Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book #54: The Strange Message in the Parchment

Like most Lethal Weapon movies, an unfortunate byproduct of the times in which Nancy Drew is written is that (as I've mentioned before) the villains end up being one race of people.   While I was afraid this would be the case in The Strange Message in the Parchment, especially with the presumed villains being Italian (my people, yo) but I soon realized that there was a lot more to it than met the eye.

Our mystery starts out with Nancy receiving a gift from an old friend, Junie, who now lives on a sheep farm a few hours away.  Junie gives Nancy a fine sheepskin coat and an enticement to come solve a mystery at her parents' property, Triple Creek Farm.  Apparently somehting having to do with a parchment?  Nancy has barely shouted "Yes, yes...a thousand times yes!" to the mystery proposal when a young woman comes in through the back and snatches the sheepskin coat.

Okay, are these criminals insane?  Shouldn't there be a circulated picture of Nancy and her home so that your general no-good ruffian can avoid her getting mixed up in their crime ring/ swindling circle/ ill-conceived kidnapping scheme?  In any event, the girl turns out to be just some rando who saw Junie with the sheepskin jacket and couldn't stop herself from breaking and entering.  Totally unrelated to the forthcoming evil Italians [Spoiler Alert!]

Nancy calls her dutiful boyfriend Ned Nickerson and friends Bess and George but all are busy until the weekend so Nancy decides to go on ahead with Junie to start on the case.  However, Ned tells her to contact some (ITALIAN) artist named Vincenzo who might be able to help figure out the parchment's origins.  Nancy soon meets Junie's parents, who implore her to solve the mystery behind the 4-block parchment painting they recently bought from a rude neighbor.  A rude ITALIAN neighbor...duh duh duuuuuhhhhh!

Of course, several chapters into the mystery, and we're no closer to figuring out why this is a mystery at all.  There's no treasure or inheritance to be found, just a couple of stray initials on the back of the parchment.  Is the mystery where they should hang the parchment? Because Nancy's probably a bit overqualified for that.  Then we spend some time touring the sheep farm, with a woozy Nancy considering vegetarianism after her tour of the slaughterhouse but then coming to the "practical" conclusion that the countryside would soon be overrun with farm animals if we didn't eat them.  Yeah, keep telling yourself that when you choke down Hannah's lamp chops, Nancy.  I'm sure it will help you sleep better at night.  On their tour, they meet one of the Flockharts' shepherds, Eezy.  He's a bible quoting, harp playing shepherd because of COURSE he is.

After a long and oddly propaganda-like scene in which Nancy and Junie make up funny rhymes about slaughtering sheep, I'm kind of in the dark.  What are we solving here?  Is it a crime or is it NOTHING?  I'm starting to think it's nothing.

We finally meet our villain, Sal Rocco when he nearly plows into Nancy and Junie with his truck.  Soon the girls do some snooping and realize that Rocco may be underpaying and taking advantage of undocumented Italian workers.  In addition, a young boy named Tony lives on the farm, and Nancy has an odd hunch that he may be the young child depicted in one of the parchment paintings Mr. Rocco gave to the Flockharts.  It's a pretty wild guess, but I tend to bet on Nancy in these cases.

After agonizing pages of nothing, finally something happens.  A man slips into the Flockharts and snatches the parchment, while Nancy watches frozen in terror!  She immediately chastises herself for not catching the crook, her confidence plummeting in a way I've never seen (or, rather, read).  Nancy has almost given up the mystery (although at this point I still wonder what this case is exactly.  Is it the mystery of why Mr. Rocco is a total dick?) and decided to go home when Junie and a local police officer convince her to stay.

Determined, Nancy recreates the parchment paintings perfectly because of COURSE she can (Nancy is a practically perfect in every way android, don't you recall?), bemoaning the fact that she can't follow a slim clue all the way to Rome because it's "too expensive."  Uh, okay Nancy.  Can't remember that stopping you before.  Unfortunately, just as Nancy is finishing up the piece to show to Ned's Italian artist friend Vincenzo, two dudes run in and throw paint on it!

The robber who stole the original parchment, named Sid Zikes, is caught but much like any other criminal he's insisting "he's gots his rights."  Presumably, Sid is working for Rocco.  Why Rocco decided to sell this parchment thing at ALL is beyond me if all he wanted was to steal it back.

Nancy and Junie head back to Rocco's farm and try to interrogate the workers but they all speak a rare Italian dialect and cannot understand the girls.  They do manage to discover, however, that little Tony has run away after his uncle Rocco beat him for drawing pictures.  WTF, Rocco?!

Nancy and Junie find the boy, but decide to have him stay with the bible-spouting shepherd, who starts teaching him English right away (because he's got to learn if he's going to be in "these United States"  Ugghhhh.) and write a note to Rocco explaining Tony's location and threatening to go to the police about the beatings.

So, yeah.  This is the one where Nancy Drew kidnaps a child.

Don't get me wrong, it's in the best interest of Tony, but let's call a spade a spade here.  She's a kidnapper.  Two thugs also say as much when they show up with fake badges and try to arrest her for abduction, but they are working for Rocco.

After what seems like an eternity, Bess, George, Ned, Burt and Dave show up and start to pull their weight.  Junie seems nice and all, but a little green in the mystery department.  Within just a few pages, the gang has figured out that Rocco is running a fake union scam, collecting dues from workers seeking to earn higher wages, AND that Tony has a long lost mother in Italy.  Evidently, after this poor woman's husband died, her brother in law stole her money and absconded with her infant son as well.  She is also the painter of the parchment art, which depicted her husband's accident, her young boy and a self-portrait.  So Rocco stole that too.

Yeah, he's really a grade-A dick.  And also kind of stupid, or at least his muscle is.  When Nancy and Mrs. Bolardo (Tony's mom) go to find him, Rocco's men tie them up but then just sort of leave, saying they'll be back later.  Um, what?  These guys have NO follow-through!

Probably the best moment of the entire book other than when Bess is forced to tour the slaughterhouse is the climax, in which Rocco hears an angry mob outside his house.  He asks the police to protect him, but they're basically like "Sorry, dude, you made your bed."

After that I'm pretty sure he just got arrested, but I like to imagine the mob of duped Unioneers surrounding him and eating him like Ramsay Bolton's dogs.

This one was...okay.  Pretty middle-run.  Parts of it really dragged, and I felt like Nancy's characterization was sort of all over the place.  But, no fat shamings so plus!

3/5 mags

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book #53: The Sky Phantom guest reviewer MAREN ALESSANDRI LANE!

Nancy Drew: The Sky Phantom

Or as I like to call it: Nancy Drew: Romancing a Cowboy. And I imagine it’ll have a cover that looks something like this:

So I know there is an actual mystery that goes on in this installment, but I really feel as though the majority of the book is concern over Bess’ hot cowboy beau, and the classic soap opera decision of what she is going to do when Dave shows up! But until then, on to the actual mystery!
Despite the laughability of the Bess storyline (or maybe because of…), this is actually one of my favorite Nancy Drew installments in the original set. You open with, of course, Nancy doing something amazing (because of course she can!) In the opening scene she is flying a plane. Albeit she is taking a flying lesson, but still. And in perfect Nancy Drew fashion the mystery is alluded to within the first page of the book, even if it is semi nonchalantly. “That’s the mystery cloud, you can get lost in there it’s so big!” Of course the word “mystery” will have caught Nancy’s attention. Why is this guy seemingly ok with a “mystery cloud?” Doesn’t that seem like something they would have had someone investigate? Like, if a random cloud was in the same spot over my house all the damn time I think I would have tried to figure out what the eff was going on! I would have gotten Mulder and Scully stat!
Later, back at the farm they are all staying at, another mystery arises. Because when does a Nancy Drew novel only have ONE mystery. Spoiler: all the mysteries are ALWAYS linked. The second mystery is that the farm owner’s prize Palomino, Major, has been stolen. What dick goes around stealing someone’s horse? Hmmm the guy who stole the horse PROBABLY has something to do with the mysterious clous thingy, and also the notes sent to Nancy that, essentially, say “Hey Detective chick – GTFO!” Nancy, Bess, & George take it upon themselves to investigate by going on a horseback ride of their own. Which, of course, includes George making fun of Bess for wanting to make sure there are chicken sandwiches packed. Honestly, I tried keeping count in this book of how many times Bess gets fat shamed, but it hit like 4 in the first 23 pages and I decided it was kind of a depressing counter. But JOKES ON YOU GEORGE! Bess wins the heart of a hot cowboy. More on that later.
Most of this book finds the group on horseback tracking down parachute dudes that have gone missing, or missing planes. Which means Nancy does amazing feats like bringing down her plane in a forced safe crashed landing (why she was doing the landing while her instructor was there, I’ll never know!).
The book does take an upswing when, halfway through, Ned, Burt, & Dave show up. They say it’s because they’re jealous of all the fun the girls are having, but I’m convinced it’s because Dave is worried about the potential for a cowboy to steal his lady 😉. But again, I will get to that later.
Nancy must negotiate with a kidnapper, Ben Rall, for the return of another pilot who may have stumbled on the mysterious cloud. This cloud thing gets so glossed over for most of the book that it’s infuriating. More time gets spent on riding horseback and Nancy flying than anything else. After a lot of weird roundabout investigating, Nancy and Ned discover that the “mysterious cloud” is used as a cover up for a guy who has been burying rifles and bombs in the plains. As Ned put’s it “enough to blow up the whole country!” Ok Ned, let’s not get carried away, you drama queen. They find out this guy was doing it because he was part of some revolutionary gang thing….but it’s never really explained what his long term plan was. Which, honestly, disappoints me….
Bess, despite always being classed as the “overweight one,” is quickly sought out by a handsome cowboy that works on the same ranch. Bess TOTES appreciates that this guy is warm for her form, despite George and Nancy constantly asking about how this would effect Dave. The writing even points it out – almost painfully. When the girls find out that the boys are showing up Nancy and George happily tell Ned and Burt, respectively, that they are excited to see them. Bess kind of mumbles a response at Dave who is saying things like, “I’m counting the hours until I see you!” Man, poor Dave…When George confronts Bess about her poor phone etiquette and accuses Bess of the cowboy being in love with her. Bess shouts that maybe she’s in love with Chuck (oh yeah….cowboy dude totally has an actual name). Nothing happens with the cowboy really (maybe some light offpage kisses), but you can tell he totally digs her. Then the heat really gets turned up when the boys arrive at the ranch. Although at one point Bess reveals that Chuck wants her to stay behind at the ranch and marry him, a thought she gives some legit consideration. Whaaaat! What about Dave, Bess?!? Don’t break up the trio and trio dating happiness! Plus things get way awksies when other ranch hands start saying they are gonna “fix” Dave since he came to “steal Chuck’s gal!” Umm….dudes, Bess and Dave were a thing waaaay before, when Chuck was just a twinkling spur in his Mommy’s eye. Ok, maybe not that long, but still. Eventually Bess comes to her senses and realizes she needs to explain to Chuck that nothing will happen, that Dave is better for long term companionship. Basically, she just finds Chuck majorly hot.
All in all this really is one of my favorite NDs. But I honestly never remember much about the mystery, just what goes on in the soap opera….
Mystery Score: 3.5/5 Spurs
Romance Novel Score: 5/5 Spurs