Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book #4: The Mystery at Lilac Inn (1961 Edition)

Okay, WOW.  This one was just amazing.  It was another one I haven't read in 10-15 years, and I think part of me was mixing it up with The Whispering Statue plot.  This book starts with Nancy and Helen Corning heading out to Lilac Inn, where their friend Emily is to be married to some guy named Dick.  Heh.  Anyway, Emily and Dick (Heh heh.  Okay, so maybe I have roughly the emotional maturity of this series' target audience...whatever) have purchased the Lilac Inn in order to support themselves after they get married.  Unfortunately, as Nancy soon discovers, a series of "haunted activity" has been taking place at the Inn.

Oh, Yeah!  A Haunting!  Oh, wait...

So, Nancy sets out to try and find the source of the mysterious happenings, with the help of an attractive Best Man (Helen is now about to be married and has crossed over to completely useless), John McBride.  Meanwhile, she hears word from home that the Drew house has been burglarized!  Many of Nancy's clothes, photographs and her charge placard from the local department store have been stolen.  So many of Nancy's things have been targeted that we must wonder...will this be a case with a mysterious Nancy doppelganger?  And...the answer is YES!  Apparently, Nancy Drew is the most generic looking person in the world, because this is the first of about 82 look-a-likes we will see in the series.  Some are just random, but this one is...eeeevvvil.  That's right, Nancy Drew's first doppelganger is roving around doing very bad things and claiming to be Nancy herself.

What.  A.  Biotch.

In the midst of all this, we have a pain-in the ass social director who's got eyes on Carson Drew, a bomb (yes, a BOMB) that goes off in Nancy's cottage, a skin-diving accident (evidently, among Nancy's million talents is skin diving), stolen diamonds, a man-made earthquake, and a g-g-g-ghost sighting (but not really a ghost, as we know by now they NEVER are).  Nancy suspects spoiled social director Maude at first, mostly because she is a total asshole, but, due to some strange incidents, must include the handsome John McBride on her suspect list.  As the story comes to a close, the action picks up even more.  Nancy is abducted and taken to a SHARK-SHAPED SUBMARINE (that's right!) by her doppelganger, who has been at the Inn all along as timid waitress Jean Holmes!  She not only has been planning this whole thing to get the diamonds, but specifically targeted Nancy Drew out of revenge, as Carson Drew prosecuted her for check fraud, ending her acting career five years earlier.  Jean and her gang of misfits go on to explain how they pulled everything off, as criminals will tend to do, giving the authorities enough time to arrive.  Never one to rely on a man saving her, however, Nancy trips her doppelganger, leaving her sprawled face-down on the submarine deck so that she's all ready to be arrested.  Awesome.

This is my first 5 out of 5!

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N.D. Doppelganger Count: 1
N.D. Head Injury Count: 0 (2 total)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book #3: The Bungalow Mystery (1960 Edition)

Alright.  I admit I was going into this one thinking that it was one of my least favorite of the Nancy Drew books. When I started reading, I realized I was remembering the first chapter and then some completely alternate story wherein Nancy is asked to care for this bratty rugrat named something like Trixie.  Was this all a dream?  Having taken a lot of heavy-duty antihistamines around the last time I truly committed to rereading all these books, I can't be sure.

In any event, this one was awesome.  Nancy and her soon-to-be-married friend Helen Corning are vacationing (Ah, to have the Drew's disposable income...) in Moon Lake and get caught in a terrible storm.  All seems lost for the two girls--seriously, for a moment you think the book will start with Helen Corning's death--when they are rescued by another teen girl.  They take refuge in a lakeside bungalow (Hmmm...a bungalooooww) and discover that their savior, Laura Pendleton is in desperate need of some advice.  Her mother recently passed away and her new guardians, the Aborns, make the Thenardiers from Les Miserables look like parents of the year.  Nancy meets the guardians, who seem to be putting on quite an acting job, and leaves the girl with them, but her detective radar is definitely up.

Her suspicions are confirmed when the girl arrives on her doorstep, sobbing and claiming that her new parents locked her in her room and threatened her if she did not hand over her mother's jewels.  Nancy heads back to Moon Lake on her own to do some heavy snooping, and her efforts are rewarded when she sees the nefarious Mr. Aborn sneaking around the woods towards a run-down cabin after nearly running her over in his foreign car.  She sneaks in and discovers...this man was not the real Jacob Aborn.  The crook, whose real name is Stumpy Dowd (What the...nevermind.  I'm not even going to touch that one), has been posing as Laura's guardian but was really just trying to steal her mother's fortune.


Nancy is promptly knocked out (head injury #2!) and tied up, waking to find ole' Stumpy standing over her and an unconscious Mr. Aborn, laughing about how he'd used the old man's money to buy himself a sleek foreign car.  Each time the foreign car is mentioned--about sixteen times--I imagine it as the robot wrestler from Futurama yelling: "I'm not from around here!  I have my own customs!  Look at my craaaazzzzy passport!"

Despite a second traumatic brain injury, Nancy bounces back and gets out of her bindings.  They realize that the crooks have been using the bungalow from the beginning of the story as a hideout, and make a mad dash to stop the ne'er do wells from stealing all of the Pendleton and Aborn money.  The book ends with a dramatic car chase (and one additional head injury for Carson Drew) but, as per usual, Nancy comes out triumphant.  Stumpy and the other no-good crooks sail off a cliff (because villains are always smoking and disobeying traffic signs) at the end, and all of the stolen money and jewels are recovered.  Laura Pendleton is reunited with her real guardians, and they have boatloads of money again.  Awwwwwww.

 I give this one a 4 1/2 out of 5.  Not only was the action great, but the mystery developed over time, and Nancy was even more fearless than usual.

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Head Injury Count: 1 (2 total)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book #2: The Hidden Staircase (1959 Edition)

The second book in the Nancy Drew Mystery stories also starts with a bang, when Nancy hears word from Helen Corning that her aunt and great-grandmother have a ghost haunting their colonial mansion!  

Oh, yeah!  A haunting!

Inevitably, this burst of excitement I get when reading any Nancy Drew with a title or description mentioning "ghosts" or "haunting" dies out when I remember that there are pretty much never ACTUAL ghosts in Nancy Drew Stories.  Much like Scooby Doo, it frequently ends up being no-good swindlers out to scare some poor, simple, unsuspecting person that Nancy feels she must help.  

These swindlers, as I will bring up in later reviews, all seem to have names like Swindly McGee or Stabby Von Stealsabunch. (Oh, the Stabbington Brothers!) And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that snooping teen detective!  Except, even without Nancy's help, how could they not get caught with names like Swindly McGee?  Note to all parents out there: Do NOT name your child Swindly McGee.  It will not look good on his Bank of America job application.

Anyway, my initial flicker of excitement fading, I am ready to focus on the story at hand.  This is actually a pretty good one, too.  Nancy and Helen Corning set out to solve the mystery of these "ghostly" occurrences at Twin Elms, but are foiled at every turn when the mysterious sounds turn up no signs of people, apparitions, or secret hiding places to speak of.  

This book is where you really get an idea of Nancy's character, in my opinion.  She's not just Nancy Drew: Girl Detective. She's Nancy Drew: Problem Solver.  At one point, Ghosty Fugazishire (this will henceforth be how I refer to the unknown probably-a-swindler ghost) sets a large owl loose in Twin Elms and Nancy very skillfully grabs a pair of thick gardening gloves and grabs the bird by its talons, paying no attention to the fact that the owl is pecking her arms to all hell while she gets it out of the house.  I admit, I would have probably just intermittently screamed "OWL!" while frozen in terror.  Nancy Drew is one gutsy broad. 

Meanwhile, an obsequious toad named Nathan Gomber keeps showing up to both: 1) Tell Nancy that her father's life is in danger and she is one hardhearted skank for not dropping everything to stick by his side and 2) Try to trick Helen's elderly aunt into selling her "haunted" house at a very reasonable price.  

Wow, guys.  Do you think HE might be the ghost? Uh-DOI.

Despite a barrage of pitfalls, including a ceiling collapse (Nancy's first head injury...awwwww), a near-heart attack, and the drugging and kidnapping of Carson Drew, Nancy forges on and eventually cracks the entire gang of ne'er-do-wells.  At one point, she asks the police to be "alone" with a suspect while her father is still missing and, for a second, I thought: "Holy shit, is she going to beat a confession out of this guy?!"  However, with just a few words, Nancy convinces the man to admit to his crime.  Wow.  That's even more hardcore.  She should totally be Chief McGinnis' closer.

After finally discovering the underground tunnel system (including the titular hidden staircase), Nancy finds her missing father, and restores the status quo at Twin Elms.  The Hidden Staircase is definitely a good one.  It relied a little too heavily on the "Omigod, a noise!" shtick, with Nancy and Helen constantly making plans to check out noises, only to be tricked over and over again.  I give this one 4/5.

  File:Looking glass Hexagonal Icon.svgFile:Looking glass Hexagonal Icon.svgFile:Looking glass Hexagonal Icon.svgFile:Looking glass Hexagonal Icon.svg   Head Injury Count: 1

Book #1: The Secret of the Old Clock (1959 Edition)

Ah, the first ever Nancy Drew book.  Now, for this particular edition, I have the 1959 copyright version, which describes Nancy as "an attractive girl of eighteen," whereas the 1930 edition lists her as 16 years old.  Of course, the original edition is also littered with blatant racial stereotypes and Nancy is kind of a bitch.  Hmmmm...maybe I'll re-read that one too.

This book really hits the ground running, which is not unusual for Nancy Drew books, but still...I was captivated.  After saving a little girl from being roadkill (because Nancy Drew is practically perfect in every way, much like Mary Poppins), Nancy realizes that the girl is being cared for by two kindly great-aunts, as the girl's own parents were killed...IN A BOAT EXPLOSION.  Sweet Zombie Jesus.  I thought that only happened on, like, Magnum P.I.  

Anyhoo, Nancy discovers that these women, along with several other ridiculously nice people in town (two girls who attempt to run a farm by themselves, and an elderly woman who hasn't eaten in a week because she doesn't have the money), have been tricked out of an inheritance.  They're all baffled that the late Josiah Crowley left his entire fortune to the Tophams, a snobby rich family that puts Billy Zane in Titanic to shame.  I, of course, am now imagining all the hard-working townspeople that have been hoodwinked by the Tophams dancing an Irish Jig on the lower decks.  Ohhhhh.  We love them.  And we HATE the Tophams!

Here's the best part--even though practically perfect Nancy Drew doesn't like to gossip, she hates those Tophams too.  Oh, yeah.  She doesn't show it, what with her being a proper girl, but she hates those Tophams with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.  So, of course, she sets out to find a later will, one which will give her new friends the money they deserve.  And, of course, after lunching with a few judges, chatting with the mayor, and some well-timed eavesdropping (which she tries to cover up as being accidental, but come on, Nancy) on the evil Isabella and Ada Topham, she has her answer: there is a later will.  

Awww.  This shit just got real.  

The rest of the book really is a non-stop thrill ride.  Nancy infiltrates the Topham house by pretending she must sell tickets to a gala, and heads out to her friend Helen Corning's lake house to find the titular old clock.  Unfortunately, some no-good crooks steal the clock before she can check it.  They even go so far as to lock Nancy in a closet.  Oh, helllls no.  Nancy, of course, catches up with the scoundrels while they stop for dinner (rookie move, crooks) and solves the case in one fell swoop.  She then delights in being there as the new will is read aloud, ruining the snobby Tophams (who have evidently been bankrupted due to Mr. Topham's ponzi-esque schemes) and making a new life for Nancy's new friends.  Woo-hoo!

I was really pleasantly surprised reading Nancy's first case.  I often re-read the older titles that have my favorite characters, Bess Marvin, George Fayne, and Ned Nickerson, but The Secret of the Old Clock was just delightful.  I give it a 4 1/2 out of 5.

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Head Injury Count: 0