Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book #44: The Clue in the Crossword Cipher

This book's got a little bit of everything: travel, intrigue, natural disasters, interestingly-named villains (El Gato), disguises and phat George Fayne judo moves.  Unfortunately, there's one other not-so-great thing this novel has in spades: the constant fat shaming of Bess Marvin.  Thus, part of my review will be in the form of a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, entitled:

Too Fat to Ride an Alpaca: 
The Mysterious Fat Shaming of Bess Marvin

A small town girl, Bess Marvin never imagined she'd end up as the unwitting third member of a detective team.  All her life, she'd been scared--scared of smugglers trying to kill her, of out-of-place sailors, and most of all--letting people in.  You see, Bess faces a tragic hardship.

Her parents, if you can call them that, are basically invisible.  Barely around, they only seem to show up when their house is being robbed, their family fortune in question, or as a dim voice at the other end of the phone when Bess is asking to fly off on one of her many trips with girl detective Nancy Drew.  At first, Bess was happy with the freedom Mr. and Mrs. Marvin's negligent parenting allowed.  But, as the year wore on for some eighty years, their careless attitude gave Bess a complex.  Why is it that her parents never seemed to be around?  So, Bess did the only thing she could do: eat.

Yes, she ate and ate and ate.  Of course, realistically, she only ate a little more than her friends.  And all illustrations depict her as vaguely the same size as her cousin, George and friend, Nancy Drew.  Why then, is she the constant butt of jokes and subject of ridicule?  Why can't her friends just let her eat that second piece of corn with swiss cheese on it?  Bess doesn't know.  All she knows is that life scares her.  And carbs are great.

"I'm just so excited about this trip to South America," Bess Marvin exclaimed, tossing her mane of light blonde hair.  "I might just burst."  Bess placed her hands on her slightly curvaceous hips.

George Fayne snorted in reply.  "My dear, fat cousin," she said.  "Maybe hold onto that feeling.  Because then maybe you won't eat so much, fatso."

Bess's eyes glimmered with tears, but she said nothing.  The girls' trip to Lima was peppered with just such remarks--George grabbing her arm as she went for an extra piece of bread, George laughing at her desire for South American food, and George warning her not to eat that extra corn cobb with cheese on in.

Barely able to take it, our heroine takes to the streets on her own, only to be asked out by some smarmy loser and then chased by a ne'er do well.  Winded from the extra cheese corn, Bess falls to her feet in tears.  Can she possibly overcome these hardships?  Was George right?  And will the fat shaming ever end?

Sadly, this book has a tragic end.  Despite Bess's bravery in the face of villains, she is left just as she is at the start: a scaredy-cat.  The butt of a joke.  Too ride an alpaca.

The End

Alright, so there was actually a mystery in here too.  A Pervian American Princess (PAP?), Carla Ponce, asks Nancy to solve an old family mystery.  The Ponce family has a very old wooden plaque left by a centuries-old relative.  There is a message on the plaque, but in cipher form and has been very difficult to interpret.  There are long-standing rumors of a family fortune as well, something that Carla Ponce and her parents scarcely seem to need.  But, despite the fact that this mystery has no obvious charity case, Nancy is intrigued.  Adding to the risk factor is a letter sent to Carla that says: "Cuidado con el gato," or, for you English-only speakers: Beware of the cat!

Nancy, Bess, George and Carla fly to Lima, Peru, where her parents live.  Of course, even before they leave, several attempts at theft are made on the plaque and we know that some gang of villains has figured out that they are on the trail of a treasure.  When they arrive in Peru, they meet all sorts of shifty figures, any of whom could be the mysterious El Gato.  Because the wood from the plaque comes from the arreyanes forest, Nancy asks to go there. 

Because they can just fly to Argentina, no problem.  Hah!

Oh, wait.  I forgot.  Carla's parents are rich, and willing to fly Nancy anywhere.  Apparently, it coincides with some kind of golf tournament in a fancy hotel.  Seriously, do these people really need a fortune?  

Over the curse of the book, Nancy and her friends travel to Argentina and the famed  Machu Pichhu with a paid guide.  They eventually solve the code on the plaque, which ends up being something like "purple monkey dishwasher" but I don't really remember.  Eventually, they realize that El Gato himself is a smuggler that has been posing as the assistant to a woodworking master they had previously asked for help.  They had suspected him of being a part of the gang all along but--surprise, surprise--he was the final boss.  

Well, "final boss" in the sense that he was the main villain.  He actually confessed and went pretty quietly.  Once they were rid of El Gato, the Ponce's dug up their ancestor and robbed his shallow grave of its riches.  Yaaaaayyyyyy!...?

This book was actually quite good, save for the constant fat shaming of Bess.  Seriously, I kind of wanted to punch George in the face throughout the book.  At one point, she tries to ride an alpaca (hence my Lifetime title) and is told she must be too heavy because she weighs over a hundred pounds.  Is that really fat back in 1967?  Or is Bess like 4'8"?  Because, estimating Bess's height at a petite 5'2", even if she weighed 120 that would be within a normal weight range.  

And I know that George is the main offender here, but I feel like Nancy could step in.  Because right now, I feel like I'm solving The Mystery of the Terrible Friends.  Let Bess eat her frikkin' cheesy corn.  Unless the cover art depicts her as 100 lbs. lighter than she actually is, she's fine.

Nevertheless, as a mystery, this one gets a strong 4/5 mags.

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Head injuries: 1 (21 total)
Explosions: 1 (10 total)
Fat jokes: Oh my, yes...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book #43: The Mystery of the 99 Steps

...or, as it's known by me: The Mystery of the 12-15 Staircases, All of Which Have 99 Steps, also known as The Case of the Frightened Fincancier.

I'm back, everyone!  I took a little respite due to holiday business but now I'm back on that addictive Nancy Drew juice, and I hope to crank out a few more reviews before the year is out!

This tale starts, as per usual, back in River Heights, where Nancy is explaining to Bess and George that they must accompany her to France for a case that she calls "The Mystery of the 99 Steps," accompanying Carson Drew on his own legal case. This mystery is so named because a local French ex-pat, Josette Blair has been having numerous recurring dreams about a secret on a 99th step.  She shared her dreams with a few, but then received a letter in French that said: Tell no one about the 99 Steps.  --Monsieur Neuf 

Quickly, Nancy also explains that a pair of French siblings (Monique and Marie Bardot) will be taking their place in a sort of foreign exchange deal, with Nancy and the girls staying with the sisters' parents in France.  George jokingly asks if there will be a boy to replace her, and I raise an eyebrow, but choose to let my favorite tomboyish character work out her gender identity in her own time.  The Bardot sisters have barely arrived when a strange man strong-arms his way into the Drew home.  He shoves a letter into Nancy's hand and leaves.  And what does the letter say, you may ask?  Well, fortunately, they don't pull a Nancy's Mysterious Letter and make us wait 75 pages.  The note says, in clear bold writing: STAY OUT OF FRANCE!  --MONSIEUR NEUF

Alright, it's time for me to bring up the name.  I did a lot of soul searching about this name.  Monsieur villain name so far?  It is hilarious, like the name of a nebulously foreign Scooby Doo bad guy.  But, as it always has so always comes back to Snorky.  Heh.  Snorky.

Anyhoo, once again an idiotic villain has chosen to peak Nancy's curiosity by threatening her rather than playing it cool.  Good going, Mister Nine.  When Carson comes back home to discuss the details of the trip with the girls, they find out that he wants their help on a mystery he likes to call: "The Case of the Frightened Financier."

Okay, wait.  Is this the mystery of the 99 steps or the frightened financier?  Even before these two cases are inexplicably linked, I'm already confused.

Apparently, some investors have hired Mr. Drew to find out why a French mogul has been selling stocks and securities in his company without any reason or financial advice.  Such a dramatic move has already had an effect on the economy, as it is a huge company.  Nancy and the girls agree to help him.  Before they leave for France, however, Nancy helps the Bardot sisters settle in, even asking them to sing in a local review.  Unfortunately, the man who had left the note (is he Monsieur Neuf?) stalks the girls and almost attacks them.  The man is caught and I briefly wonder how there is still 150 pages left in this book, until I remember the 99 steps and financier.  The man, named Claude Aubert, is clearly connected with the mystery/mysteries but Carson, Nancy, Bess and George have little time to  figure this out as they are scheduled to leave.

And off to France we go!

The rest of the book is mainly a series of amusing montages featuring the girls locating several staircases with 99 steps.  Some have suspicious markings, some have children in suits of armor, some have giant French women who threaten to bump the girls down each of the near 100 steps like an Oompa Loompa.

Of course, as is usual with Nancy Drew books in foreign locations, there's also a lot of history and education.  The case of the frightened financier turns out to have a lot to do with alchemy, as Claude Aubert's twin brother (Louie Aubert) has been posing as a Middle Eastern swami-type man that has convinced the financier, Monsieur Leblanc, that he can turn any substance into gold.  While in his Arabian gear, the girls simply refer to Louie Aubert as "The Arab" over and over again until my politically correct ass starts rolling around in its future grave.  The girls also realize that Josette Blair's memory of the 99 steps is due to the fact that her governess as a child was involved with, and now married to, the villain Louie Aubert.  It was a recovered memory of something that scared her as a toddler.

The frightened financier is obviously very grateful, as is Carson Drew, who offers Nancy half of his legal fee.

Um, what about Bess and George?

Anyhow, all's well that ends well (except for poor Bess and George, who paid for a trip to France and get little acclaim) with another two mysteries solved.

This book is definitely enjoyable in some ways, but there were quite a few issues for me.  For one, we never really get to know Ms. Blair, so her mystery always seems quite vague and I never really care about it.  The frightened financier seems like an idiot, and part of me feels like he's similar to the characters in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall--too stupid for me to feel bad for.  Also, there are so many superfluous French characters that are too minor to care about but take up text nonetheless, and it was very difficult for me to keep track.  Also, Louie Aubert has so many aliases by the end of the book that Monsieur Neuf is all but forgotten.  Boooooo.  This one gets 3/5 mags.  Not great, but certainly not bad either.

Head Injuries: 0 (20 total)

Best Villain Name Runner-Up: Monsieur Neuf!