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.