Ever since I saw Chucky and especially the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Puppet Show," I've always thought puppets were a little creepy. They move in jerky, peculiar movements like zombies and have frozen, unchanging faces like clowns. Like I said, mega-creepy. This is particularly the wooden or doll-like puppet. I take no issue with Muppet-style puppets, as their cute and malleable faces seem to register emotion where dolls and dummies cannot. The dancing puppet in this book definitely falls into the creepy category. Life-size and made of wood, these puppets totter around throughout the mystery, pretty much totally freaking everyone out, myself included.
The Clue of the Dancing Puppet is one of those N.D. books I always forget how much I love. It really does have a little bit for everyone and the narrative never falters or drags. The story starts with Nancy being asked by a local theatrical group, The Footlighters, to solve an intriguing mystery. The Van Pelt Estate, which the troupe uses for their rehearsals and performances, has been the site of several bizarre sightings--a life-sized ballerina puppet moving around the grounds. Since Bess is already a member of the community, she persuades them to let Nancy and George join so that they can work on the grounds without suspicion.
What Nancy fails to realize is that there is clearly a worldwide network of criminals who have her name and picture in their headquarters. KSTR Headquarters (kidnappers, swindlers, thieves and ruffians) is located, of course, in River Heights, where all major criminals commute on a bi-monthly basis. Once Nancy is approached for a case, or happens upon one, the signal sounds and all KSTR members get ready to break into the Drew house, steal Nancy's car, or make a threatening phone call. Works every time....oh...wait. It totally doesn't.
Our villain makes a creepy threatening phone call right off the bat, doubling Nancy's interest in the case, and she promptly ignores it. Bess, George, and Nancy head to the Van Pelt estate and start investigating. After a thorough search of the place and a very early head injury (Nancy is struck by a small cannonball and SHOULD be dead, but let's ignore that), the girls have found TWO creepy puppets, but not the ballerina one that has been sighted. The girls decide to take in a nice, big dinner with their hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Spencer. The description of the food makes me noshy, as per usual, and I am driven to the kitchen.
Swallow, belch. I'm back. If I'm not careful, these food descriptions will drive me to pack on more pounds than Bess in Amish country.
No sooner than the girls have met their hosts, as well as the Spencer's good friend Emmett Calhoun (a pretentious Shakespeare loving buffoon fondly refereed to as "Cally Old Boy"), they are in a hit-and-run accident and EACH suffer a head injury. While there have technically been FOUR head injuries in the first 75 pages alone, I will keep my count to two as I am only tracking Nancy's brain damage.
Despite the fact that Nancy should by all rights be drooling into a cup, she continues her investigation. As she begins to look into the members of the Footlighters, she finds something even more dangerous than a cannonball to the head: Tammi Whitlock. Tammi had apparently been anticipating Nancy's arrival and had spoken out very strongly against her and George being allowed into the theater troupe. A stone-cold diva, Tammi will not abide by anyone potentially taking away her turn in the spotlight. She clearly has it in for Nancy, as well as her shy young understudy Kathy who has been dating the male lead, Bob Simpson. Another wrinkle: while Nancy suspects that Tammi may have some connection to the mystery, Cally Old Boy blocks her at every turn. Despite the fact that he is old enough to be her MUCH OLDER father, Emmet Calhoun can think only of two things in this life: Shakespeare and Tammi. Unfortunately for him, he's more likely to get sexual healing from the cold, dead corpse of the Bard than Tammi.
When Tammi goes off (probably thieving) and fails to show up for a rehearsal and performance, Nancy is able to take over. Why? Because, despite her two head injuries and having been busy with the case, she's memorized Tammi's lines. And of COURSE she's a natural actress, because Nancy is practically perfect in every way.
I must point out that, at this time, other than a short subplot about small-time thieves operating out of a local restaurant, we have no motive or clue regarding the puppet, which has shown up two or three times throughout the book. Is the figure a scare tactic, or a distraction?
It's a bit of both, but I'll get back to that.
Curtains up, and Nancy is awesome. She's somehow even better than Tammi, who has been rehearsing for weeks. Hamilton Spencer is ready to cast Nancy in every lead role, when she points out that she's there to solve a mystery. Being of a singularly artistic temperament, he does not take this well, but reluctantly agrees.
Meanwhile, the cover story on the local news is Nancy's superior performance in the play. The author even goes so far as to say she's pretty much blown Tammi Whitlock out of the water. Yikes. Watch out, Nancy. Hell hath no fury like a Whitlock scorned. Also, it must be a particularly slow news day if that's the top story.
The thieving ring is eventually caught in a somewhat anticlimactic scene, and we discover that there is a motive: a secret hidden in a FOURTH creepy puppet. Whaaaaaa? As Nancy is looking for another puppet, one appears on stage in front of her. But...what's this? It's not a puppet but a human being! TAMMI!
Tammi attacks Nancy in a jealous rage but Nancy is ready for her. "I'm gonna tear you a new puppet-hole, bitch!" she screams, lunging at Tammi and finishing her off for good...
Okay, that didn't happen, nor did they get into a hilarious wrestling match, during which a giggling Nancy declared: "You're a bloody puppet!" I guess that all went down on that puppet episode of Angel. But it's just so funny!
What actually happens is that Tammi's attack leads to a tearful confession of her involvement in the mystery. As it turns out, she had turned her less-than-honest brother onto the possibility of a valuable hidden secret when none other than Cally Old Boy let her in on the contents of an old diary he'd found. Poor Cally was never involved in any of the deception or thievery with Tammi and her gang, but wanted so badly to please the MUCH YOUNGER girl that he broke. Oh, yeah, he broke like that glass cow in the Mr. Sparkle commercial. Either way, Tammi's Bieber-esque behavior and trickery didn't find her the secret and she is taken away by the police. Muhahahaaa.
The secret turns out to be a patent for an aluminum fuel cell that operates off of melted chemicals. Wow, does that NOT sound green. But Nancy happily gives the earth-killing patent to the Footlighters, who sell it for a pretty penny, their shows funded for years to come!
This one was just great-- 4 1/2 out of 5 mags.
Head Injuries: 2 (18 total)