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...

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