I think that every single sentence in this book, or at least a great number, could all begin with the word "Coincidentally,".
The Ringmaster's Secret is what Cher in Clueless would call a "Full-on Monet." You know, from far away it seems great but close up it's a hot mess?
The story itself is highly promising: a circus comes to River Heights and Nancy must go undercover as a bareback rider to uncover conspiracy involving the Simms' Circus' best aerialist, Lolita, and a mysterious charm bracelet that could mean a dramatic family reunion.
Coincidentally, Nancy has been taking trick riding lessons from some dude named Senor Roberto who coincidentally used to work for the Simm's Circus. Oh, and Aunt Eloise coincidentally sent Nancy a charm bracelet that could have something to do with a mystery and a circus. Oh, and what's that? A circus is coming to River Heights, and coincidentally, it's the same circus that is connected to the bracelet, Senor Roberto, and an up and coming aerialist named Lolita.
When Nancy goes to the circus parade, she meets Lolita. She is a sweet but sad girl, who Nancy soon discovers is in a secret relationship with a sexy clown named Pietro (that's right--a sexy clown). Lolita is coincidentally also the adopted daughter of the ringmaster (Could he have...a secret? Spoiler: Yes, he does) who seems like the poster child for bipolar disorder, at times charming as a fox and then flying off into a rage and verbally abusing his circus employees. Lolita and Pietro want to be married but the ringmaster, Reinhold Kroon (I declare him guilty with the irrefutable evidence that is his name!), will have none of it. Lolita also recognizes Nancy's bracelet, which, coincidentally, is identical to Lolita's necklace charm.
Nancy agrees to help Lolita, and it soon drawn even further into the action when the circus' bareback rider is injured. The trainer asks Nancy to take over (as she has coincidentally been taking those circus riding lessons) but Nancy must hide her true identity from Reinhold Kroon, who already suspects her in interfering with circus affairs.
In her investigation, Nancy is lightly strangled with a circus whip and pelted with rocks, but she is not to be deterred. After some skillful eavesdropping and clue hunting she discovers that Lolita's real mother might be alive, somehow hidden by the nefarious Kroon. She heads to London, where the woman was last seen (yeah, because London is just a tiny little berg where you can ask local shopkeepers about a small, dark-haired circus performer and they'll just remember) with the sexy clown, to Ned's chagrin. He somehow thinks that Nancy will get U.K. citizenship and elope with the sexy clown, Pietro, despite the fact that 1) That is ludicrous, and 2) The whole mystery is centered around trying to find a way for Lolita to marry Pietro.
Oh, and coincidentally, Pietro's family is also from London. Do criminals and witnesses basically commute between large metropolitan areas and River Heights?
Anyhoo, about twenty thousand coincidences later, Nancy discovers Lolita's mother. She apparently has a condition that can only be described as "drug-induced relapsing-remitting amnesia." The nurses say she has amnesia, but the woman seems to remember everything when Nancy casually brings it up. However, later, she wanders off from her hotel room in what people agree is an amnesia relapse. Like she has a sinus infection that came back.
In any event, Nancy finds proof that Kroon is behind it all. As they are moving to find Lolita, however, the ringmaster pushes Nancy into the lion's cage. Yikes! Ned is there to save her (a device I'm never particularly fond of but it has to happen sometimes I guess) and Kroon is finally put in his own cage, confessing that he took Lolita from her mother and has been drugging said mother and keeping her in a nursing home for years.
Wait. Is the Ringmaster's secret that he's really stupid?
Is it really cost-effective to kidnap a girl, effectively making yourself responsible for her food and general care, shove her mother in a European nursing home (which isn't cheap), and pay a crooked doctor to administer drugs to further her DIRRA (drug-induced relapsing-remitting amnesia)--all because of this girl's potential career as an aerialist?
I'm serious--that's it. There's no treasure. The mysterious bracelet isn't worth crap. It would be like kidnapping Justin Beiber when he was still getting second place in Canadian elementary school talent shows. It doesn't make sense! And there's like a million coincidences. And there's no way that Nancy is suddenly a skilled bareback circus performer.
This book kind of disappointed me because it has a great premise. I always love a good carnival/circus storyline (ups the creepiness factor in any mystery), the action is great, and the villain not only has a ludicrous name but is delightfully cruel and evil as well.
Unfortunately, all the aforementioned negative points are just too much. With great ambivalence, I give this one a 2 1/2 out of 5 mags.
Head Injuries: 0