Kay Tracey

The Kay Tracey Mystery Stories
by Frances K. Judd

The Kay Tracey books were written by four different authors under the pseudonym Frances K. Judd:

#1-2 by Elizabeth Mildred Duffield Ward
#3-12 and 14 by Mildred A. Wirt Benson
#13 by Edna Camilla Stratemeyer Squier
#15-18 by Anna Perot Rose Wright

The Formats

The Kay Tracey series was published by Cupples and Leon beginning in 1934 and continuing into the 1940s.  The books printed in the 1930s were thick yellow books with glossy frontispiece illustrations and dust jackets that have a question mark symbol on the spine.  This style continued until 1942 with the publication of the final title in the series.

Around 1943, the books became less thick, and the volume numbers were added to the spines of the jackets.  These books still had glossy frontispieces and good paper.  Sometime in the middle to late 1940s, the dust jacket spines were redesigned in solid red, blue, or yellow with a symbol representing the mystery positioned in the center of the spine.  These books have poor quality paper and plain paper frontispieces.

Above: 1930s dj
Below: 1940s dj

7. The Secret at the Windmill

Bantam paperback
During the 1950s, 15 titles were reissued by Garden City Books and Books, Inc.  Both sets use the same updated wraparound dust jackets.  The Books, Inc. editions were printed after the Garden City editions and were taller than the Garden City books.  In approximately 1960, the books were issued in paperback with the same illustrations as the dust jackets, and in the 1970s the books were issued once again in picture cover with the identical cover art.

During the 1960s, 8 titles were issued in paperback by Berkley with new cover art.  Another set of picture covers, this time 6 titles, were printed during the late 1970s with new cover art that closely resembles the cover art from the Garden City and Books, Inc. dust jackets.  In 1980, Bantam released a set of 6 titles in paperback with new cover art.  A set of at least 7 paperbacks was issued in 1984 in the United Kingdom.

Berkley paperback

UK paperback
The Premise

Kay Tracey is a sixteen year old girl who lives with her mother, Kathryn Tracey, and her cousin, Bill Tracey, whom she calls Cousin Bill.  Kay's father is no longer alive.  The series shares several similarities to the Nancy Drew series as Kay is always accompanied by her two friends, Betty and Wilma Worth, just as Nancy is accompanied by Bess Marvin and George Fayne, and Kay's Cousin Bill is a lawyer just like Carson Drew.

In spite of the similarities to the Nancy Drew series, the Kay Tracey series is much more like the Dana Girls series.  Kay has a jealous rival, Ethel Eaton, who is very much like the Dana Girls' jealous rival, Lettie Briggs.  Ethel Eaton plays an important role in many of the Kay Tracey stories.  Additionally, Kay goes to school like the Dana Girls, whereas Nancy Drew does not go to school.  Another similarity to the Dana Girls series is that the Kay Tracey series has the same type of strange stories and absurd plots as the Dana Girls series, and part of the fun in reading the stories is seeing how bizarre the plots are.

The Stories
It is a common misconception that most or all of the Kay Tracey books were revised during the 1950s.  However, the only Kay Tracey books that were truly revised are Red Scarf, Green Cameo, and Strange Echo.  These three books were shortened, and the text is around 75% or more different.  In spite of the changes, both the original and revised texts are the same general story with most or all of the same characters and character names.  In Red Scarf, Helene Ludlow becomes Helene Corning in the revised text, a name remarkably similar to Helen Corning of the early Nancy Drew books!

The remaining 12 books that were reprinted—Sand Dunes, Windmill, Sunken Garden, Mysterious Neighbors, Key Turned, Murmuring Portrait, Crimson Briar Bush, Mansion of Secrets, Sacred Feather, Six Fingered Glove, Lone Footprint, and Double Disguise—are either completely identical or nearly identical in both texts and have the same exact page count.  About half of them appear not to have been changed at all and used the same printing plates.  The others either have a character name change or a paragraph on the first and/or last page of the book changed.  The stories appear identical throughout the text, page by page.

Swaying Curtains, Shadow on the Door, and Forbidden Tower were never reprinted and are only available in the Cupples and Leon books.


Whenever possible, the below summaries were adapted
from the dust jackets of the 1950s editions.

Summaries of #1-9

Summaries of #10-18

Cover Art Galleries

1940s Dust Jackets

1950s Dust Jackets

Berkley, Bantam, and Lamplight

Library Editions and Foreign Editions

Titles in the Kay Tracey series:

  1. The Secret of the Red Scarf, 1934
  2. The Strange Echo, 1934
  3. The Mystery of the Swaying Curtains, 1935
  4. The Shadow on the Door, 1935
  5. The Six-Fingered Glove Mystery, 1936
  6. The Green Cameo Mystery, 1936
  7. The Secret at the Windmill, 1937
  8. Beneath the Crimson Briar Bush, 1937
  9. The Message in the Sand Dunes, 1938
10. The Murmuring Portrait, 1938
11. When the Key Turned, 1939
12. In the Sunken Garden, 1939
13. The Forbidden Tower, 1940
14. The Sacred Feather, 1940
15. The Lone Footprint, 1941
16. The Double Disguise, 1941
17. The Mansion of Secrets, 1942
18. The Mysterious Neighbors, 1942

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