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.
[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]
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.