Monday, April 14, 2014

Book #33: The Witch Tree Symbol (Revised Edition)

Is Nancy Drew really a witch?

The answer, of course, is no.  She's clearly an android, as evidenced by my earlier posts.  But apparently the entire Amish community is convinced that Nancy's detective skills are actually some kind of witchcraft.

Let me back up.  While the tale itself gets more exciting, we start off with the thinnest of premises and the world's most boring mystery.  A new neighbor of the Drews', Mrs. Tenney, asks Nancy to accompany her to her late aunt's house to retrieve some of the better antiques as part of her inheritance.  When they get there, however, all the best antiques are gone!

duh, Duh, DUUUHHHH!

What follows is a scene in which Nancy is, as per usual, far too polite, so I will edit it for your reading pleasure:

MRS. TENNEY: (weeping) All the valuable antiques are gone!  Some shady antique dealer told me they were worth a fortune and now they're gone!  Gooooooooooonnee!  Heer-heer-heer!

NANCY: Well, it sounds like that aforementioned shady antique dealer may have had something to do with it.

MRS. TENNEY:  No, no!  It's my chubby Amish cousin, Alpha Zinn!  He and I don't get along at all!

NANCY: Um, you guys having a personality difference isn't exactly strong evidence that he's responsible.  Although his name definitely makes him seem a little guilty.

[noise heard upstairs]

MRS. TENNEY:  What was that?!  (faints dead away).

NANCY: (rolls eyes and smacks Mrs. Tenney across the face)  Wake up, woman, wake up!

MRS. TENNEY: (weeping again) Take me hooooommme, heer-heer-heer!

NANCY: (slaps woman again) Bitch, please!  I'll take your boring-ass mystery if you promise to shut up.

...is how that scene should have gone.  And it's my recap, so I'm saying that's how it went down.  Nancy, Bess and George head out to Amish Country to track down Alpha Zinn and perhaps locate the shady antiques dealer, Roger Hoelt.  On their way, they come across a young Amish girl named Manda Kreutz, who has run away from home because her traditional father won't let her read or learn things.  Yikes.  Sounds like someone needs a good Rumspringa (Rumspringa, woo-hoo!  Show a little knee, listen to music composed after 1643, RUMSPRINGA!).  Or she might need a good social worker.

In any event, Nancy attempts to patch things up between Manda and her family, who are very welcoming, even though they are definitely taken aback by Nancy's amateur sleuthing and George being...well, George.  Bess, unsurprisingly, fits right in as she is a total girly-girl and can put away a seven-course meal.  The Kreutz's point out that in Amish Country they "like a little flesh on their maidens."  Go, Bess.

Unfortunately, the villains start in on Nancy right away, spreading rumors that she is a witch.  The Kreutzes give the girls the boot (but good!) and they are forced to go into town.

At this point, I must point out that Nancy can somehow speak Pennsylvania Dutch.  I call bullshit.

 Anyhoo, they find a family in town, The Glicks, that aren't nearly as superstitious (apparently, there are the House Amish and Church Amish and the latter lives a slightly more modern lifestyle while keeping the self-sustaining belief system).  The Glick family is one of the only things keeping this story from being too much like Ivory Charm, Old Album, etc.  While it does paint the Pennsylvania Dutch in a fairly static light, there are enough characters that break the mold and it doesn't really come off as offensive.  But, then again, I'm not Amish so what the hell do I know?  The Glicks take in boarders because the father had been partially disabled by a farming accident and was now what Mrs. Glick calls "a Schumacher"

Ugh, like Joel Shumacher?  Shoot a little higher, Papa Glick.

The story progresses fairly slowly, but there are still a lot of points in its favor.  While the antiques mystery is pretty boring, and the wonderfully-named-yet-not-villainous Alpha Zinn is cleared quickly, the "Nancy is a witch" subplot makes up for it.  When Ned, Burt and Dave come out to visit (seemingly on their way to yet another camp counselor job), the local youths see Nancy and Ned get into an accident and claim that Nancy must be a witch because they saw her "fly" out of a carriage.  Instead of railing on them for being idiots, as I would have done, Ned calmly tells them the facts, and many of the townspeople start to change their tune.  Ever loyal are their host family, the Glicks.  Even when the young Glick children are told by friends that Nancy is a witch, they soon see reason when their mother explains the danger of "magical thinking" and encourages them to see what is right in front of them.

I must point out as well that Ned furthers his excessive hint-dropping about marriage when he asks Nancy if they could get a closed-top buggy (only for married couples) when they visited Amish Country in the not-too-distant future.  Nancy, of course, totally ignores him.

The villains in this story are also far more organized and effective than usual.  There are only two villains, Mr. and Mrs. Hoelt (because the family that steals together stays together), but they are truly unrelenting when it comes from keeping Nancy from discovering them.  They hire Manda Kreutz, the runaway, but keep her so close to home that Nancy is never able to find her.  They spread rumors around town that Nancy is a witch to ensure that she will not be able to easily question people or get help.  They plant some of the stolen merchandise in her car so that she comes off like a thief, a witch, AND a liar.  They then steal her car, making it impossible for her to get around.  I had to admit, I was impressed by how efficiently Roger Hoelt was able to prevent Nancy from solving the mystery.  If she and the girls hadn't spotted a tree with the titular "witch tree" hex symbol, and found the old Hoelt farm and Manda, they might have gotten away scot free.

However, as per usual, Nancy prevails.  She reunites Manda and her family (yay!) and gets back all the stolen antiques (meh).  I really did like this one save for a few things: the ending was far too abrupt given the buildup, the mystery itself didn't have particularly high stakes (Mrs. Tenney is an annoying old hag, and no one cares if she gets "all the best of her aunt's antiques" back.  First world problems, man), and the action dragged in parts.

I give this one a 4/5 mags.

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Head Injuries: 1 (14 total)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book #32: The Scarlet Slipper Mystery (Original Edition)

Alright, so I've come to a pretty bold conclusion: Fictional though it may be, I'm pretty sure that River Heights is a bustling metropolis the likes of San Francisco or New York City.  Sure, it may seem like a small midwestern town, but you can't deny the huge variety of locations and events in this allegedly tiny berg.  Not only do they have regular theater, fashion shows, and sporting events, but it even seems to be split up into little enclaves.  Instead of Chinatown, Little Italy, or India Square, there's Sailortown, Gypsy Corner, Unnamed-European-Principality Alley, and now...Little Centrovia!

Yes, that's right.  Apparently, there are people all over the world who must flee from their homelands and dream of making it big in...River Heights.  It's totally like that song "There's No Cats in America" from An American Tail.  Could the streets be paved with cheese?

Nope, the streets are paved with crime.  Which is ridiculous, considering the fact that Nancy is now of nearly international celebrity.  Crooks keep thinking they can outsmart her but, being that they are incredibly stupid, it doesn't work out too well for them.

The Scarlet Slipper Mystery  starts out with a near-plane crash, much to my dismay (I am deathly afraid of flying and even more deathly afraid of the constant barrage of plane-crash-porn on television these days).  A soon-to-be-resident of Little Centrovia is terrified, thinking the plane will crash.  Nancy, apparently blessed with precognition as well as detective skills, assures him that "just one engine is out" and that they'll be fine.

ONE ENGINE IS OUT?!  @(&*%%@%!!!

...is what I would be screaming in her practically-perfect face.  But I digress.  The plane does land safely, and she is met by Bess and George at the airport.  Bess has to stop by a new dance studio in town, run by a brother and sister that have suspiciously similar accents to the Centrovian man on the plane.  Could they be from the fakest-sounding country on the planet, Centrovia?!

Of course they are.  And so is everyone who ever danced in River Heights.  Maybe this whole country is like that town from Footloose, and they know that River Heights has the best dances this side of the Muskoka.

Anyway, the brother and sister, named Henri and Helene Fontaine, are in trouble.  Someone has been telling them they must leave town or they will be harmed.  Nancy comes up with an elaborate scheme to pretend they've left town when they have really doubled back to stay at the Drews.  Since every criminal on earth has her address at this point, however, they have to relocate Henri and Helene to the Nickerson's summer cabin.

Meanwhile, Nancy dives into a mystery that takes many twists and turns, all while trying to run the dance studio in Helene's absence.  Several shady -looking people try and bust in and force Nancy to reveal the Fontaines' location, but she refuses, which eventually gets her shoved down a flight of stairs.  Ouch!

There's also a subplot with the initial man on the plane, Mr. Koff, and his daughter Millie, but to be perfectly frank, it isn't all-too crucial to the summary so I'll move on.

...Except to say that, even with fake nationalities, the Nancy Drew books seem to find a way to boil them down to a mass generalization.  Throughout the book, the Centrovians are described as "an overly excitable people" and everyone seems irritated that they don't speak English all the time.

With all the immigrants in this area?  C'mon, guys, you can't just get a Centrovian phrasebook?  It seems like the right thing to do...

The mystery deepens when Nancy realizes that a pair of scarlet ballet slippers that belong to Helene, as well as a series of portraits Henri did of her dancing, may hold a secret.  Unfortunately, the overly-excitable and loud Centrovian criminals keep stealing the things Nancy wants to check out.  Bummer.  Finally, she finds an untouched portrait and discovers diamonds hidden right in the strokes of the oil paint!

Of course, this discovery leads the crooks to up their game.  They kidnap Henri and Helene.  Not to be outdone, Nancy trails one of the criminals (an American woman in the gang named Mrs. Judson)--in fact, the same criminal who unceremoniously pushed Nancy down a flight of stairs--and deftly corners her at a train station.  It's actually kind of an awesome reveal, with the shifty Mrs. Judson trying to sneak past and Nancy stepping out of the shadows all creepy, like: "Oh.  Hello, Mrs. Judson."  I've said it before and I'll say it again: do NOT mess with Nancy.

After Nancy finds out that the art dealer that bought some of Henri's paintings might be involved (a man named Mr. Renee), she drags Ned to a farmhouse where he may be staying.  An old hearing-impaired man answers the door, but Nancy's finely-tuned observational eye doesn't miss the fact that the man stood up straight and reacted when he heard a dog bark.  Sure enough, the couple sees the old man come out of the back door of the farmhouse, having removed the old-man disguise--this younger man is actually Tomas Renee!

Renee tries to convince them that the Fontaines are actually the criminals, but Nancy sees through his ruse.  She and Ned split up to search the farmhouse.  However, Renee quickly swoops in and abducts Nancy, stealing Ned's car and leaving her bound and gagged in the back seat with the windows rolled up (douche!).  What ensues is a scene that almost makes me want to jump into River Heights: Criminal Suspicions mode.  The officers make a few thinly-veiled comments about Renee having "disposed" Nancy somewhere and Ned starts to totally freak out, thinking that they are about to find Nancy's lifeless corpse in his car.

She's fine, of course, but poor Ned nearly has a heart attack.  Meanwhile, Helene and Henri arrive, having managed to escape some hidden area in a nearby second farmhouse...

Um, what?

Yeah, this whole plot point didn't make much sense to me unless Henri and Helene were actually involved in the crime.  Was there some kind of sign that said: "You are now leaving Kidnapping Location #1; this way to Kidnapping Location #2.  P.S. That's where Nancy is"? Mistaaaaaaake!  In addition, when Nancy and the gang investigate the farmhouse again with a police escort, they keep smelling kerosene but don't seem to think they should do anything about it.  Literally, Nancy smells the kerosene, wonders why the police officer would have  kerosene, and shrugs it off.  Of course, it is not the officer, but the gang of crooks trying to set fire to the house.  And I don't buy it.  Nancy would have never overlooked that or failed to investigate.  Second Miiiiistaaaaaaake!

Nancy and the gang manage to escape the fire and climb their way out of these massive plot holes, however, and the criminals are overtaken.  The story then redeems itself from it's climax-missteps by taking their time with a scene that explains the whole origin of the mystery, from back in Centrovia all the way to River Heights.  Apparently, members of a freedom-loving underground faction of Centrovia (including Mr. Koff, Henri and Helene) were forced to flee their homeland.  However, a set of shady brothers (Renee and the man known as Mr. Judson) try to capitalize on this revolution by smuggling jewels in the paintings they know are on their way to America.  At some point, the Judsons (the French-Centrovian man who has been popping up everywhere and his loud, American wife) betray Renee and try to shift the blame for said betrayal onto Helene and Henri by forcing them to leave town, which makes them seem very guilty.  Renee himself took to working with the brother of Mrs. Judson, named Red Buzby (VILLAIN!).  Both were working so frenetically to outdo each other and get rid of the Fontaines while getting the jewels for themselves, that they ended up getting sloppy and getting caught.

In the end, the scarlet slippers are returned to Helene and she and her brother are able to re-open their dance studio in Little Centrovia.  Awwwwwww.

I give this one a lot of crap but it was actually quite good.  I'm taking off a mag for the ludicrous plot holes near the end, giving this one 4/5 mags.

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Head Injuries: 0 (13 total)
River Heights Ethnic Enclaves: At least 4, right?  Or possibly four thousand?