Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book # 25: The "Ghost" of Blackwood Hall (Revised Edition)

Nancy vs. PEOPLE WHO ARE TOO STUPID TO LIVE...

...is what this book should be called.  First of all, please note that I have once again utilized the sarcastic quotation marks for the word "ghost."  This is because, not only is there no ghost, but Nancy isn't even entertaining the idea that there MIGHT be a ghost.  The only one who ever believes in ghosts in these books is Bess.  I'd really like to have Nancy see a floating translucent dude and say: "Wow, that might actually be a ghost."  But she never does.  There are no ghosts according to Nancy, only "logical explanations."

Since I'm ragging on the book already, you might be wondering why I didn't have the same bitter reaction to The Mystery of the Tolling Bell.  Well, that's because Tolling Bell was really, really good.  This book has an interesting premise that just ends up getting bogged down by a plot that never makes up its mind about what it wants to focus on and characters who are literally so stupid that you want to throw the book against the wall.

Seriously.  I have no idea how Nancy Drew didn't just throw her hands up and yell (in a Cartman voice, because that's how I'm imagining it): "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

The "plot" centers around Nancy helping an elderly woman who has buried her jewels someplace and doesn't remember where.  WHY would she do such an idiotic thing?  That's right--a ghost told her to.  Nancy attempts to help old Mrs. Putney, who thinks she is receiving messages from her late husband, but often hits a wall when the woman refuses to follow her advice and is even downright hostile during the investigation.  Throughout her investigation, Nancy finds a number of people (including Mrs. Putney) who have been duped into going to seances and then tricked out of their money.  There are two young women in particular, Lola and Sadie, who have been giving their entire paycheck to a "Three Branch Ranch," which already sounds either like a cult or a retreat for polygamists.

Either way, these women are throwing all of their money away based on the word of dead relatives--and sometimes not even very close dead relatives at that.  Why on earth would your loved one give up the afterlife to hang out and give you stock tips?!  C'MON, PEOPLE!

The problem with this story in particular, is that we're never really pulled into it.  In most Nancy Drews, we become familiar with a certain location (whether it be another town, a dance studio, an old Inn or even someone's never-ending attic) and let our imaginations follow Nancy on her journey.  In this book, Nancy, Bess and George go on road trips to the woods and I think: "Ooohh, spooky woods?"  They head to New Orleans at one point and figure out a connection with some racketeers there and the Three Branch Ranch scheme and I'm thinking: "Oooohhh, New Orleans!"  But then they come back again after like ten pages.  By the time they finally get to Blackwood Hall, I'm just not immersed.

Not to mention the fact that Nancy's charity case this week is a bunch of FRIKKIN' IDIOTS.  I'm sorry but all of the women being duped by fake ghosts in this story deserve to have their money stolen if they're going to be that stupid.  Oh, wait.  I'm NOT sorry.  Even Nancy loses her patience at one one with the bone-headed Mrs. Putney, who keeps asking Nancy why she's never around when she calls (Um, she's investigating YOUR mystery!  Shut up, you old bag!) and then proceeds to let unmarked black towncars take her to fake seances.  When her money is once again stolen, she reacts to Nancy coldly and tells her she's been dropping the ball and she won't speak to her again.  Of course, at this point I'm praying that Nancy will grow some oves (my new word for lady-balls--like it?) and kick this dunce to the curb.  But of course she doesn't because she's just too curious.

In the end, there's not a real ghost and everyone gets their money back.  Yaaaayyyyy (weakly).  This one gets 2/5 mags.  Even the scene where Nancy and Ned get caught in quicksand is a bit boring.  And quicksand should NEVER be boring.

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Head Injuries: 1 (11 total)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book # 24: The Clue in the Old Album

It's Lethal Weapon, starring Nancy Drew and Co.!

Nancy is our requisite "loose cannon" a' la' Martin Riggs

Bess "I'm too hungry for this shit!" Marvin as Murtaugh

Except that Bess AND George aren't in this nearly as much as I wish they were.  Again, while they appear from time to time, they are relegated to the "feminine" plots--in this case, doll shopping.  The reason I liken this one to Lethal Weapon is because, much like the L.W. movies, an entire race of people is basically our villain.  Gypsies.

Sure, there are a few clear villains throughout.  A self-described "Gypsy King" who steals fortune-telling money from his tribe and a shrewd orange-haired woman named Nitaka.  Actually, her hair is always described as "carrot-colored" so I will henceforth refer to her as Carrot Top.  Throughout the book, the Romani are depicted as rude, shifty, superstitious, and crazeballs.

That's right. Crazeballs.  Not Amazeballs or even Crazemazeballs.  Crazeballs.

The story starts out with Nancy witnessing an older woman's purse being stolen (by a Gypsy, of course, despite the fact that the culture is also depicted as never intermixing with other people--a truer stereotype than most of ND's quaint racisms although I'm starting to suspect the era of some tribes' secrecy is waning, what with TLC's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and all.  Anyhow, the older woman is this book's charity case, Mrs. Struthers, grandmother to an unruly and practically Gypsy-like granddaughter, Rose.  Well, this is of course because Rose is half Romani.  The stereotyping continues.  Mrs. Struthers' daughter, Enid, married a Romani violinist, only to die of a broken heart (but probably cancer) when the man left her alone to raise their daughter.  Mrs. Struthers wonders if Nancy can help her solve the mystery of a missing doll and the child's missing deadbeat dad.

What ensues is an uneven romp that attempts to make doll shopping interesting, which it's clearly not, so they throw in a bunch of really dramatic "gypsy spookiness."  In one totally befitting the term "crazeballs," Nancy and Ned go to the carnival and end up buying tickets to a live screening of TLC's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding!  Oh, but not.  It's a fourteen year old child bride being married off to a middle aged man, who gives her a doll to symbolize the fact that, even though she is marrying him, she is still a child.  Um, do I need to switch to RIVER HEIGHTS: CRIMINAL SUSPICIONS format?

[clang clang!]

Nancy Drew: Looks like we've got ourselves a regular sex traffic jam.

Ned Nickerson: (shaking head) Sick bastard...

Alright, that's enough.  But seriously, the concept of child brides gives me what can only and forever be described as the heebie jeebies.

Nancy eventually discovers Rose's not-so-deadbeat-dad, who was being held captive by the tribe, and finds the missing doll which, in an odd turn, has some kind of magic curative power.  Ugh.  I seriously don't love when Nancy Drew books never cop to real hauntings but seem to take stock in weird New Agey potions, much like in The Mystery of the Ivory Charm in the final scene which I still say is too stupid to summarize.

At the very end, when the Romani tribe is trying to escape with Rose, her father, and Nancy, the wagons are stopped by the police with Carson, Bess, and George.  The Gypsy King and Carrot Top chortle at the authorities.  "Muhaahahaaa!" they cry.  "Diplomatic immunity!" but then Bess shoots them both with a .45 and says: "HAS BEEN REVOKED."  She then slowly shakes her head and says: "Damn.  I'm too hungry for this shit."

Okay, so that didn't really happen.  Nor were Bess and George present.  Unfortunately.

This book was not nearly so disappointing as Ivory Charm, but it wasn't great either.  I found that my favorite parts centered around Ned Nickerson, who is clearly growing desperate to show Nancy how he feels.  At one point, Nancy jokingly asks Ned if he wants his fortune told, and he tells her his future is pretty much set: he'll "go into business, prosper, and marry a certain ambitious young lady named..."

Omigod! Is it NANCY DREW?!

Well, of course it is, but she cuts him off before he can say it, leading them into My Big Fat Chi-Mo Wedding.

Frakkin' Nancy!  Wake up and smell the eligible bachelor!  I know you're not ready to get married at eighteen, which is fine, but throw him a damn bone, would you?!

So, this one gets a 3/5 mags.  This has been a fairly uneven review but, to be fair, it was an uneven story.

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UPDATE: I've thought about it, and, despite the good parts, this book really was a bit lower, score-wise.  2 1/12 out of 5 mags.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book #23: The Clue in the Tolling Bell (revised edition)

Hee hee!  This one is my favorite of the old series!  So, basically you should prepare for a totally biased review.  Still snarky, but biased all the same.

Nancy is asked by Carson Drew to accompany him to Candleton, a town by Whitecap Bay, to help a client who has been taken in by a Ponzi scheme that preys on the only modestly wealthy.  Evidently, this bay was far enough for Carson Drew to decide to take a plane (so let's say over 250 miles).  But it is probably short enough for Nancy, Bess and George to take one car and Ned to take another.

Okay, I'm just going to call it: I'm going to stop trying to figure out where River Heights is.  It's supposed to be Midwestern, close-ish to Chicago, along the Muskoka River (which is only in Ontario), and also close enough to the ocean that they keep taking seaside vacations and the town is littered with sailors.  It must be like Springfield on The Simpsons.  Somehow desert, plains, mountains and ocean adjacent.  So, other than the occasional incredulity over the sheer number of sailors, I'm gonna keep my mouth shut.

So, the girls reach Candleton and find Mrs. Chantrey, Mr. Drew's client.  Having been swindled out of all her money, Mrs. Chantrey is trying harder than ever to get her small sandwich shop off the ground.  The girls are on their way to her shop when Bess is drawn like a moth to flame to a perfume cart with a "foreign-looking" woman named Madame selling what can only be described as ass perfume, but is trademarked "Mon Coeur."  Bess is tricked into buying it, and is mocked mercilessly by George until they arrive at Mrs. Chantrey's Saldandee Shop.

Here's a hint: Madame is selling products from the same front-company that swindled Mrs. Chantrey!

  When the girls arrive at the cafe, Mrs. Chantrey is short a few waitresses so the girls step in.  Of course, Nancy uses this not for resume experience but to track down another mystery.  Oh, Nancy.  Mysteries are like Pringles to you, aren't they?  Once you pop, you can't stop...  Anyway, Nancy meets a mysterious older man named Amos Hendricks--A.H. for short-- who leaves behind a clue about an antique Paul Revere Bell.  He wants to search White Cap Bay as well because there is a legend concerning a ghost with a tolling bell at Bald Head Cave, warning seafarers to stay away from the cave during high tide with a warning.

Oh yeah!  A haunting!!!!

It's been a while since there's been even a fake haunting so I'm excited despite Nancy's vulcan-like conclusions that there must be a logical explanation.  Whatever, Nancy.

Nancy, Bess and George head out to the cave on the bay, but are nearly drowned when the bell rings and water rushes out of the entrance.  Poor Bess has to drag a barely conscious George and Nancy somehow ends up on the face of the cliff by the cave.  She claims she doesn't know how she got up there, but I'm assuming she saw something that interested her and impulsively ditched Bess and George.  I love Nancy and all, but this really is her M.O.  So, she decides to climb the rest of the cliff and meet up with them later, but ends up passing out when she smells something strange.

What comes next can only be described as an acid-induced nightmare in which Nancy imagines she is being carried by two elves in full costume who are talking shit about her as she sleeps.  Awesome.  Of course, "There must be a logical explanation" Nancy eventually figures out that the dream was partially real, but the elves were just two really short guys.

A drugged Nancy is eventually picked up by Ned, who arrived in town and ran into Bess and George, who have of course been worried sick and, by now, must be thinking that Nancy needs a leash.  Which she does. When they get back to Mrs. Chantrey's house, the group realizes that Carson Drew isn't yet in Candleton--which is very strange considering he specifically took a plane in order to get there faster.  Because this is many years ago and Nancy can't just text him, everybody tries to convince her that he sent a telegram that just didn't make it.  Nancy doesn't believe that, though, and is not surprised when she gets a call that her father has been found...

DEAD.

Just kidding.  He's not dead, but definitely all drugged up and probably dreaming of elves of his own.  Nancy and Ned rescue him after an almost comical Weekend at Bernie's-esque scene with a fully high on fumes Carson Drew being dragged out of one room by Nancy and then into another by one of the villains is disguise.  Poor Carson.  But he recovers fast, and starts again on the mystery of the foreign man selling bad stock to single older women.  They really do use the word "foreign" a lot in these books.

Meanwhile, Nancy masochistically decides to go back to Bald Head Cave.  You know, where all those people drowned.  Bess says: "Aw HELLS to the no" and I have to say I agree with her.  Regardless, the girls end up going with Nancy so she won't go off by herself and get killed.  When they run into A.H.: Bell Hunter, they invite the man to go with them.  Bess, George and Nancy go off to investigate the cliffside and end up being ditched by A.H., who leaves them stranded on a thin beach about to get hit by high tide.  He later explained that he "remembered he had a meeting."

Um, last I checked, missing a meeting is better than criminally negligent homicide, A.H.  But the girls are fine, so he ends up off the hook.  Ugh.  A.H. Might as well stand for Ass-Hat as far as I'm concerned.

Nancy finds a small cottage on the top of the cliff over the cave that looks like it was abandoned suddenly, and has a strong instinct that it is somehow connected to the Bald Head Cave mystery.  Of course, she's right.  There is a secret passageway leading to an underground lab which serves as the headquarters for Mon Coeur, the ass perfume I mentioned earlier.  The head villain, Tyrox, along with Madame and the really short dudes (one of whom is named Grumper.  I mean, that's an elf name if I ever heard one), have been manufacturing ass perfume and knock-out drugs (which were responsible for Nancy's acid dream) and counting all the money they've stolen from hard-working individuals.  Grumper had been posing as a ghost in the cave to keep people from investigating the area and ringing a bell that ended up being the very same Paul Revere bell A.H. was looking for.

The real hero of the day, however, is George, who finds help and holds down the fort when Nancy is trapped in the cave and nearly drowned at high tide.  Bess and Ned also show remarkable bravery in this one.  At one point, Bess even helps to pin down a suspect.  I mean, it was Grumper, so it was a lot easier, but still.

In the end, most victims (except poor Bess who is stuck with the ass perfume) get their money back and the villains are apprehended.  When Nancy and Ned are strolling along the beach on a well-deserved break, Ned says he has another mystery for Nancy: why it is that she always changes the subject when he brings up something that isn't mysterious?  Oooohh, well-played Ned.  But, of course, Nancy just laughs it off and Ned cries inside because all he wants is for Nancy to pay more attention to him.

The End?

AWESOME.  Predictably, and despite some small flaws, I overlook all and give this one a 5/5 mags.  Points for nostalgia!!!

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Head Injuries: 1/2 (Nancy passes out and kind of hits her head before she's carries off by elves.  This makes our head injury count an even 10)
Incidence of the word "ass" in this review: 5



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book #22: The Clue in the Crumbling Wall

Head injuries!  Explosions, plural!  Bess and George--finally part of the action again!  Woo-hoo!

The Clue in the Crumbling Wall is the first book in a while that really features Bess and George as Nancy's, ehm, partners in anti-crime again.  The book draws us in with the story of a famous dancer, Juliana Johnson, who was engaged to a local wealthy recluse named Walter Heath (who owns Heath Castle, which seems pretty similar in description to Hearst Castle in California), and her disappearance.  The dancer's sister, Mrs. Fenimore, and her daughter Joan are this book's charity case as they cannot claim the fortune until Juliana is found.  Joan is described as a pretty little eight year old girl who has had brushes with the law.

Crap, really?!

When you're eight years old and have already had "brushes with the law," that's not a good sign.  However, it would appear that little Joan's bad deeds area always egged on by a local neighborhood tough, Teddy Hooper.  Teddy is a few years older and has already secured his Dangerous Minds reputation by snatching purses, including Nancy's.  Ohhh-ho-ho.  Teddy, you just snatched the wrong purse, friend.

Nancy, of course, takes the case, and what ensues is an action-packed, though slightly repetitive storyline.  Each day, Nancy, Bess and George go over to Heath Castle to look for clues and each day they are foiled for various reasons.  Big dogs, sinister-looking men, George's clothes getting stolen...

What?  Rewind.

Yes, George falls into a pond at one point when she and Nancy (Bess is of course waiting in the car because she could not make it past the dogs who apparently smell fear) are traversing the estate.  She removes her clothes to dry them, evidently hanging out au natural until she can take off.  Then, in a plot turn not unlike the summer classic Porky's, a ten year-old boy swipes her clothes.  Awwwwkkkkkwwaaarrrdd.

So, at this point in the story, Bess is trapped by the bloodthirsty hounds, George is nude, and Nancy is off doing whatever the hell she wants which is usually the case.  I think she might have been trapped in a tower.  But that seems a flimsy excuse while George is trying to fashion pants out of large plants and Bess is dealing with Kujo.  So, I forgive the repetitiveness, because this whole sequence is awesome.

Oh, and by the way, the ten year old boy who steals George's clothes is Teddy Hooper.  Duh! Duh! Duh! Duh! Duh! Duh! DUH! duh!  As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realize there's nothin' left!  That's right, Teddy Hooper is livin' in a gangsta's paradise.  I'm guessing his parents have something to do with the goings-on at Hearst Castle.  And, since it's not super-integral to the plot, I'll tell you: one of the dudes tearing apart the castle and stealing all the furniture is Mr. Hooper.  But not the kindly old shopkeeper from Sesame Street.  A total douche Mr. Hooper.

You might notice I haven't mentioned the villains yet.  Well, that's because it's quite clear who the villain is from the beginning and he has a boring name.  It's the estate lawyer.  Because, apparently, all lawyers are crooked except for Carson Drew in this reality.

There is a character named Salty, a neighbor of Nancy's who sells clams from the river and occasionally helps the girls get over to the castle from the river side.  Now, Salty is not a villain, but in fact is a retired SOMETHING.  Can you guess what?

You can't?  C'mon!  What's the number one out-of-work occupation for older men in River Heights?  That's right.  He's a SAILOR.  So, at this point, I imagine that the entrance sign to River Heights says: "Welcome to River Heights--Home of the Nation's Biggest Sailor Retirement Home!  And also Nancy Drew!"  Yep, pretty sure that's what it says.

So, with the help of Salty, her father, and Bess and George, Nancy finally finds a few valuable hints within the wall of the castle and tracks down Juliana Johnson.  Her story turns out to be a sad one, as she was paralyzed in an auto accident and ran off because she couldn't see how Walter Heath could love her as anything but a graceful dancer.  When she realizes that Heath has passed away, and that her family needs her, Juliana returns, deciding to turn Heath Castle into a home for disabled children.  It's a feel good ending that would do any Lifetime movie proud.  Although, in Lifetime movie form, it would be called A Dancer No More: The Juliana Johnson Story.  Oh, Lifetime movies!

So, this one was a page-turner.  I would generally give it a 4/5 just because it does get a bit old with the constantly returning to the castle only to have to escape, but the near farce that was George's clothes getting stolen and Bess sneaking into the villain's car only to be faced with the same pack of dogs, was just priceless.  I give this one a 4 1/2 out of 5 mags!

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Head Injuries: 1 (9 1/2 total)
Explosions: 2 (7 total)
Sailors: 1 more out of a number too big to count...

Book #21: The Secret in the Old Attic (1944/1970 comparison)

1944 Edition

In this page-turner, Nancy is asked by a retired soldier to help him find out why the music written by his son is suddenly turning up on local radio.  Phillip March is the perfect Nancy Drew charity case--an older man, a widower, and the sole caretaker of an adorable towheaded granddaughter.  Also, despite the fact that he owns a large house, he is too old to continue working and has become quite poor.  Not just "sub-par servants" poor.  Really poor.  In any event, we really want Nancy to help him.

At the same time, Carson Drew asks his daughter to use her high school connection with a spoiled socialite named Diane Dight to investigate whether the girl's father has illegally stolen the formula for a fine silk process from Drew's client.  This low-level corporate intrigue would generally be kind of a snooze-fest, but there's another wrinkle: Ned might be interested in the snobby princess Diane Dight!

Whaaaaaaaaa?!!!!

No way, I'm sure you're thinking to yourself.  Ned would never be interested in a girl who has to have a new dress made every time she goes out for the day.  Well, I thought so too, but in this lurid, US Weekly turn, Ned has not been calling on Nancy--not to mention the fact that he has failed to invite her to the big Emerson Dance!  Both Bess and George already have dates (George is going with the irrepressible Buck Rodman, who is apparently not escorting Helen Corning to dances anymore) and Bess has some other date.  Um, where the hell are Burt and Dave?

Anyhoo, more on that plot line after we hear all about the Bieber Egg-pocalypse and Kim Kardashian's latest ass-themed selfies!

Oh, er...I mean...the book.

Nancy, always the picture of class, pushes her feelings aside and keeps looking for the missing music at Phillip March's house--mainly in the titular old attic.  Yes, this attic is old, but you know what else it is?  GINORMOUS.  After pages and pages, Nancy seemingly hasn't been able to look at the whole thing.  It's like one of those rooms in a cartoon chase scene that just goes on and on and on.  The only thing Nancy stumbles across is an old skeleton, which Mr. March laughs off as "something his son kept around."

Um, what?  Unless you're a biologist, that isn't exactly the same as having a Sports Illustrated standee.

When Mr. March's granddaughter, Susan, gets the measles, Nancy must bring in reinforcements.  Will it be Bess and George?  Well,  not really.  Though they've shown up in almost every book, they haven't exactly been part of the action lately.  No, Nancy calls Effie, the over-reactive, flighty and incredibly annoying maid from earlier in the series.  And, as predicted, Effie doesn't actually help much, unless you count screaming a lot and calling Nancy incessantly to make her come back.  Which I don't.

Meanwhile, she slips away to try and solve the second mystery of the fabric copyright infringement, likely knowing as I do that the two mysteries will somehow become one.  You're a smart one, Nancy.  You're catching on.  The supposed spy who sold Mr. Dight the formula is one Bushy Trott (VILLAIN!  VILLAIN!), a dark-eyed cruel-looking man with bushy black hair.  Ever notice that ND villains never look like the normal everyman?  It must make those mysteries easier to solve.

When Nancy calls on Diane Dight to get more information, she is heartbroken when she sees a hand-addressed invitation from...duh Duh DUH...Ned Nickerson!  Beside herself, Nancy calls on her friends, who basically say "Screw Ned, go to the dance anyway."  George tries to convince Nancy to accept the numerous invitations from Horace Lally, but Nancy finds him about as appealing as Mortimer Bartesque. Heh.  She even has a series of disturbing nightmares in which she's airborne, trying to fly after an ever-escaping Ned and Horace Lally is a large squawking bird chasing her.  Creepy.

Did I mention that Horace Lally is Diane Dight's cousin?  Hmmmmm...

Back to the mystery.  So, Nancy finally makes it past the numerous black widow spiders in the attic (which, coincidentally, are the same type of spider Bushy Trott uses to spin silk at the Dight Factory) and finds the compartment with the hidden music.  Too late.  Most of the music has been taken, composed and aired on the radio under a series of obviously false names.  D'OH!  Well, there's still more of the attic to explore.  Somehow.  She keeps looking, and finally finds a secret compartment (I should really start counting those too...) and the piano in which the rest of the music is stored.  But, just as she grasps the stolen music, Bushy Trott arrives and threatens her with black widow spiders that apparently do his bidding now.  Just as Nancy thinks this is it, she's rescued...BY NED!

Apparently, Ned (worried when Nancy wasn't where she said she'd be) finally called on the house and discovered that he had been given false information about Nancy's whereabouts.  He had asked her to the dance ages ago via-telegram but received a reply saying she would be out of town.  When Diane Dight called and invited herself along, Ned reluctantly agreed and sent her an invitation to the event, not knowing that it was Diane herself that intercepted the telegram meant for Nancy.

Dude.  I call bitch.

And so does everyone else, including her own father.  When Nancy, Carson, Ned, and all the rest have Bushy Trott arrested, they also go to confront Mr. Dight.  He apparently had no idea that the formula was stolen, but it was his brother (Horace Lally's father) who actually participated in both the thefts of the music and the silk process.  When he hears about Diane's behavior, he rips her a new one and she runs off in tears.

Haha!  Comeuppance!!!

This one was good, although I was mostly bored by the stolen-formula subplot and kind of sad that, for the third book in a row, Bess and George were relegated to "girly" storylines only.  This one gets a 4/5 mags.

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1970 Edition

This one will be brief.  Upon reading the rewrite, I found that the two are almost identical, writing-wise, save for the complete omission of the Emerson Dance subplot and a few of the "quaint racisms."
While I did NOT miss the latter, I found myself missing one of the rare personal storylines outside of the Nancy Drew Files.

I give this one 3 1/2 mags.  It has the same issues as the original, and deletes one of the more interesting plots.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Book #20: The Clue in the Jewel Box (1972 edition)

This is what Ivory Charm should have been.  It has a strong plot focus--Nancy is asked by an older woman who turns out to be an ex-queen ousted by revolutionary factions in her native land, [insert fictional Eastern-European country name here].  It also has a fairly amusing subplot including identical pickpocketers.  Don't worry--I will elaborate and make up a little song about it later.

The Clue in the Jewel Box begins with Nancy meeting an older woman named Ms. Alexandra.  She was queen in her country until revolutionary forces came, executing her entire family, save for a grandson who was taken to America by the royal nanny to spare him.  All she has left of her grandchild is some scattered information and a picture of the toddler in a sailor uniform (Saiiiiilloooorsss!)  

Later that day, because it makes sense that an Eastern European queen AND her long-lost grandson would somehow end up in River Heights, Nancy helps a man whose pocket has been picked.  As it turns out--HE HAS THE SAME PICTURE OF THE SAILOR BABY!

Wow.  It's a good thing I'm not bothered too much by ludicrous coincidences, Stratemeyer Syndicate.  Because if that were a crime, you guys would be guilty on ALL counts.

So Nancy introduces the young man to Ms. Alexandra.  While he has the picture and some credentials, however, Nancy isn't quite sure that he's really the long lost prince.  Why, you ask?  Because he slurps his food and asks invasive questions.  Surely this uncivilized man can't be a prince.  Uh, maybe a prince who was brought to AMERICA as a toddler, Nancy!  Remember America?  The land of rude slobs?

Of course, Nancy is right.  The young man, who is now proudly going by Prince Michael and squandering Ms. Alexandra's dwindling fortune, is this book's requisite total a-hole.  Not only does he slurp his food, but he has a large ill-tempered dog that he keeps trying to leave at people's houses (despite the fact that the dog HAS tasted the blood of a mailman and is clearly thirsty for more), he's cheating his alleged grandmother out of her riches, imposing himself at every opportunity, and he keeps hitting on Nancy in front of Ned.  Um, NOT COOL, Fake Prince Michael.

Ned ends up orchestrating an elaborate ditching of the prince on an island in the middle of the Muskoka river, which is a little bit harsh, but...like I said, the guy is a TOTAL A-HOLE.  Nancy also is forced to call the dog warden (which I didn't know was a thing, and made me imagine dogs in prison carving shanks out of old bones and giving each other tattoos) and have the dog hauled off.  After the "ditching a prince and getting rid of his dog" incidents, Nancy goes out of her way to avoid him, trying to come up with some evidence that the "prince" isn't who he says he is.

This might be a good time to tell you about the side-mystery.  Remember when I said Nancy met Fake Prince Michael because a pickpocket targeted him?  Well, the pickpocketer is the other villain of the story.  However, there's a slight problem.  When the pickpocketer targeted FPM (Fake Prince Michael), another man is accused.  But Nancy saw a man that looked just like the alleged criminal running away.  It would seem that the pickpocketer has a double!  For the rest of the book, Nancy continues to spot the pickpocketer, only to realize that it was the other man, David Dorrance.  Nancy and Dorrance even work out a signal--he will wave a white handkerchief to show Nancy he is not the criminal.

But did you ever stop to consider, Nancy, that THE DOUBLE IS ALWAYS IN THE SAME PLACE AS THE PICKPOCKETER?  Isn't that a little strange?  I mean, River Heights may be filled with sailors and impossibly connected relatives and treasure seekers, but...it's a small town, yo.

What ensues is a Moliere-esque farce of Nancy running after the pickpocketer, in scene after scene, only to have a white handkerchief waved in her face.  Just when you think Nancy's about to totally Hulk out, it finally comes to her: they are identical thieves working a scheme.

Yes, they're burglars!  Identical burglars and you'll find...
They steal alike, they nab alike, sometimes they even stab alike!
You could lose a dime!
'Cos these burglars are two of a kiiiiiiinnnndd!

That's for those of you Patty Duke Show fans.  Of course, my mother is the only one I'm sure would get the reference.  Ah, well.

Once she figures out the pickpocketing scheme, the rest sort of falls into place.  In her mystery solving, Nancy meets a young artist named Richard Ellington.  He speaks with the same accent as Ms. Alexandra, so it's pretty obvious that he's Ms. Alexandra's real grandson.  And they even explain the ludicrous coincidence by saying that Richard (/Real Prince Michael) was traveling around the states looking for his grandmother when his Sailorbaby picture and letters were stolen from the train.

Now time to catch the nefarious Fake Prince Michael!  Instead of risking FPM getting away, Nancy decided the only logical course of action is to kidnap the man and tie him up.  Ned, predictably, has NO problem with this.

In the end, the prince is reunited with his grandmother, and engaged to marry a friend of Helen Corning Archer (who I didn't feel the need to mention because she's basically just blabbering on about clothes the whole time).  Everyone is happy, except the guys who are now in jail.  And probably that German shepherd that got dragged off by the dog warden.  Awwwwwww.

Like I said, this was a really good one.  There were a few points where it got a bit slow I found it a bit difficult to swallow that Helen Corning Archer's friend was somehow also from the same small overthrown Eastern European country, but the characters were strong.  FPM was an almost Mortimer Bartescue-level annoyance and actually turned out to be part of the pickpocketing scheme.  It was quite satisfying to see this obsequious ass-hat hauled down to the station.

Oh, and there was a jewel box.  Yikes.  Totally forgot about that.  It's just a treasure of Ms. Alexandra's that gives Nancy the proof she needs to discredit FPM.  So, not important to the whole story, but to the reveal.

I give this one a 4 1/2 out of 5 mags

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Book #19: The Quest of the Missing Map (1969 Edition)

Nancy Drew vs. A Bunch of Sailors in the Midwest

If you have some questions about what a BUNCH OF SAILORS are doing in the Midwest...trust me, so do I.  The Quest of the Missing Map has a few flaws, most notably the number of sailors in the Chicago suburbs (they say they're married to the sea...but do they mean the muddy banks of the Muskoka River?), a slow start, and an abundance of characters that seems to rival Game of Thrones or the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  However, this is a good one.

We start our mystery with a young friend who is deciding whether or not to take a job as a governess to this bratty youth named Trixie Chatham.  Mrs. Chatham seems completely out of it and keeps a distance from her daughter, much like Lady Mary in the latest episode of Downton Abbey (Hah!  Just when you think I'm the least topical blogger ever, reviewing Nancy Drew while making throwaway pop-culture references from the 1990's, I throw that one at you!)  Mrs. Chatham is also recently widowed and, judging by the manner in which Trixie speaks, has made NO effort to teach her daughter proper grammar.  They claim to be living on a somewhat meager insurance policy, but then make offhand remarks about not being able to afford "reliable" servants.  Oh, BOO-FRIKKIN'-HOO.  First world problems, man.

Nancy's friend/Trixie's future governess is also a bit in the red, as she's trying to afford tuition at the music academy she attends.  Based on Mrs. Chatham being a pain in the ass and Trixie being a poorly-spoken pain in the ass, Ellen isn't sure if she wants to take the job.  Then, Nancy finds out that there may be a connection between Ellen and the Chatham's that neither could have anticipated: Ellen's father has a long lost twin brother, both sons of a sailor.  Mrs. Chatham's late husband (also a sailor) is, in fact, that long lost twin brother!

duh DUH DUUHHHH!

Family reunion?  Oh, wait.  Mr. Chatham is dead.  Awkward.

Well, in lieu of a joyous reunion, we have a treasure hunt!  Each brother is said to have half a map that culd lead to infinite riches--which means music school for Ellen and better servants for the Chathams!  Oh, the servants that money could buy!  Maybe they could even get a Carson.  Wouldn't that be grand?!

Okay, so I harbor some bitterness towards rich people.  But, to be fair, it's mostly because they have money.

What ensues is an action-packed, if somewhat repetitive adventure.  Nancy has made a series of copies of the map, both accurate and inaccurate, to trap a couple named Fred and Irene Brown (whoa, boring names for villains) and an old sailor (SAILOR) named Spike Doty.  So, the map is stolen like seven times, but fortunately they are map COPIES of varying inaccuracy.  Because Nancy thinks of everything.  Nancy is kidnapped once and receives a head injury at the accidental hand of Trixie.  Trixie disappears twice, and no one cares.

Ned, Bess, George, Burt and Dave are all featured in the adventure, but don't have as much to do as usual.  At one point, Nancy attends an Emerson dance with Ned and they blindfold her, only to reveal themselves all in masks a moment later.  Um, I'm sorry.  Is this Nancy Drew and the Curious Incident of the College Orgy?  Or is it Eyes Wide Shut?  In any event, it was creepy.  Oh, wait...and Nancy was kidnapped then too.  I'll admit, I'm not sure if it was the same kidnapping.  There are almost as many kidnappings as sailors in this book.

NOW ONTO THE SAILORS.  What in the hell are a bunch of sailors doing living in the Midwest?  And they're not, like, fishermen who go out on the lakes.  They're full-on SAILORS.  Where's your ocean, sailors?!  Is it, like, ONE THOUSAND MILES AWAY?  Well, I'll say this.  It's no wonder these sailors turned to crime, with that kind of commute.  There is just no way to be a sailor and make a profit living 1,000 miles away from your job.  The head villainous sailor is named Spike Doty, although there are more sailors.  One of them is named...wait for it...

SNORKY.

Yep.  I'm calling it.  Best villain name in a Nancy Drew thus far.  And it's not even Snorky Jones, or Snorky McShadypants.  It's JUST Snorky.  Like Cher.  But don't get too attached to your best villain name status, Snorky.  We have Swahili Joe coming up in another 15-20 books.

Snorky gets the gang into all sorts of trouble when they--along with the Chathams, Ellen, and some fraternity brother of Ned's who happens to be a distant relative of the Chathams and Ellen's family--go on a treasure hunting cruise (which they, of course, have to fly to first because they are like a MILLION miles from the ocean).  The fraternity brother, Bill Tomlin, and Ellen have some kind of sexual tension despite the fact that they are cousins.  Move to Shelbyville, Ellen and Bill!  You'll be accepted there!  Anyhoo, Snorky tries to poison several people on-board, but Nancy outwits him.  They eventually find the island and the treasure, easily subduing the various evil sailors.  They were actually pretty easy to catch.  Probably because of all the scurvy.  You know, from living in the Midwest and not being able to afford oranges.

So, of course, with all the villains in jail (Fred and Irene Brown were also caught earlier, but their names made it too boring to mention--next time get a name like Snorky, idiots!) everyone is rich and happy.  Servants for all!

Seriously, I make fun but this one was quite enjoyable.  The incessant map-switching and kidnapping got to be a bit much, as well as the crazy number of characters to follow (The Smiths, the Tomlins, the Chathams, the Sailors, the Browns, and even more I'm too tired to mention).  I give this one a 4/5 mags.

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Head injury count: 1--8 1/2 total
Explosions: Almost one.  But I guess we won't count it.
Kidnappings: 4?  Maybe less.  It seemed like 4.
Sailors: Infinite