Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book #28: The Clue of the Black Keys (1968 Edition)

Unfortunately, in contrast to the previous book, The Secret of the Wooden Lady, this book lacked most of the important elements of a good Nancy Drew novel structure.  There were a few good moments, but it wasn't enough to save this title from being placed in the group with Shadow Ranch and Ivory Charm.

In this story, Nancy is visited by a young Archaeology professor (and when I say young, I don't mean "fifty years young."  He's like twenty-one and a professor somehow), Terry Scott, who wants her to solve a mystery.  While on an excavation, "Professor" Scott (I use sarcastic air quotes only because I have trouble imagining a 21 year-old working his ass off to get a PhD in  Archaeology when beer exists) and his fellow age-appropriate professors found a clue that could lead them to an incredible treasure: a BLACK KEY.   Could it be THE black key?

Well, I'll be honest, guys.  Even after reading the book I'm not sure.

What ensues is, quite frankly, about 115 pages of things almost happening.  Terry and Nancy are run off the road (head injury!) but recover within a page.  Terry Scott is kidnapped but they find him in three pages.  Nancy is bound by the book's main villain in the Drew house but is found right away, uninjured.  Ned is a little wary of Nancy spending her time with such a young, successful man, but then that goes nowhere.

Our villains in the book are also a little bland.  The main guy, Juarez Tino (whose parents must really like Benito Juarez, but I don't know if he's honoring the history of La Reforma, guys...) is in cahoots with his own wife and a few other evil married couples with boring, forgettable names.  Of course, boring and forgettable names can be okay if the villains are cruel and horrible enough.  These guys are just knocking people out, sending fake letters, and starting small fires.  The stakes are never very high (at least for the first 3/4 of the book), so I've honestly forgotten half of what happens in this one and I've just finished it.  The villains' main job for most of the story seems to be to attempt and fail to steal the possibly-titular black key from Nancy.

After the aforementioned 115 pages or so of this slogging narrative pace, things finally pick up.  Nancy goes to Florida with a student group (including one of Terry Scott's professor buddies) and realizes that the "black key" that was referenced might actually be one of the Florida keys.  There was also a ship that sank around there called the Black Falcoln.

Okay, so what are we looking for?  I've forgotten/don't care.

The last portion of the book is more exciting (the only reason this book gets two stars instead of 1 or 1 1/2), with Nancy and some new friends trekking to the Black Florida Key and being abducted by Juarez Tino, who threatens to torture Nancy if one of Scott's professor pals doesn't lead him to the treasure.  They then head to Mexico, and the boring-ass villains are apprehended and forced to dig up the treasure and watch it walk away with the Mexican government.  Which is by far the best moment of the whole story.

It took me forever to get through The Clue of the Black Keys.  Characters were introduced, but never developed, so I often ended up saying to myself: "Wait, who's this guy, now?"  Bess and George were once again relegated to girly window-dressing as their only job in this book was to tease Nancy about the totally nonexistent affair between her and Terry Scott.  Nancy goes to Florida and ends up sleuthing with a girl named Fran, but we barely find out any back-story on her so we just glaze over it.  This is all to say nothing of the fact that I'm still not clear on which black key is THE black key.

Also, more racism, but the insidious "hidden" racism that led to this: 

Sigh.  2/5 mags.  Which is generous.

Head Injuries: 1 (13 total)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book #27: The Secret of the Wooden Lady (1950)

The Secret of the Wooden Lady is truly one of the more perfect Nancy Drew novels.  Old and new editions alike.

Our story starts out in River Heights, where Nancy finds out about a mystery she will soon join her father in solving--an old SAILOR (I'll get to that, don't worry) Captain Easterly, who is searching for the deed to a clipper ship he's fallen in love with named the Bonny Scot.

But, before Nancy can leave, she's called by Bess, who is at that moment being burglarized!  Nancy drives straight over to the Marvin house but, when she heads in to look for Bess, a hand grabs her from behind and shoves her into the back seat of her car.

Whoa.  For a minute there I thought Nancy Drew was about to get really serious.  Like "very special episode" serious.  But, don't worry guys.  We won't need to call in River Heights: CS.  It's just another head injury.  In fact, the burglar causes her to pass out with what seems an awful lot like the Vulcan death grip, but not before Nancy notices about twenty details about the guy's hands.

Nice, Nancy.  Anyhoo, she wakes up and finds poor Bess huddled in a closet.  After this incident, Bess and George are more than ready for a little vacation from River Heights, so they join Nancy and Carson after a day in Boston.

Which brings me to Captain Easterly.  Totally okay that he's a sailor, given that he operates out of Boston Harbor.  That makes the kind of sense I can get behind.  A kind but gruff older man, Captain Easterly's first love is the sea (of course) but running a close second is his precious Bonny Scot.  Without finding the original owner, he cannot get a clean title and buy the ship, a situation made even worse by a mysterious stowaway that has been ransacking the ship's quarters.

Nancy and co. try to run down the stowaway a few times, but only manage to get a description: He dresses like a sailor and has a crazy grizzled face.  So, henceforth, he is known as "Grizzle Face."  Ooooh, pretty good name.  Still doesn't beat Snorky, though.  Grizzle face seems to somehow be involved with Flip Fay as well, the man who police know as "The Crow" and might be the same man who robbed the Marvins back in River Heights (because all of these criminals are just stupid enough to follow Nancy right into whatever mystery she's solving...dumb-ass criminals).

Meanwhile, Nancy finds a series of clues based on the missing figurehead of the Bonny Scot (the titular wooden lady) that leads her to discover the original name of the ship: the "Dream of Melissa."  She gets most of her information from a local Maritime book shop, spending hours on end reading in the loft of the store.  This, of course, makes for a perfect "crime research scene," akin to those montages of uncanny detectives poring over old tomes while classical music plays in the background. Love it!

When Nancy finally tracks down the wooden lady, all set to make way for Captain Easterly to find the ship, however, the ne'er do wells are waiting for her.  Grizzle Face, as it turned out, was just a poor salty old petty criminal.  The real bad guys are Flip Fay (a.k.a. The Crow) and his partner Fred Lane (boooorrrriiingg!  get a name like Grizzle Face, guy!).  Nancy, of course, gets her men, but has to deal with multiple ransackings, an abduction, and a nearly deadly storm.

This is definitely one of my favorites, but in this case there's no bias.  I'm almost worried that this review will be quite boring, as The Secret of the Wooden Lady is simply a well-written, finely crafted mystery with no plot holes, few examples of prejudice (mostly because it's like all white people in the book, but still refreshing after the last one) sailors in the right location, and a satisfying ending.  5/5 mags!

Head Injuries: 1 (12 total)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book # 26: The Clue of the Leaning Chimney (Revised Edition)

TW/CW: this book is SUPER racist. Other books have also been (Ivory Charm, Clue in the Old Album, etc.) but I feel the need to point out the obvious problematic elements more clearly in this review because it’s that bad.
Um, okay. I’ll be honest, I’m not too sure what to say about this one. First of all, for the first two-thirds of the book, Nancy is on a rather dull search for some stolen vases and a clay pit. Second of all, even when the action does speed up, the book (even revised) is so peppered with insensitive and derogatory terms about Asian Americans I can’t stop to enjoy any of it.
Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…
Nancy is asked by a friend of Bess’s, Dick Milton (which of course just makes me call him “Whole-Grain Penis Bread” in my head), to find a vase that was stolen from his storefront. Turns out, the vase wasn’t for sale but a precious antique that belonged to a local man named Mr. Soong. WARNING: Mr. Soong is NOT Data’s dad, Dr. Noonien Soong. Don’t get excited, as I did, that this will finally be the book in which Nancy is proven to be an android. What follows is scene after scene with horrifying racial slurs about “those Orientals,” and “Chinamen.”
Oyyyyyyyyyyy. Nancy, Chinaman is NOT the preferred nomenclature. Also, please stop being so racist. Reviewing these books while medium-woke is a real eye-opener.
Anyways, Dick (henceforth to be referred to as Whole-Grain Penis Bread) tells Nancy to speak to Soong for him and also see if she can find a mysterious place within the River Heights with a leaning chimney — it might just have a China clay pit that could solve all of Whole-Grain Penis Bread’s money problems. He’s been looking for this leaning chimney FOREVER, guys! Nancy does find the titular leaning chimney — actually, after a short drive, she finds a leaning chimney, finds a secret passageway in that old woman’s home, then finds ANOTHER leaning chimney house across the grounds which is apparently the REAL leaning chimney.
Okay, again, two things. First of all, Whole-Grain Penis Bread must not have been looking too hard. Because Nancy took a casual drive with friends and managed to find not one but TWO leaning chimneys. Second of all, HOW ARE THERE SECRET PASSAGEWAYS IN EVERYONE’S HOME? Should the entrance sing to River Heights say: “Welcome to River Heights — Home of the Nation’s Biggest Sailor Retirement Home! And largest network of secret passageways! And also Nancy Drew!”? Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good secret passageway. Bring ’em on. But it makes me wonder if River Heights was like a crazy den of secrecy and crime at one point. Oh, wait…
Back to our story. After finding both leaning chimneys, Nancy talks to Mr. Soong and discovers that, not only is he missing a vase, but some family friends who were supposed to arrive five years ago from China and never made it (little late, Soong). Of course, Nancy is on that case now as well.
Well, of course they are. Because they are all connected to people from China[sarc]. Seriously, reading this book, I kind of felt like I was having a conversation with my late Nana. Now, I know that this is indicative of the phrases of the time, but it needs to be pointed out, much like the awesome but problematic Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Nancy pieces together clue after clue, discovering that the main crook is actually half-Chinese himself so APPARENTLY that’s why he’s going around stealing and replicating only China Clay vases. Um, because if he were white, he’d only be stealing Hummel Figurines? What?!
Not much makes sense in this book. All we really know is that the crook (and his brother, who apparently looks “Chinese enough” to impersonate Mr. Soong, because all the store-owners in town just say “Um, I don’t know. He looked like a Chinaman.” when Nancy wants a detailed description) are holding Soong’s friends, the Engs, captive to create fake vases to sell.
Everything works out in the end — The Engs, Mr. Soong and Whole-Grain Penis Bread are all happy — but I’m left with a big cring-ey feeling. There are some worthwhile parts, but all in all I have to give this one a low 2/5 mags.

Head injuries: 0 (11 total)
Secret Passageways: 1, but it's got to be close to fifty total.
Derogatory phrases: Like a million.  Seriously.  Okay, not seriously but hyperbolically because I need you to understand just how many there were.