As a kid, one of my favourite things in the world was to curl up on the couch, or spread-eagled on the floor, and read mystery novels.
Anything from The Hardy Boys through to Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators through to the Dana Girls, and much later all 87 Agatha Christie novels, which were my bridge, suggested by my father from juvenile to adult reading, would captivate me for hours.
I was absolutely terrible at guessing who’d done it but that didn’t worry me; I got to spend time with characters I loved on outsized adventures that always got out of control just before they were triumphantly-solved in locations that ran from the mundane to the extraordinary but were, most importantly, not where I was.
Reading all four graphic novels in the 1960s-set Goldie Vance series, written by Eisner Award-winning Hope Larson and illustrated by Brittney Williams, was like being taken back to those idyllic days but with some added modern sensibilities thrown in.
Take the fact that 16-year old Marigold “Goldie” Vance, who has lived in the Crossed Palms Resort in St. Pascal, Florida where her father Arthur is the manager, has a girlfriend in the lovely, hip, cool music-lover Diane, or that the main drivers of the narrative action, besides effervescently-tenacious Goldie of course, are her best friend and front desk receptionist Cheryl (who’s also a scientific genius) and later her frenemy Sugar Maples, whose father owns the hotel, among others.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, while the men do help out, it’s the women who figure out what’s going on and largely deal with the fallout, gifting us with a brilliantly-realised detective series that recalls all the very best of the books I read as a boy while celebrating the fact, contrary to what misogynist entertainment moguls may think, that female protagonists are every bit as engaging as their, sorry guys, over-used male counterparts.
And they are, in every way possible, delightfully engaging.
Goldie is irrepressibly upbeat, and though she has her moments of self-doubt and world-ending sadness – she is 16 after all with everything that entails from occasional poor judgement to cataclysmically-awful melodrama that threatens to ruin everything (in her mind, at least) – her enthusiasm, gung-ho zeal and willingness to do what it takes carry her along through most things.
Which is a good thing because the unofficial-then-official assistant to the in-house resort detective Walter Tooey, who veers exasperated of Goldie butting in on cases and then being appreciative of the results she gets through sheer, zealous persistence, gets herself into some pretty demanding, far-fetched scrapes, the kind that used to make reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys so much fun.
In an ever-escalating series of mysteries – each of the four graphic novels containing one discrete mystery to solve while carrying over some villains and personal issues in an low-key kind of arc – Goldie has to deal with KGB agents, angry, bitter heiresses, jewel heists, astronauts that fall to earth on the resort’s beach and the skullduggery of life on the racing circuit, somewhere Goldie, who adores and loves car almost as much as they love her back, longs to be.
Well, when she’s not being an ace detective that is, and truth be told that, lapses in judgement aside, she’s really good at what she does.
Leaping from clue to clue, Goldie is a natural when it comes to noticing shreds of paper on the ground or remembering a face or spotting suspicious patterns of behaviour, all of which come in handy when amateur sleuthing. (Her day job is parking cars as the valet, with friend Rob, who’s sweet on Cheryl, at the report.)
So talented is she that even Walter, and his FBI girlfriend, both of whom are trained in law enforcements, often take their cues from her.
Sure, it’s unrealistic but that’s half or most of the fun, just as it was when I was reading those juvenile mysteries all those years ago; you know it’s way over-the-top and there’d be all kinds of consequences to doing many of the things Goldie does – and yes, sometimes there are consequences which grounds Goldie Vance nicely and stops it getting too ridiculous for its own good – but it works in the context of the big 1950s serial-meets-Gidget vibe that suffuses the entire series.
If it wasn’t larger than life, and if Goldie and her team which often includes her dad, and mum Sylvia – the two are divorced though amicably and Goldie moves between their two homes with ease, maintaining a good relationship with both parents – were right there in the thick of it with her, it wouldn’t be nearly as much as it is.
What helps make it even more rewarding to read, apart from Williams’s fun and evocative drawing which makes you feel like you’re in the very best cartoon ever made, is how much humanity Larson manages to fit into each and every panel.
Goldie and her fellow mystery-solvers have lives outside of the pursuit of justice, and even when they are in the midst of picking up clues and connecting dots, they come across as reasonably real people living reasonably real lives.
There is a sort sitcom/drama quality to them, a heightened sense of realness that every good narrative needs to chug along nicely, but mostly they feel grounded and very human, and as a result, a delight to spend time with.
That is the key to Goldie Vance – it has a heightened, sometimes cartoon-ish sense of reality to it which works perfectly for the kind of bigger-than-life stories it’s telling, but it’s populated by people who are likable and who are family and who, once the mystery solving is done, go back to being there for each other in the ordinary things of life, making them a joy to be around and Goldie Vance the kind of series you hope will continue well into the future, especially for this reviewer, given how well it also invokes the past.