Monday, March 2, 2015

Book #47: The Mysterious Mannequin



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                                             River Heights Police Blotter
                                                      Twice the crime in half the time...


RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/9/70 3:00 p.m. The alleged mannequin rapist, Farouk Tahmasp, once wanted for smuggling, is still at large and has contacted girl detective Nancy Drew to return his inanimate model.  Residents have gone on the record to report the man "kissing" and "fondling" the mannequin.  One local restaurant owner claims that Farouk was "in love" and could not stand to be parted from the intoxicatingly beautiful dummy.  Some claim Farouk is a pervert, while others claim that the mannequin may be sexually promiscuous as they saw her "wink" at them.  No leads on the missing mannequin have been reported thus far.

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/10/70 11:52 a.m. An attempted burglary was once again reported at the residence of Carson and Nancy Drew, frequent victims of general nafariousness.  Girl detective, Nancy Drew, reported that a man with a beard and a mustache "of Turkish descent" was responsible for the near-crime.  The man attempted to steal a Turkish prayer rug, sent from agalmatophiliac Farouk Tahmasp, but failed when the Drew's family dog, Togo, intervened.  The man escaped and no arrests have been made.

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/10/70 1:05 p.m. UPDATE--Sources confirm that the man wanted for attempted burglary on the Drew house procured a skeleton key from local locksmith R.S. Smith.  The man's ads, which boast being able to "open any unusual lock" have now come under scrutiny for, as local girl George Fayne put it, "advertising...to super-duper burglars."  The store is under investigation but no arrests have been made.

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/10/70 1:48 p.m. Patrons of  nearby dining establishment The Water Wheel Restaurant reported that a local boy nearly drowned today during the lunch rush.  Allegedly, the child was playing near the banks and fell in, swept towards the restaurant's titular water wheel.  Fortunately, local hero and habitual drowning-child-saver, Nancy Drew came to the rescue.  No long-term injuries were sustained.

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/12/70 10:15 a.m. UPDATE--Local head of the police department, Chief McGuinness reported that RHPD concluded their investigation on the Drew burglary, claiming that the swarthy robber had "probably left town."  River Heights residents reported seeing the chief later at the donut shop adding liquid from a small flask to his coffee and muttering about Nancy Drew making him look bad.  County internal affairs is rumored to be stepping in while the chief takes a brief paid vacation.

ADVERTISEMENT:  Come one, come all and buy your life insurance policy from Ned Nickerson!  Living in River Heights is dangerous--violent crime holds at 48% higher than Chicago and property crime at a whopping 89%!  Your chances of being injured or even killed by one of the many criminals and sailors that reside here are simply too high to take a chance.  Contact Ned Nickerson at 1-800-LV-NANCY and get your quote today!

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/13/70 12:55 p.m. A disturbance was reported at a Greek restaurant one town over.  Bystanders report a man became enraged after hearing amateur dick Nancy Drew asking "too many questions" of the restaurant's proprietor.  No injuries were reported or arrests made, but a basket of pita bread and large bowl of hummus and Raita was dropped as a result, costing the owner nearly ten dollars in rug cleaning fees.

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/15/70 8:52 a.m. Yet another disturbance was reported at the Drew residence when a large and vicious dog attacked the teen investigator in her foyer.  Live-in housekeeper, Hannah Greun, turned a hose on the dog.  No serious injuries were reported, but the dog is rumored to belong to who we can now identify as the swarthy Turkish burglar, Aslanapa (a.k.a. "Nappy").  Nancy Drew has gone on record to report that she will be pursuing the "ludicrously-named criminal" to Turkey, where she will continue her search for alleged dummy defiler, Farouk Tahmasp.

RIVER HEIGHTS, 8/22/70 7:16 a.m. The River Heights Bugle just got word that girl detective Nancy Drew, having returned from one of her many lavish trips, has caught the burglar Nappy and found Farouk Tahmasp.  Tahmasp has been cleared of all charges of sexual deviance and smuggling, as it turns out the "mannequin" was actually a woman posing in a store window--a woman who was, as this reporter just discovered--NOT on any paralyzing drugs or roofies.  All criminal parties have been arrested by washed up police Chief McGuinness, and locals report a wedding is in the works between Farouk and the girl who played his mannequin.  A strange news month indeed.

ADVERTISEMENT: Get your grub on at the famous Wagon Wheel Restaurant!  The food is top notch and reports of drowning have been greatly exaggerated.  River Heights teen Bess Marvin says: "The complimentary biscuits were so good, I just couldn't stop eating them!  Well, until my cousin called me fat and I had to bring them into the bathroom to hide my shame.  But the food was great!"  One only mildly chubby teenage girl CAN'T be wrong--visit us today!!!

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I could go on, but I won't.  This blotter sums up the story pretty well, save for the ongoing clues found in Farouk's prayer rug.  I chose to write this in blotter form because 1) it begged for it and 2) while the story was fine and moved along well, it was ultimately forgettable and a bit of a snore.

3/5 mags

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Head Injuries: 1 (22 total)


Friday, February 6, 2015

Book #46: The Invisible Intruder

GHOST HUNTERS: RIVER HEIGHTS

We pan in on young Nancy Drew, our skeptic for this ghostly tale.  Titian haired and primly dressed, Miss Drew doesn't believe that hauntings can be real.  Much like famed skeptic Dana Scully, Nancy believes there is an earthly explanation for everything.  Months (or, more accurately, decades) of solving mysteries has taught her that ghosts are usually 1) Dudes in white sheets, 2) Anything made phosphorous or 3) Projected images.

But, this time, Nancy Drew is going to find out the hard way that ghosts are real.  Oh, yeah.  They are VERY real...

Here are our players:

Nancy Drew: The aforementioned overly logical girl detective.
George Fayne: Doesn't think ghosts are real, but if she's wrong is totally ready to "kick some ghost ass, Judo-style."  Also says "hypers!" a lot for some reason and refuses to allow her only slightly chubby cousin to eat delicious cheese corn.
Bess Marvin: The slightly chubby cousin in question.  Despite being party to Nancy's constant mythbusting of local haunts, thinks ghosts are WAY real and WAY scary.  She's terrified.  And also really wants some bread.
Ned Nickerson: Long suffering dreamboat.  Constantly takes backseat to Nancy's mysteries and so becomes a part of them to spend more time with her.  Recently abducted by hilariously-named strongman, Swahili Joe.
Burt Eddleton: "Favorite date" of George even though she never seems particularly interested in him other than as a doubles partner in sports.  Hilarious, but likely harbors unrequited feelings for George who is either totally asexual or in love with Nancy.
Dave Evans: The tall, rangy regular date of Bess's.  Unlike Burt, Bess seems to take him seriously as a suitor.  Loves Bess for who she is but can't resist teasing her--not about her weight, though because he's not an idiot.
Helen Archer (nee Corning): Used to solve mysteries with Nancy but either the publisher decided she was boring (she kind of was) or she got married and ditched Nancy which unfortunately happens a lot in female friendships.  Due to early book discrepancies, we are to understand that she either married later than originally thought or had a hot, steamy affair with the "deeply tanned" Buck Rodman.
Jim Archer: Helen's husband--a jaunty sort of fellow up for anything.
Rita Rodriguez: The requisite believer of the group.  Believes she can send out vibes and find people by scrying and shit.  Only Bess seems to believe her, because Bess will probably believe anyone.
Rod Rodriguez: Skeptic but also a total dick.  Has, for some reason, agreed to come on the Ghosthunters expedition despite the fact that he doesn't believe any of it.  Apologizes for and belittles his wife for her beliefs.  Headed for divorce court any day now.
Bab and Don Hackett: Two other people in the group who I don't even remember as being part of the story.  I probably got tired figuring out dialogue and started ascribing most of it to the group above.  But, they won't be mentioned again.

PROMO

[creepy, child's music box music plays over our title]
Helen: Welcome, ghosthunters!  Are you ready...to be scared?!
[begin night-vision lighting only]
Bess: [shrieks] I don't know if I can do this.
Ned: Holy sh&^%, what the &$#@ is that?
Rita: I can feel the spirits...
Nancy: [ominously] This is different, guys.  This might be the real thing.
Bess: [screams again]

GHOSTHUNTERS!!!

Okay, guys, this book was awesome.  It literally has everything.  A strong, fast-paced plot, a clear and non-ludicrous motive for the villains, and utilization of all the great characters.  Even though I found her a bit dull in the earlier books, I liked that Helen Corning Archer came back instead of simply making up a bunch of new friends.

The story starts without delay--Nancy and her friends have been invited by Helen to a ghost-hunting road trip.  Having heard about several local hauntings, they want to check it out for themselves, either seeing a ghost or debunking the story.  First up is a ghostly canoe that rows itself at a local camp.  Though the ghosthunters see the inexplicable canoe with their own eyes, Nancy remains--as ever--sure that there is an explanation.  Of course, she's completely right.  The gang finds that the canoe is mechanized to row itself, with some staging to give it the illusion of being ghostly.  Nancy also discovers that the owner of the lakeside camp/resort has been losing business because of the ghostly canoe and a shady-looking couple named the Prizers have been trying to force him to sell at a low price.  After Nancy and the group solve the mystery of the canoe, the owner finally has the courage to say no, and that is the end of the case of the canoe and the nefarious low-balling...OR IS IT?

The group is on their way to their next destination, another haunted guesthouse, when they stop in to see a fortune teller and medium Madame Tarantella.  She immediately tells Nancy the story of her life (she sometimes foregoes living her life for these mysteries and it may affect her social life one day) and Nancy is rightly suspicious.  Because how on earth (in Nancy's world when fortune tellers are fake) would this woman know so much about her?  Madame Tarantella tries to prove her skills by doing a reading for Bess.  She clearly takes one look at her girly-girl outfit and timid attitude and surmises that she's waiting around for a husband to take care of her.  However, when the medium tells Bess she will be married soon, Bess has a totally understandable freakout that she and Dave will get married before he graduates college and they can take care of themselves.  Poor Bess is teased for days in front of Dave, who is utterly clueless.

Madame Tarantella, who seems to trust Nancy, asks her to look after a bunch of papers for her and promptly disappears, leading us to wonder if the fortune teller is a villain...or a victim.  Soon thereafter, Ned is abducted (likely by the Prizers' gang) but soon finds a way to escape.  Poor Ned just keeps getting abducted.

At the next haunted location, The Red Barn Guesthouse, the gang finds that the owner, Mrs. Hodge, has also been strong-armed by a couple into considering selling her guest house at a low price.  The constant appearance of a ghostly horse and rider has scared all of her guests away and she doesn't know what to do.  At this point, Nancy is pretty sure that the Prizers are responsible for all of these local hauntings in an effort to get cheap land, so she works diligently to debunk the myth.  Unfortunately, the Prizers are starting to get mega-pissed that every owner they've talked to is now stubbornly refusing to sell because of Nancy and her ghosthunting pals.  Getting desperate, they ransack Mrs. Hodge's private room and steal the deed to the house.

C'mon, guys.  That's not how you steal a house.  Unless you also plan to skin Mrs. Hodge and adopt her identity it's not going to happen.

At the gang's next stop, they meet Mr. Warfield.  An old friend of Carson Drew, Mr. Warfield owns an inn that has recently been dogged with rumors and sightings of a ghostly soldier.  Unsurprisingly, it sounds like the Prizers have also made a paltry offer on the place.  Are we sure these guys are the Prizers and not, like, the Hiltons?  This sounds like the kind of dirty deed a hotel conglomerate would do dirt cheap--that's all I'm saying.

The mystery concludes with excitement, when Nancy, Ned, Jim and Helen are trapped in a local museum of skulls by one of the members of the gang.  Using misdirection, the small group is able to trick the villain (Jeffers, a local servant who got mixed up with the Prizers' scheme) and trap him in the very cage they had been locked in.  Soon enough, the gang reunites and the police are able to arrest the Prizers and their confederates, including the total liar, Madame Tarantella.

Madame Tarantella admits that, although she hates Nancy for ruining their scheme, she admires her for her abilities.  She asks her to continue to look over her paperwork while she is imprisoned so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.  Nancy is like "HELLSS NAAWWW" and they all head home.  Real estate values are back where they should be and there is nary a ghost in sight because...

...say it with me: IT IS NEVER ACTUALLY A HAUNTING.

I loved this one.  5/5 mags.


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Friday, January 23, 2015

Book #45: The Spider Sapphire Mystery

It's time, guys.  Time for the most ludicrous villain name in Nancy Drew history.  More head-scratching than Mortimer Bartesque, El Gato or even Snorky...it's time for ...SWAHILI JOE!

Yes, our story starts out with Nancy and her friends (including a group from Emerson with Ned, Burt, and Dave) heading out for a safari in Africa.  Before she goes, however, she learns of a mysterious stolen spider sapphire and Ned is kidnapped!

Oh no!  Not NED!

In much faster course than I remember, however, Ned is found after Bess decodes a cryptic call and figures out he's being held in a pear orchard.  He reveals that his captor is none other than...SWAHILI JOE!

What if we were all named after the language we speak?  I wouldn't just be Kate, I'd be American English Kate.  There would be Portuguese Miguel, French Claire, Ancient Aramaic Billy-Bob....what's next?

Anyhoo, Swahili Joe is clearly the villain of the book due to his redonkulous name.  Working with him are two "Indian Blacks" named Jahan and Dhan.  Really?  Indian Blacks?  Well, if you think that's bad, it gets worse.  The book goes on to explain the difference between African blacks, American blacks. and COLOREDS, which are apparently black but from India or the Middle East.  O.  M.  G.  I admit, the usually cringe-worthy racial terms in Nancy Drew books really threw me through a loop in this one.  It was all I could do to get through the first 75 or so pages, when the terminology was the worst.  Dude, Stratemeyer syndicate.  These are NOT the preferred nomenclatures.  They're all from Africa.  Just call them African (or Kenyan, or Ethiopian, whatever their country of origin is if known).  Not too hard.

Anyhoo, after drowning in a sea of racisms, I'm back on track.  Before Nancy and the gang head out on safari, two very important things happen.  First, they are able to see an African operatic singer perform locally before they leave.  The woman, Lilia, explains that she is using all of her tour money to find her lost brother, who was rumored to be mauled while on a job in Mombasa but she believes to be alive.

Another mystery...do you think they'll tie together?

The second piece is that they are introduced to their safari group, including several Emerson students and one Gwen Taylor, a histrionic girl who wears a blonde wig over her brown hair.  Why she would wear a wig and not just dye her hair I don't know.  She quickly shows herself to be the resident pain-in-the-ass of the book by shrieking that her father will sue the safari company and insisting that the guides retrieve the fancy camera she dropped into a bed of wild animals.  Yikes.  Even Gwen's boyfriend seems sick of her shenanigans.  Of course, while the rest of the group has totally written her off as a spoiled brat, Bess sees a mystery only she can solve.  The mystery of a girl who is so insecure thinking that she needs to be blonde that she turns into a total asshole.  When a baboon grabs Gwen's wig right off of her head (yes, you read correctly, THAT HAPPENED) and waves it about in a comical gesture, finally tossing it in the mud, Bess sees her chance.  She gives Gwen a total makeover, showing her how pretty her dark hair can be and, quite suddenly, Gwen is a totally different person.  While I find the idea that a makeover can totally change your persona utter bullshit, my being raised amongst 1990's makeover montages makes me let it go.

Suddenly, Gwen is the best of friends with all the girls.  At their safari resort (really?  there were resorts in Africa and a small liberal-arts university group can pay for that?) the girls all put on a water ballet while the boys clap.  And, when Nancy. Bess and George's clothes are burned by the villains (as if that would stop them), Gwen happily loans them her clothes.  Of course, they have to get loaner shoes from all the girls as there are "no sensible heels for sale in Africa."  First world problems, man.  First world problems.

A good chunk of the book covers the group's experience in Africa, which is actually quite fun.  There's only little snippets of the mystery but....oh, wait.  I forgot the best part.  When the girls are looking at a group of wild animals over the balcony, George is kidnapped by a baboon as his primate bride!  She is carried off quite a ways before she notices that it is a man wearing a baboon suit.  She wrenches the head of the costume and he drops her.  But not before she sees that the man is...SWAHILI JOE!

The mystery gets more convoluted as they find out that Lilia's long-lost brother, Taizam, did survive the lion attack but is missing...and he might be in league with Swahili Joe!  When the girls track down Mr. Tangor, the man from whom the spider sapphire was stolen, he tells them that the missing guide was involved in the crime.  Not wanting to believe it, the girls suspect Mr. Tangor for a time, but eventually clear him of any skulduggery.

Once the group arrives in a town, they take in the African culture.  Nancy even has a local man make a "death mask," which is a mask of one's face so that their loved ones will have something to comfort them in case of an early demise.  A little dark, but the mortality rate is likely higher in this small village so it makes a certain amount of sense.  He gives Nancy the mask for free, revealing that there is a secret compartment in the eye sockets where one can hide jewels or valuables to prevent their theft during a home robbery.  I normally wouldn't dedicate a whole paragraph of the review to this, but you'll see why I did in a bit.

The girls finally find Taizam, who has been suffering from amnesia since his experience.  In an absurd turn, Nancy is able to snap him out of his amnesia forever by simply singing the Swahili lullabye (oh that's right, Nancy can sing beautifully in Swahili now BTW) that his sister used to sing him.  This is the craziest amnesia turnaround since The Ringmaster's Secret.  Either way, the girls get the best clue yet from Taizam once he remembers his recent past.  He was almost mauled after he caught the Swahili Joe gang (although he makes it seem like ole' SJ is just a strong-man) stealing the spider sapphire.  Nancy and the gang realize that Jahan and Dhan must have started the rumor that Taizam was responsible to keep their own dirty affairs under wraps.  Taizam remembers them mentioning an old dungeon and Vasco de Gama, so our detectives set off to find it.  Once they find the dungeon, Nancy locates the spider sapphire, cleverly tucking it into the eye socket compartment of her death mask for safe keeping (see!  I told you the death mask was important.  So, when the evil Jahad and Dhan show up, brandishing whips, she is ready.

Not to be taken down easily, Nancy completely throws the men off their game by explaining their crime to them (Poirot-style).  Somehow, in the course of the last day, she has put together the whole thing.  The two men are not working for Swahili Joe, but a man named Rhim Rhao, who had been pretending to be a trusted contact of Mr. Tangor.  Swahili Joe was just a pawn in all of this.  Damn, I'd forgotten about that too.  Apparently, the villains were so good at making it seem like he was the ringleader, even I bought into it.  Also, his name is just so memorable!

Fortunately, they are able to take the men down and track down Rhim Rhao who was very surprised to be arrested for his clever cover-up.  The mystery is solved, but Nancy is already jonesing for a new one.  She'll have to wait until The Invisible Intruder.

This book was great in parts, but a few things ruined it for me.  The racist terminology and stereotyping really pulled me out of the story.  Also, while I'm perfectly willing to accept a certain level of stretching reality for the sake of the narrative, the unbelievable ease at which they are able to miraculously pull Taizam out of a years-long amnesia was too much for me.  Although this could have been 4 or more, this one gets 3 1/12 out of 5 mags.

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Head Injuries:  0 (21 total)
Incidents of Baboon High Jinks:  2
Racisms: Too many to count
Best villain name: Swahili Joe (Snorky is a close second)