Friday, August 29, 2014

Book #38: The Mystery of the Fire Dragon

Explosions, Kidnappings, and Doppelgangers, oh myyyyyy!

See what I did there?  It was a Wizard of Oz and George Takai reference all rolled into one.  Primo.

This book would appear to have everything.  It's action-packed, contains both doppelgangers and head injuries, is chock-full of explosions, and features Ned.  What else could a girl want?  Well, unfortunately, while this all looks good on paper (metaphorically, of course--I mean the book IS on paper), it definitely suffered in execution.  Most of this suffering was at the hand of mid 20th century cultural insensitivity and a preponderance of coincidences.

Our story begins with Nancy receiving a letter from Ned, who is in a cultural exchange program in Hong Kong.  While she is marveling at the idea of traveling there, her father says there might be a case he is working on there she could help him with.  At the VERY SAME TIME, Aunt Eloise calls with a mystery involving an older gentleman from Hong Kong named Grandpa Soong.

Now, imagine I'm Will Arnett as I say this...C'MON!

But, okay, I've gotten past the most ridiculous series of coincidences since the prevalence of delinquent sailors in River Heights.  Moving on.  As we get to New York, the mystery hits the ground running with an explosion.  After the dust settles, so to speak, we find out that Grandpa Soong is a man who occupies the adjoining duplex-style apartment with Aunt Eloise.  His granddaughter, a college student named Chi Che, left a very mysterious letter and has likely been kidnapped.  As soon as Nancy sets out on the case, she is hounded by a series of oddball villains with names like Ferdinand Breen, Smitty, and Skinny Kord.

Very quickly, the girls realize that Chi Che looks a lot like George and they decide to trick the villains by having our favorite tomboy prance around town in a high-necked silk dress and affected eyeliner (cringe!).  The ruse works, only too well.  The villains attempt to kidnap George and later succeed in kidnapping Bess.  All the while, I am left to wonder why in the hell this gang of ne'er do wells cares about Chi Che or Grandpa Soong enough to go to all of this trouble.  Grandpa Soong is an archaeologist working on a manuscript about a hidden frieze, but it doesn't sound to be particularly valuable.  Nevertheless, the manuscript is stolen and I begin to accept the fact that these villains are dumber than the idiots from The Ringmaster's Secret.

Just when the girls start to settle down and relax for a moment...ANOTHER EXPLOSION!  Someone has put a firecracker too close to the gas main in Eloise's kitchen.  I honestly have no idea how there aren't more injuries in this book.

BUT, WAIT!  Nancy investigates and is smashed over the head.  Boom, head injury.

Eventually, the girls discover that Chi Che has been moved overseas.  The coincidences start to figuratively close in on me as Nancy finds out there just happens to be a student trip to Hong Kong with enough seats for her, Bess, George and her father.  And they can stay with Ned!  Seriously, I love Ned, but this is just one happenstance too many.

Before they leave, however, two things happen.  First, there are about 10 pages peppered with fat jokes about Bess and, despite the fact that she laughs it off, I feel like punching George.  Lay off the girl!  We all like bonbons, and judging from the cover art she's got maybe five pounds on you guys.  Sheesh!  Secondly, they begin to wonder whether they can go at all because there is ANOTHER THREAT OF EXPLOSION.  The villains make a bomb threat on the plane and it's only by way of Nancy's clever use of their surveillance equipment that the girls are able to make it appear as if they are heading home. to Hong Kong!

The rest of the book is actually quite interesting, with Ned being a font of information on Chinese culture due to his stay there. Of course, it's all from a white dude's perspective, but whoever ghostwrote this clearly read a book or something. because it actually comes across as information about Chinese culture rather than crass stereotyping a'la Leaning Chimney.

Between visits to the opera and local gardens, Nancy manages to track down the villains (again, Skinny Kord?!) and discover that their motive wasn't based on the manuscript at all but on Chi Che discovering their smuggling ring.  The crooks had simply stolen the manuscript to make sure any evidence of their crime was destroyed.  Ah, okay.  They are upgraded to only minorly stupid.  After a thrilling sequence involving Nancy escaping the villains with Chi Che, only to be taken aboard a plane that may be shot down, the crooks are finally arrested and the smuggling ring is dead.  Wa-hoo!

I must also mention a delightful scene in which Nancy discovers Chi Che's location when she overhears one of the criminals screeching that "Chi Che's off the junk!"  I, of course, did not realize that Chinese sailing vessels are called "junks" so you can imagine my confusion amid lines like: "Where are they?  They're on Mr. Lung's Junk!" and "At that very moment Nancy was being pushed aboard the large, sumptuous junk."  Heehee.  Sumptuous junk.

In any event, this book definitely had some issues, even aside from the multitudinous coincidences.  While this is common at the time, the number of times Asian individuals were referred to as "The Chinese" or "Oriental" was overwhelming.  At times I felt as if I was reading the prose of my racist, out-of-touch Great Aunt Flotilda.  Flotilda doesn't exist of course, but you get my point.

I am taking away two full mags, but adding half a mag for the better-than-average action and suspense.  3 1/2 mags out of 5.

Head injuries: 1 (16 total)
Doppelgangers: 1 pair
Explosions: 2 (9 total)
Kidnappings: 3 (infinity total)
Fat jokes: 5
Weirdest Villain Name: Skinny Kord
Most Hilarious Moment: My confusion over the word "junk"
Cultural Insensitivity: 1.5 liters

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book # 37: The Clue in the Old Stagecoach

Nancy vs. No-Good Thieves…and Fuzzy Lumpkins?!
Our next book finds Nancy, Bess and George hiking up a steep hill, on the way to investigate their next mystery. Of course, Bess (our resident “shopping is exercise!” advocate), is already complaining that they shouldn’t take on any case that involves such a drastic elevation change. Unsurprisingly, her suggestion falls on deaf ears.
The girls are visiting Mrs. Strook, who lives in a village near a camp that the girls are visiting on their neverending summer. The kindly old woman, unlike our usual charity case, is living well, but wants the girls to help unearth clues to an old family treasure that could provide the money to build a new school in Francisville. Apparently, Mrs. Strook has a great uncle named Abner Langstreet who hid a vital clue to the treasure in an old stagecoach.
Pretty much from the moment Nancy agrees to solve the mystery, she is beset by a nosy couple named Ross and Audrey Monteith, a surly libertarian named Judd Hillary (think more Fuzzy Lumpkins and less Gary Johnson…in fact, that’s Judd Hillary’s name now) and a pack of mysterious thieves who make off with the old stagecoach as soon as she has it.
The Monteiths, a couple in their 30’s, are this book’s Mortimer Bartescue. They are arrogant, obsequious, insufferable buttinskies (yes, I need all those adjectives!) who insist not only on talking to Nancy and her friends every chance they get, but eavesdropping on every conversation. First of all, I have to point out that, as a woman in my thirties, if I showed up at a summer camp and inserted myself into the activities of teenagers, I’m sure it would go a lot worse than it did for the Monteiths. At least Nancy and her crew simply ignored them and made up polite excuses at first.
As the book progresses, however, Nancy just says “screw manners” and starts ditching them. And, honestly, I don’t blame her. Of course, just as in some of the earlier books, we are left to puzzle over if they are simply an annoyance (like Bartescue) or part of the larger crime ring (think fake Prince Michael). In this case, they are totally guilty.
While in Francisville, Nancy is also accosted by Fuzzy Lumpkins. He basically accuses her of ruining the town and creating more taxes for the townspeople.
Uh, what? How, we are forced to wonder, is that even possible? Who goes around accusing random people of putting “city folk ideas” into the local townspeople’s heads, raising taxes and limiting hard-working Americans’ right to bear arms and kick the ass of…oh, wait. He’s this guy:
Yep. That all makes sense now. Nancy is unsure as to whether he is just afflicted with those pesky bonnet bees, or if he is also part of the criminal ring trying to keep her from the treasure. However, I am sure. Guilty.
While Nancy dodges the Monteiths and Judd Hillary, she, Bess and George also find time for some tennis and water ballet. The girls sign up for a comedic clown-themed water performance and I am torn between delighted anticipation and cold fear at the thought of clowns chasing me down like sharks in the water. During this story, the girls are being “escorted” by three other boys (whose names I refuse to remember because they aren’t Ned, Burt and Dave). While I totally get that these other boys are more of a “group hang” scenario, I still get enraged at the idea of Ned being replaced. Could be leftover PTSD from the Nancy Drew Files. In any event, Ned, Burt and Dave do show up in the home stretch to help out and I am placated.
In the end, Nancy and the gang are able to track down the clue in some letters left at a local farm. They dig up the old stagecoach (despite a botched poisoning attempt by the Monteiths) and find the treasure. A classic line is uttered at the end, when the Monteiths, Fuzzy Lumpkins, and two other local toughs are brought in on theft and attempted murder charges. As the bad guys are led away, Bess sighs and says: “Oh, why can’t people be honest?”
Um, because there would be no books, Bess. And River Heights would be filled with normal, boring citizens instead of embezzling sailors.
But, seriously. How cute is Bess?
This one was very good. It was well-paced and didn’t try to fit too many mysteries into one case like some of the books do. However, the end was a bit rushed, and where the hell was that clown water ballet? My fear has passed and now I want it! Ah, well.
4/5 Mags
Head injuries: 1 (15 total)