...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 Neuf...best villain name so far? It is hilarious, like the name of a nebulously foreign Scooby Doo bad guy. But, as it always has so far....it 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.
Best Villain Name Runner-Up: Monsieur Neuf!