how young adult literature has improved. We can consider ourselves lucky we don’t have to deal with Justin Beiber and the Jailer’s Daughter or Myley Cyrus and the Obscene Gesture.