Clue of the Silken Ladder by Mildred A. Wirt (Cupples & Leon, 1941)
Number 5 in the 17 novel Penny Parker series of mysteries. They were aimed at teenage girls, with Penny Parker, the main character, being a Nancy Drew type sleuth. Indeed, I believe Wirt wrote some of the Drew series. Penny Parker is around 16 years old, though her age is never stated, and attends school in Riverview, where her father is owner and editor of the Riverview Star newspaper. Penny hankers to be a reporter and often helps out at her father's newspaper, and thanks to her ability to dig up mysteries, often enables the Riverview Star to print scoops. She lives with her father, Anthony Parker, and housekeeper, Mrs Weems, in a sizeable house. Mrs Weems acts as a mother figure, Penny's real mother having died years before. She has access to her own car, showing that she lives in an affluent household, though often supplements her allowance with working in the newsroom of the Star. Her best friend is Louise Sidell, and she is often dragged into Penny's adventures, though her prominence in the story varies greatly from book to book.
In Clue of the Silken Ladder, Mrs Weems inherits $6,000 from a cousin and is preyed upon by a fake medium who plans to get Mrs Weems to invest the money in a bogus company. There are also a series of robberies of wealthy people which are tied into a spiritualist centre in Riverview--the silken ladder of the title aids the robbers to gain access to the homes they burgle. This entry is particularly noteworthy as there are several scenes of seances with materialisations, table levitations etc, all of which Penny rationalises and explains away by the end of the story.
Like others in the series, Clue of the Silken Ladder is short, with a very brisk pace. The main characters are very likable, particularly Penny herself. She is smart, shrewd and brave, showing no hesitation to confront a robber when alone in her house. She has an independence from her father and Mrs Weems that was probably only dreamed about by girls at the time. She puts herself in danger, but there is little violence, and then only mild. When Penny confronts the burglar, the worst that happens is that she gets pushed over as the man hurries to leave the house. Later, she is captured by the villains, but there is no real threat of violence against her, only the threat that they will tie and gag her.
I have read four of the series and this one is my favourite. There were many rivals of Nancy Drew in the 30s and 40s due to her immense popularity, though most didn't last too long. The Penny Parker series isn't bad if you want a fast-paced read with highly-likable characters, and the mysteries themselves are quite well thought out and plotted.