"He sure is good looking," or Following the Mystery Man

This is another book by Mary Downing Hahn I read as a kid, which I can only really remembered because it took place in Maryland. In fact, not did it only take place in my home state, it took place in a teeny tiny town in Frederick County. Hey….I grew up in a teeny tiny town in Frederick County, maybe this was based on my hometown!

This book follows Madigan Maloney, a 12 year old girl being raised by her Grandmother in the sleepy town of Hilltop, Maryland. Madigan’s mother died when Madigan was only four, and her dad split when Madigan was a baby. Grandmother is an english teacher who runs a boarding house. One of the boarders recently died, so there is an extra room at Grandmother’s house. One fine summer day, Madigan and her best friend, Angie are at the drugstore when a handsome stranger walks in, checks out the local notices (Ahhhh the pre-craigslist days!) and asks for directions to Madigan’s house! He’s looking for a room!

Madigan shows the stranger, whose name is Clint James, to her Grandmother’s house. Madigan is surprised that Grandmother agrees to allow Clint to board there, because she usually doesn’t allow strangers. But Clint sweet-talks her by quoting poets. Clint seems like a straight up decent fellow bent on getting out of the rat race of the city. Miss Lucas, one of the other boarders (and Madigan’s fifth grade teacher) doesn’t trust him a bit.

Madigan gets in into her head that Clint is her father, come back to check on her. He is waiting to win Grandmother over before revealing his true identity. Madigan loves a mystery, she is a big Agatha Christie fan. She and Angie plan on leaving Hilltop to start a detective agency in Washington, DC when they grow up. Clint is another mystery to them.

Angie has an older sister, Alice who ran away from home at sixteen years old. She returned a couple years later with a baby boy, Chad, but without a husband or even a baby daddy to speak of. Angie & Alice’s parents threw her out. Madigan and Angie babysit for Chad on the sly. Alice starts acting very mysterious and not telling them where she is going when they baby sit. Angie is convinced that Clint in Alice’s babydaddy. Madigan gets mad because she’s convinced that Clint is HER daddy.

Summer goes on, and Clint and Madigan really bond. He takes her fishing at the lake and asks lots of questions about her home life. Madigan becomes more and more sure that he is trying to gather the courage to tell her and Grandmother that he’s Madigan’s dad. Madigan and Alice wait for Clint to leave one day, then they steal his room key from Grandmother and snoop around his room. They find a picture of Clint holding a baby. They find a list of dates and addresses. They also find a gun, which scares the beejesus out of them. What does he need with a gun? When they leave his room, they accidentally leave Madigan’s cat, Holmes, in there. Clint realizes that they were snooping and tells Madigan he is disappointed and values his privacy, and please don’t do it again. Grandmother finds out about the gun and says NO to guns in her house. Clint says he’ll get rid of it right away.

A few days later, Madigan and Angie spot Clint and Alice having a heated conversation. They pester Alice for deets, but she blows them off. Oh, but does want them to babysit again. This time, Angie gets caught babysitting for Alice’s bastard offspring and gets grounded. Seriously, her parents are assholes. They aren’t just being shitty to Alice, but they are making a sweet little boy like Chad pay the price….

There are lots of robberies in the area, most notably Locust Hill the snooty area in town. (They keep saying robberies, but really they are burglaries. There IS a difference) It’s near the lake where Madigan and Clint went fishing. Everyone is worried, but Grandmother refuses to acknowledge that she now lives in a town where she needs to keep her doors locked. (Once again, VERY similar to the town I grew up in, and we always had our doors locked!).

One night Madigan goes to visit her mom’s grave and ends up falling asleep there. She is awoken by voices and realizes it’s Alice and Clint. They are talking about hiding places. She also overhears Alice talking to Chad saying “here’s your daddy.” and Madigan gets upset confronts them , confesses that she thought Clint was her dad, and runs away. Clint tried to comfort her, but she would not be consoled.

The next evening, Madigan realizes that Clint just might be the burgler and the cemetery is the hiding place for the loot. She sneaks out of the house to investigate, and brings her cat Holmes along with her (bad idea…) Of course, Holmes is noisy and gives away Madigan’s hiding place. Clint catches Madigan gags her, ties her up and throws her into the back of his van and drives away. Alice and Chad are in there too. They drive, and drive, and drive and drive for a looooong time. Finally they stop, Clint gets some fast food and drives to the middle of nowhere and unties Madigan so she can eat. Madigan, remembering Clint’s gun, is terrified. They continue to drive well in to the following day.

The following evening, they stop near some woods and Clint has Alice and Madigan go into the woods to make pee-pee. Alice tells Madigan that she’s ruining everything by being there and to just run. She’ll stall Clint, but just keep running. Madigan is off. She runs as fast as she can and hears Clint running after her, but eventually loses him. When she feels like he’s really gone, she slows down and has no idea where she is or how to survive in the woods. She falls asleep. The next morning she wanders aroudn and eventually finds a creek and follows it downstream, which after a long time leads to a road. She takes the road and after many miles comes to a gas station. It’s evening time again by this point. She is saved! The gas station employees saw her picture on the news, call the cops, who call her Grandmother. She is north of Columbus, Ohio. Turns out Clint is an escaped convict and is wanted in several states for a string of burglaries. And now for kidnapping….and crossing state lines!

Grandmother comes to pick her up at the hospital in Ohio and she and Madigan have a heart to heart. Madigan confesses that she thinks often about her father and Grandmother confesses she knows more about him than she has let on. She wanted to honor Madigan’s mother’s wishes by not allowing Madigan to see him. He lives in California but hasn’t heard from him in many years. She promises to find her pictures of him, and if he contacts her again, she won’t keep it a secret. Madigan is also told that when they catch Clint and Alice, she (Madigan) will have to testify against them. Madigan feels kind of bad about that, remembering the good time she had with Clint, and thinking that Alice was a pretty good mommy to Chad. But Grandmother knows what Madigan is thinking, and basically says “tough shit,” they are dangerous criminals. Madigan knows…

  • Listen to this crazy shit: Grandmother’s boarders rent: Miss Lucas pays $25 a week, Mr. Shumann only pays $15. The boarder who died only paid $10 a week! And this rent includes breakfast and dinner every night! I think even by 1988 standards, that is ridiculous! (Clint offers to pay $100 a week, which really wins him the room).
  • At one point Clint is trying to win over Miss Lucas, so he quotes something and then says “to quote the poet.” Oh yeah, Clint. The poet? Like the only one in the world? ’cause here’s another thing the poet said, “there once was a man from nantucket…..” need I go on?
  • Clint is 33 in this book. Alice is 19. Chad is over two years old. Perhaps we can add statutory rape to the things that Clint is wanted for?
  • There is a girl named Brenda in Hilltop who sometimes babysits Chad. Miss Lucas doesn’t like Brenda and calls her the “town tramp.” Madigan, in a show of adorable innocence tells us “I don’t know why she calls her that. I don’t think Brenda has ever been out of Hilltop.” Oh that is soooo sweet that she doesn’t know what town tramp really means!
  • As soon as I read that Clint had a van, my first thought was the rape van from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I tried to find a picture to post here, but couldn’t. I just hope someone out there watches that show and knows what I’m talking about!
  • I just got this book from the library. Someone wrote on the title page “Bitch was here.” Doesn’t mean anything, just thought I’d let you know!
  • This book must be waaay out of print. When I searched online for an image of the cover, used paperback copies were starting out at $30! That alotta money for a used paperback!

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in dead parents, Mary Downing Hahn. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to "He sure is good looking," or Following the Mystery Man

  1. BananaBomb says:

    This sounds kinda familiar. I read a lot of MDH as a youngster (my fave was Wait Till Helen Comes) so I’m pretty sure I read this.Wasn’t there one with a “secret garden” type of thing, and it was like some kind of time portal? The girl at the other end had consumption or something–I remember she coughed up blood into a hankie. There was possibly a doll involved? Am I imagining things?

  2. tctill says:

    I don’t think I ever read this one. It doesn’t really sound like something I would have liked as a child (among other things, I’m pretty sure the name “Madigan” would have bugged me; I only liked “pretty” names like Stacey and Jessica). Your recap was entertaining, though!

  3. colleenn says:

    I never read this one, so I was picturing the usual “little kids trying to solve a ‘mystery’ where there really isn’t one” type of plot until you got to the part about gagging her and tying her up in the back of the van… that took me by surprise. 🙂 I think the concept of a boarding house would’ve confused me when I was a kid if I’d read this. I don’t think I quite got what that was until I saw Forrest Gump. 🙂

  4. beeshers says:

    I never read this, but ha on the rape van! Can I feel ya up? *points to creepy van*

  5. bubba says:

    I never read this one, so I was picturing the usual “little kids trying to solve a ‘mystery’ where there really isn’t one” type of plot until you got to the part about gagging her and tying her up in the back of the van… that took me by surprise. :)Um… what.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hey! Great blog! I've heard that when someone says "the poet" they are referring to Shakespeare 🙂

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