26 December, 2010

"There's no reason why women detectives shouldn't be even better than men."

Trixie Belden #3
The Gatehouse Mystery

The detectives:
- Trixie Belden is the only daughter of the Beldens, and having two older brothers has made her into quite the tomboy. Although she's often teased for having her imagination run away with her, she can usually spot a mystery before anyone else can.
- Honey Wheeler is Trixie's best friend, a poor little rich girl. Unlike other "girly" girl characters in mystery series, Honey is just as happy as Trixie to plunge into adventure.
- Jim Frayne is Honey's adopted brother, and resident Alpha Male - although that doesn't mean he's always right. Trixie and Honey rescued him from a cruel step-father in a previous book.
- Brian and Mart Belden, Trixie's older brothers, introduced for the first time in this book. They're fairly interchangeable at this point.

The Case:
The book opens with Trixie writing a letter to her brothers at camp, which serves as a recap to the two previous books. This is handy, as I haven't read the two previous books. Basically, first the Wheelers moved next door, and then Trixie and Honey found Jim. Trixie waxes lyrical about how wonderful Jim is, but she also waxes lyrical about how wonderful Honey is. Those teen years can be confusing.

Trixie and Honey decide they're going to explore an old cottage they found on the Wheeler's property. Trixie has to take her little brother, Bobby, with her - he's too young to be left alone, and her mother is busy bottling fruit. Bobby races off into the cottage before either of the girls can stop him, trip over and cuts his knee. They take him to the Wheeler's groom, Regan, to get his cut seen to, and then go back to the cottage to make sure it wasn't an old nail that he hurt himself with.

It wasn't a nail. It was a diamond.

The girls realise that the diamond must have been dropped fairly recently, and Trixie immediately hits on the idea of jewel thieves. She demands that Honey doesn't tell anyone, but just hide the diamond for now, so that they can "solve the mystery of how it got into the cottage" themselves. She also thinks they should dig for more buried treasure, despite Honey pointing out that there was unlikely to be any more. They both dig, though - and while they're digging, Trixie thinks she hears someone in the thicket nearby, listening in on them. The thicket's full of poison ivy, though, so she doesn't want to investigate. The girls find a footprint in the cottage that has obviously been recently made, and Honey starts to believe Trixie's theory about jewel thieves. Then they *both* hear a twig snapping outside, and Trixie darts outside to try and find whoever was listening - running right through the poison ivy herself.

The Wheelers live quite far from town, and have been having problems with transport, so they decide to hire a chauffeur. At the same time, their gardener quits, so they need a new one. The day after fidning the diamond, they have a new chauffeur, Dick Nolastname. Dick seems really friendly at first, and even gives Bobby two quarters. But when Regan goes to lift his bag for him he freaks out, and when Miss Trask, the housekeeper, tells him his room will be above the garage, not in the house, he gets angry again. They've also hired a new gardener, Nailor, who showed up without any references. Trixie and Honey are still more interested in their mystery than in staffing problems, so they go back to the cottage to look for clues. They find footprints in the cottage and realise there must have been two men in the hut, not just one. Outside there are more footprints, and tiremarks, and Trixie "deduces" that while there were two men originally, only one - who must have rubber heels and a bad case of poison ivy - was listening to them in the thicket.

Bobby has spent the day with Dick and absolutely adores him. He accidentally tells Trixie a whole bunch of things that Dick said were meant to be "see-cruds" (secrets) - that he bought the Wheelers' two dogs bones, and that he had Bobby show him right around the property, including Honey's windows. Creepy. He also tells Trixie that Dick's afraid of horses, although Trixie finds that a little hard to believe. After dinner that evening he carries a glass jar of frogs to show off to his new best friend, but trips over and breaks it. Dick makes Trixie clear the glass up, telling her its her fault that the glass broke because she wasn't looking after her brother, and that she's too busy palling around with a rich girl to do any work. Then he stands there and watches her. Even creepier. It's pretty clear that Dick has latched on to Bobby as a way of getting easy information about the Wheelers and the Beldens. He makes me feel like I need to go scrub my skin off in order to feel clean again.

Trixie, not being an idiot, suspects Dick. Still, she feels like she doesn't have enough proof and can't tell anyone about her suspcions. So she comes up with a plan - as she is staying the night with Honey, she'll stay up late in case Dick tries to creep into Honey's room. Trixie drinks hot coffee and has a cold shower to try and stay awake, but she falls asleep anyway. She wakes up to hear someone opening Honey's bedroom door. She gives a yell and chases a dark figure, waking up everyone else in the house in the process, but the figure escapes. Trixie tells the others that she just had a nightmare, but Jim doesn't believe her for a second. She reluctantly tells him about the diamond, and her suspicions, but Jim tells her it can't be Dick - he had a letter of recommendation from a friend of Mr Wheeler.

Trixie's two older brothers, Mart and Brian, return home from camp. Unlike the responsible Jim, they would rather solve the mystery than turn the diamond over to the police, and Jim capitulates. He even suggests that he and Honey change rooms, so that the prowler won't find her. They scoff at the idea of Trixie and Honey becoming real detectives though. Mart and Brian also meet Dick, who is now sporting a black eye. Dick claims he was kicked by a horse when he tried to help Regan out with grooming - despite the fact that Regan is having his day off, and the horse didn't need grooming. Trixie wonders whether Dick got into a fight - but Mart suggests he could even have been smacked by the Wheeler's screen door while fleeing the house the night before.

Then, shock, horror! Honey realises the she's lost the diamond! She took it out to show it to the boys in the morning, and now it's missing. The likelihood of these kids actually putting the diamond down somewhere and forgetting about it seems pretty slim, but I guess they had to add tension to the plot somehow. The kids panic for a while, and then Bobby mentions that he found a big, pretty stone in the grass that morning. Good news! Except that he's put it somewhere and forgotten about it. Bad news! The gang try and find out everywhere Bobby's been since finding it, and rush around to see if they can find it. Finally, Trixie remembers that Bobby loves boxes (?). Honey checks her jewelry box and... there it is. Those two chapters were the biggest waste of my life.

So the kids decide that the diamond needs another hiding place. Mart goes to hide it in Brian's old riding boots, but they've been packed away. So instead he finds an sewing kit that a misguided aunt gave Trixie - she's never touched the thing - and hides the diamond inside the pin cushion. Then, worried that Bobby will take it upon himself to destroy the pin cushion, they switch it for one of Mrs Belden's, one that looks exactly the same.

The Wheelers have hired some horses so that the gang can all go riding together. While out for an evening ride, they meet Mr Lytell, the local shopkeeper and local gossip. He tells them he saw a car parked by the Wheeler's cottage the night before Trixie and Honey found the diamond. He also heard raised voices, which works with Trixie's theory that a couple of crooks fought, one leaving in the car and one getting left behind.

Dick is late back from his day off, not arriving until the next morning. Coincidentally, the planned trap for the diamond thief - the room switch - doesn't work. Jim maintains that Dick is an unlikely candidate for their criminal, because of the letter of recommendation, although Trixie suddenly wonders what time the mail was collected that day. When Dick does turn back up, his black eye has receded somewhat - but he's covered in a poison ivy rash. Regan is pissed off that he's been doing Dick's share of the driving, and Dick seems to be in an all-round bad mood - except to Jim and Honey, who he is ever-so-nice to. He seems to be genuinely contrite that he missed out on giving Jim a driving lesson, but Trixie isn't convinced. I hope for her sake that she's right about him being the bad guy, or she is going to get into some serious trouble over her attitude. Anyway, Dick's absolutely determined he's going to give Jim a driving lesson that afternoon.

Trixie explains to Honey that she thinks that Dick stole a letter to Mr Wheeler from his friend and simply forged his signature. She shows her how easy it's done with a piece of carbon paper. As an aside: carbon paper is *totally cool*, and I am sad that it doesn't really exist any more. Then they notice something: the jewelry box, which was left in Honey's old room to try and catch the thief, is gone. ...Because Miss Trask found it, and moved it. Sigh!

They all take the night off from sleuthing to go to the movies in town. Jim has his driving lesson and is meant to meet them there - but he doesn't. Dick turns up and says that Jim's going to have a haircut and grab a hotdog for dinner, even though, as Trixie points out, Jim hates the local hotdog stand. She's also surprised he didn't call to let Miss Trask know the change of plans.

When Jim doesn't turn up at the movies, Trixie gets really worried. She tries calling the manor, but there's no reply. In the intermission, she runs out to get a taxi back to the Wheeler's. She finds Dick, hunting for the missing diamond. He's already knocked out Jim during their driving lesson and left him in the forest. He's about had enough of Trixie too. But! Luckily! Jim bursts in with Regan (who has a gun) and that's it for dirty Dick.

So Dick and his friend had done a bit of burgling, but when they stopped at the Wheeler's cottage for the night they fell out while dividing the loot. Dick knocked out the other guy and drove away; only afterwards did he realise that there was a diamond missing. Hiding in the thicket, he heard Trixie and Honey talking, and forged a letter to get the chauffeur job to try and get it back. So Trixie was right about almost everything. More importantly, there's reward money for the diamond. Hoorah!

Case Notes:
- Bobby is pretty excruciatingly annoying, in that way that young child characters always are. He always mishears words - like "blimpse" for "glimpse" - which I guess is meant to show his age. It just makes me think he needs a hearing test.
- How do the girls know it was a diamond Bobby cut himself on? Honey's father has taught her how to spot fake diamonds, and this one's definitely real. OK.
- The characters in this book are way more rounded than most of the teen detective books I've been reading. Jim is the only one who really fits into a "type", being the responsible male, but he's not even the eldest, and he's actually wrong some of the time.
- ...Having said that, I found Brian and Mart pretty interchangeable - or at least, not distinct enough to remember which was which. They have a nice relationships with Trixie though, alternately teasing her and being affectionate.
- This is the book in which the Beldens and the Wheelers form their club - the Bob-whites of the Glen. The Bob-Whites appear in most of (all?) of the Trixie Belden books from now on, and slowly grows in numbers.
- The gang speak such fantastic slang. "Gleep!" "Honey is waiting to tell you the latest dope."
- Seriously, Bobby is sooooo annoying. Urgh.
- There's a running gag that Trixie hates it when her brothers use big words. From an adult's perspective it's pretty eye-rolling, considering that I wouldn't consider most of the words particularly difficult. But then, I am 24, not 8.
- The Bob-Whites all agree that they have to earn money for the club kitty - Honey and Jim, too. Honey is super excited at the thought of earning a wage. Honey, from one working girl to another: it's not the great.

31 October, 2010

Spooky Halloween Special!!! Part Three.

Thrilling conclusion to our three part mini-series! Hold onto your hats!!!

Frank and Joe drop Nancy off at the hotel, then conveniently forget they agreed that they were all working together so that they can return to the castle. Then! A bat appears! Spooooky! As they walk around in the castle's caverns, a certain pale-handed bachelor begins to follow them around. Then, just as he's about to reach out and grab Joe, Joe... walks away. This dude has to be the world's least committed vampire.

The next morning, Frank, Nancy, Joe and Bess go for a stroll around town to find that people are hanging up wreaths of garlic all over the place. Worst. Christmas decoration. Ever. The four of them decide that Allison Troy is still the best clue they have to the missing paintings, so while he's singing Joe searches the trunk of his car, and Nancy and Frank search his room. Joe finds nothing, but Nancy finds a briefcase stuffed with what I assume is some kind of thieving equipment.

Allison's thieving gear: screwdrivers, wire, syringe.
My make-up bag has the exact same contents.

The Nancy and Frank flirt a little.

Frank: Do you always get like this when you're excited?
Nancy: Oh, you'll know when I'm excited.
Frank: I look forward to that.
The conversation is so deadpan that you can almost feel the UST, if by UST you mean "boredom".

The townspeople form a mob roughly reminiscent of the one their forefathers would have formed to kill the original Dracula, right down to what I assume is traditional Transylvanian dress (which looks suspiciously Bavarian.) Of course, they think they are after the original Dracula, so I suppose they have some excuse. Apparenly Dracs is angry because of the rock concert going on in his castle. One of the mob actually suggests they burn the castle. This is not only hilarious, but also impractical, as the castle is made out of stone, but I guess the point of mobs is that they're angry, violent, and stupid. Spooky!

Stavlin addresses the crowd and points out that there haven't actually been any killings. He's also apparently the community inspector, which - isn't he Romanian? Is Transylvania in Romania? Why does everyone there speak with a German accent, then? These are the questions that keep me awake at night.

A mist starts to rise. I guess a country that has daily thunderstorms can handle a little mist in the evening. The Mayor invites Frank, Nancy, and Stavlin back to his apartments so that they can talk. Turns out he lives in part of an old prison, and the mayoral chambers are built like a fortress! Stavlin says that whoever attacked Fenton and the hotel-owner couldn't possibly attack the Mayor there. When Frank asks why he thinks the Mayor might be attacked, he says it's because it was the Mayor and town council who plotted Dracula's downfall originally. Fenton was just an unfortunate accident, according to Stavlin.

The conversation turns, and Nancy says she thought the burglary tools in Allison Troy's room were a little too conveniently placed. Stavlin thanks them for the information and leaves, after which the Mayor reluctantly agrees that he will stay in his fortressed-up mayoral office for the night, to avoid attack. He locks all the doors and bars the windows and I bet anything there's a secret passage. Back at the hotel, Nancy goes to bed while Frank waits up for Joe. Spooky!

Joe and Bess return from Joe's last gig. I would like to assure my readers that
what you can see is mist from the sky, not dope smoke from the van.

Then, Nancy is attacked by a bat.

She seems to be terrified, which I assume is a ploy because Nancy Goddamn Drew is not scared of any freaking bat. She actually throws a lamp at it. Frank and Joe bust down her door and rescue her, though. Frank points out that her window was barred from the inside, so that someone must have put the bat into her room. The only other explanation being that it was actually a vampire. The other other explanation is that the bat actually tunnelled its way into her room, up through the floor, but for some reason no one mentions that.

Stavlin shows up and tells them that Dracula isn't a myth, he's real! Stavlin is really starting to get on my nerves. Then the mayor's maid rushes in and says that something has happened to him. Spooky! They break into the mayor's apartments and find him slumped onto his desk, two puncture marks on his neck. The phantom bicycle repairer strikes again! Oooh! Or, you know, the vampire. The mayor is still alive, though! And the next day Stavlin arrests of Allison Troy, for the trail of art thefts across Europe.

Turns out that as well as the burglary kit, they found floor plans of the Louvre in Allison Troy's car! Seems like a done deal, right? Wrong! Because when Joe searched Allison's car the night before, there was nothing there. And Bess kept her eyes on Allison and his manager all night, and none of them were acting suspiciously. So someone planted the plans in the car, and the tool kit in his room. Spooky! But why? And more importantly, who?

The Mayor, of course! If no one could possibly have got into his room, then he must have done it to himself! That actually makes sense, but given that this is Stavlin's idea, and not Nancy's or the Hardy Boys', I'm guessing the Mayor's innocent. Well, that and the fact that he couldn't possibly have attacked the hotel owner because it would have meant being in two places at once. And that probably people would have noticed if he kept popping out of the country and returning with priceless artworks.

Anyway, with the mayor now under arrest, the townspeople ask Stavlin if he will be mayor. Spooky!
Stavlin: I? No, I have no political ambitions. [deprecating chuckle]
That is totally something that someone who was all along plotting to become mayor would say! Otherwise he would LOL no them properly, rather than allow himself to be quickly convinced in an entirely rehearsed manner.

Nancy doesn't believe Stavlin either, you can tell.
And, as an aside, Frank is wearing more blusher than Nancy.

Mystery apparently solved, the detectives say their goodbyes. This involves Joe and Bess necking while Frank and Nancy stare at each other saying, "Well. Uh, it's been nice meeting you and all..."

Frank and Joe drive back up to the castle, because Frank feels like there's still some loose ends. He heads down to the caverns, where Dracula's tomb is sealed behind a door with Dracula's crest on it. Except that it's not really sealed, because there's a hidden lever on the crest that opens it! Spooky! And inside the tomb? The stolen art! And also a coffin. Frank opens it to see what's inside. In case you're wondering, a skeleton. Ooooh!

Then! Stavlin turns up! And the boys have worked out that the connection between the attacks and the thefts is Stavlin himself. He was being forced to retire, so he was stealing the paintings in order to retire with a little money. He used the castle as his own private retreat, until Allison Troy rented the venue and Fenton Hardy turned up. The attack on the mayor was staged - Stavlin drugged him and then, when he'd rushed to his rescue, drew the puncture marks on his neck while the Hardys were distracted.

Stavlin traps the Hardys and threatens to push them down a gaping hole that just sort of appears in the floor. I guess the hows and whys of that aren't really important. But Nancy, Bess and a recovered Fenton rush to their rescue, and it is Stavlin who falls down the hole! But the Hardys rescue him. Man, I totally took all the dramatic tension out of that scene.

Stavlin is arrested, and it seems like everything's been wrapped up! Except for that UST between Frank and Nancy.

And... except for the fact that Stavlin doesn't have a reflection...


I hope you have enjoyed this ~Spooky Special~. Expect some Trixie Belden goodness in the near future. And Happy Halloween!

30 October, 2010

Spooky Halloween Special!!! Part Two.

Our spooky Halloween Special continues! Are you ready? Then I'll begin.

Nancy takes a look at Fenton's notebook and ascertains that he has a series of dates in it - that correspond to the dates of concerts performed by rock star Allison Troy. I always thought Alison was a girl's name, but I expect if I said that to Alice Cooper he'd beat the crap out of me with his guitar. Apparently, each of the art thefts took place during the concerts.

Frank tells Nancy that she's meddling in their father's case and she LOLs at him. Then Joe suggests that him and Frank go to Transylvania and liaise with her in Munich, but she tells him she's going to Transylvania. Right now, in fact.

Frank, Joe and the band arrive in Transylvania and have a look at the castle. There's another thunderstorm. That crazy Transylvanian atmospheric pressure. While they're outside, there's someone moving about... inside. We don't get to see his face, but he's very pale. Not to scare anyone, but I think he might be a vampire!!!

Vampires drink blood, are allergic to sunlight, and love their bling.

When they get to their hotel, they find Stavlin there, chilling with the locals and complaining about kids these days, etc. Spooky! The mayor of the town suggests that Stavlin isn't really angry about the rockfest so much as he scared of someone... or something. Stavlin makes the Hardys promise that he'll come to them if they find any news of their father. When they register at the hotel, they see that their father had signed in the hotel, sometime earlier. The boys decide to talk to Allison Troy himself.

The rock concert is about the lamest concert I've ever seen. You know the way old men dance at weddings? Yeah, that's how hardcore this concert is. Spooky! Allison's lyrics are pretty great though: "Good for nothing, bad in bed / Nobody likes you and you're better off dead / Goodbye, goodbye."
Rock musicians: super hardcore.

Allison warns them that nobody - but nobody! - is allowed down to the caverns below the castle. So the Mayor decides to go down to the caverns. Then Fenton's bearded companion warns him that it's super dangerous. Oh, those superstitious bearded companions! Stavlin also warns against it. Spooky! Turns out Joe can actually sing, so he takes to the stage while Frank investigates. Nancy and Bess arrive; Bess thinks Joe is totally hot. They take off into the caverns, too.

The mayor's party is the first to take a wrong turn. They end up by a door marked with Dracula's crest. The bearded companion panics, and the others laugh at him, but they follow him away from it anyway. The mayor notices that, as the leave, the stone roof starts to crumble. Then the door starts to open... The party goes through a torture chamber and one of them - the hotel owner - starts to lag behind. A ringed hand reaches for him...

Frank stumbles across the hotel owner's body. He's in one of the cells, unconscous but alive. Unfortunately, while he's in the cell, someone with a pale ringed hand decides to lock him in. Then Bess and Nancy arrive on the scene - just in time to see that the hotel owner has two small puncture wounds on the base of his neck! Some kind of bicycle wheel repaire gone horribly wrong, perhaps? Bess runs for a doctor while Nancy picks the lock with a hairpin. With this knew, spooky angle to the mystery, Nancy and Frank agree to start working together.

Not pictured: Nancy holding Frank's testicles in a vice-like grip. Who's the Alpha Male now, huh?

Joe's unimpressed that Nancy has joined them, until she reveals that she thinks she's found their father. He was found by some monks, and the reason Interpol hadn't found him was that he only had ID with his alias on it with him. Obviously! Luckily, Nancy is smarter than Interpol. Frank and Joe visit Fenton, and Frank tries really hard to emote. He's been unconscious for at least four days. Turns out he's got the same puncture wound. Spooky! Then Frank, Joe and Nancy all pretend not to believe in vampires, and drive off into the night.


But first, a small mystery! Allison's audience are all dressed in spooky costume for the occasion. That's all well and fine, but what the hell is this guy dressed as?

29 October, 2010

Spooky Halloween Special!!! Part One.

I've been gone for a while, I know. And I'm sorry! To make it up to you, my loyal reader(s), for the next three nights I will be presenting something very special. And seasonal. Yes, it's the episode of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries where the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew meet Dracula! The episode is called: "Meet Dracula". It's right there on the tin!

Our story opens in Transylvania. Oooh! Spoooooky! The Hardy Boys' father, the dashing Fenton Hardy, drives up a dark, spooky road with a bearded companion. The bearded companion explains that he's been the only one to drive this way for many, many years. But now an American rock singer is coming and... I guess he's going to be using the road, too? At last, they reveal where they are driving to - a castle! A very square, jail-like castle. The music swells dramatically. A wolf howls in the distance. A thunderstorm starts. I guess Transylvania's been hit by a warm front, with westerlies blowing straight from the Isle of Clich├ęs.

Spooky! Well, sort of spooky. Well, if you squint a bit, and tilt your head to the left...

The bearded companion warns Fenton not to go inside, and then abandons him at the castle gates. Fenton chuckles, dashingly. Oh, those bearded companions! How superstitious they are. Fenton goes in anyway, because he's a HARDY, dammit. A bat appears, but Fenton is wearing a trenchcoat and totally dapper boots, so he's not scared. He comes to some kind of courtyard and the music swells once more. This is so spooky, you guys. I'm on the edge of my seat. Then he finds a gargoyle. Oooh! Another bat appears. Or possibly the same one, it's kind of hard to tell if you're not intimately acquainted with bats. Fenton, surprised, drops his torch... into a pile of bones! Man, this castle has everything.

Being a great lover of musical theatre, Fenton knows to keep his hand at the level of his eyes.

Then Fenton is knocked out by a shadow. DUN DUN DUN!

Two weeks later, Paris. Frank and Joe are following every lead they can to try and find their father. They arrive at Fenton's hotel room to find a Romanian detective, Hans Stavlin, going through their father's things. Turns out Fenton was working with Interpol on an international art theft case. Interpol has zero leads on the case or on Fenton's whereabouts. Interpol sound pretty useless all-round. Spooky! Stavlin suggests they go back to the States, but the Hardys find their father's notebook, which includes a memo of a meeting in a Munich hotel.

Guys I have read like a million Hardy Boys books, and at no point have they ever described the fabulousness that is these boys' hair. Spooky!

The boys decide to go undercover so they... join a band. Obviously. The band's heading to the Transylvanian Dracula Festival, which! Coincidentally! Is also mentioned in Fenton's notebook!

In Munich, the boy check into their father's hotel room, then go out to get something to eat. Then - Nancy Drew arrives, with Bess! Spooky! She's travelling under the name "Miss Fredericks" and is alarmed to hear that there is a rock group staying in her room. So she gets the bellhop to take their bags away. (There's this whole joke about how the bellhop is a former Nazi. It's reeeeeally not much of a joke.) Frank sees the bellhop taking the bags away, and tells him to take them back. When he hears it's two ladies in the room, he asks the bellhop to take their bags back down to the lobby. Nancy catches him at it and sends him back up. Hilarious! I mean, spooky!

Nancy and the Hardys end up in the same elevator together. Frank tries to flirt, but Nancy brushes him off. They reach their (shared) room, and Frank tries to pick up Nancy's luggage, so she judo flips him. Nancy is awesome. But, finally, they realise that they're actually all there to see each other, and they start discussing the case.

Frank: still macking on Nancy. Joe: Has a nice arse. Spooky!


06 September, 2010

The Clue in the Comic

Kate Beaton has done a series of comic strips riffing on classic Nancy Drew covers. I love Kate Beaton's humour, so if you're not already a regular reader of hers, they're well worth checking out.

23 August, 2010

"The 'Secret Way'. I'll find it somehow."

The Famous Five #2
Five Go Adventuring Again

The detectives:
As the title suggests, the Famous Five involves not just one, but five detectives! In order to avoid confusion, here are some easy descriptions of them. Julian, Dick, and Anne are siblings; George is their cousin.
  • Julian is the eldest, and a boy, and therefore the leader of the gang. He's always right, and all grown-ups trust him implicitly, and he's super responsible. He knows that it's his job to protect the girls, Anne and George, whether they like it or not.
  • Anne is the youngest, and a girl, and therefore likes girly things. Like cleaning! And cooking! And being protected by manly men! She's most easily scared and hates the various mysteries she and the others get involved in.
  • George is also a girl, despite her name. For some reason, she doesn't want to do the usual girl things, like Anne - this crazy mofo wants independence and equality! She's so silly. You can't do the things that boys do if you have a vagina! She's also sulky and bad-tempered, but she has a heart of gold.
  • Dick is the other boy. He doesn't really have a personality, because that's Alpha Male Julian's job. Dick's role is to back up Julian so that George doesn't forget that she's a girl, and so that Anne doesn't realise that a life of drudgery isn't all that much fun.
  • Timmy is George's dog. He can sense evil, and is a better weapon than a loaded gun. He's usually the one the bad guys try to kill, although due to his ability to sense evil, they always fail.
Together... they fight crime.

The case:
It's almost Christmas, and Anne and George are preparing to go home from school for the holidays, when they hear bad news - Anne's mother is sick, so she and the boys won't be home for Christmas. Aunt Fanny, George's mother, invites them back to their home, Kirrin, but there's more bad news - poor grades mean that George, Dick and Julian are all going to have to have a tutor over the holidays. At Kirrin, Anne and George meet Aunt Fanny, who is nice and has a sense of humour; Uncle Quentin, who is basically a bad-tempered and unsympathetic genius; and Joanna, the cook, who is fat. That's seriously the only trait she's given in this book.

Uncle Quentin interviews a few different candidates for the children's tutor, and chooses the one who seems quite intelligent, because he knows all about the secret work that Uncle Quentin is doing. And alarm bells are ringing already. He's also "very firm", something which alarms the kids. Dick wonders if he likes dogs, and George announces that if he doesn't then she won't do any work all holidays. Have I mentioned that George is kind of a brat?

The tutor, Mr Roland arrives. He wants to call George 'Georgiana', and isn't a fan of dogs, so you know George is going to hate him. Of course, Tim doesn't like Mr Roland either, which is like a beacon going off telling the reader that there is Something Fishy about Mr Roland. The other kids like him though, especially Anne. Oh Anne. Your need to please everyone and like everyone bespeaks volumes about your terrifying upbringing.

The children are disappointed to learn that, even though it's a week before Christmas, they'll be starting their lessons already. Their afternoons are free, though, so they go off for a visit to Kirrin Farm. The couple who run the farm, Mr and Mrs Sanders, naturally adore 'Master George' and despite the children not calling ahead to let them know they were coming but just assuming that everyone they meet are going to love them and despair, offer them freshly baked shortbread and hot drinks. The Sanders mention that they have a couple of artists staying with them over Christmas, and then Tim chases and cat and accidentally opens a secret panel.

A secret panel, you guys! Julian sends Anne off to get a candle, and then gets to have first look inside the hole behind the panel. Then Dick gets a turn. Then the girls. The kids are naturally pretty excited, and Mrs Sanders directs them to a cupboard upstairs with a sliding back. Anne shines for a moment by being the one to find the switch that opens it, but instantly loses her cool points by being claustrophobic when she tries to fit in the space behind the sliding back.

Dick finds a hole in the brick wall behind the cupboard, and is excited to find an old recipe book in it - a good six generations old. Nice try, Dick, but it's Julian who makes the real discovery - a tobacco pouch, which contains a scrap of material with a coded message inside. The children decide to keep it a secret, and Julian suggests they kick Anne if she starts to give anything away. Nice.

Mr Roland gets on George's bad side by first calling Timothy a terrible mongrel and then calling her Georgina. Julian tries to get him to treat her in a more understanding way, but Mr Roland says he doesn't need a child to tell him how to treat his pupils. Seeing Julian squashed is incredibly enjoyable. Of course, George decides that since everyone else likes Mr Roland, she doesn't want anything to do with them. Dick manages to talk sense into her - for now - and she agrees to try not to ruin Christmas. The children tell Mr Roland all about Kirrin Farm, although not the secret code that they discovered. He seems very interested.

George sneaks Tim under the table during their lessons, and he promptly bites Mr Roland. George realises she's going to have to obey their tutor, or he'll order Timothy to be permanently chained outside. She announces to the other children that she doesn't like him, not just because of Tim, but also because he has thin lips. Apparently thin lipped people "are always spiteful and hard". Eugenics are alive and well in the 21st century. Dick agrees that there's something up with Mr Roland, but Julian doesn't think so. He likes their tutor enough to ask him about some words that are written on their bit of material - via occulta. It turns out to be Latin for secret way, and the kids are all super excited at the thought of finding it. When they don't make any progress, Julian actually shows Mr Roland the linen, which pisses George off no end.

The secret code is actually a diagram marked in Latin, showing eight wooden panels in a room facing east, with a stone floor and a cupboard. Mr Roland makes the children tell him where they found it, with a piece of dialogue which is genuinely creepy:

"'I think you might tell me,' said the tutor, looking at Dick with his brilliant blue eyes. 'I can be trusted with secrets. You've no idea how many strange secrets I know.'"

Christmas Day comes, and there's time off lessons. George even grudgingly accepts a present from Mr Roland, a book on dogs. But that night, when everyone's asleep, she wakes up to hear someone creeping about downstairs. Thinking it might be a burglar, she and Tim creep downstairs to confront whoever it is - and it turns out to be Mr Roland, moving around in the dark. He claims to have heard a noise as well, and isn't please when George doesn't instantly believe him. When George's father joins them, Mr Roland easily convinces him to turn Tim out of the house, and have him chained to his kennel. While I agree with his sentiment, it's still pretty harsh to force a dog who is used to being inside, outside during the coldest months of the year.

The Five - minus George and Tim - and Mr Roland go to Kirrin Farmhouse to try and find the secret way. They try a couple of different rooms, and meet the artists who are now staying with the Sanders. Mr Roland has clearly never met them before, as he asks for an introduction. But when Anne describes the artists to George, she's sure that she saw them and Mr Roland talking that morning, before the visit to Kirrin Cottage. The plot is starting to thicken nicely.

In an effort to get Tim back, Julian convinces George to behave well in lessons. She works hard and even manages to smile at Mr Roland's jokes. He gives a good report of her to her father, and Julian and the others ask that they have Tim back as a reward. Unce Quentin is unable to make this decision himself, apparently, because he asks Mr Roland what he thinks, and the tutor for some reason loathes the very thought. George is miserable, moreso when she lies awake that night hearing Tim whine and cough. She finally comes up with a brilliant idea - bring Timmy inside to her father's study, where the fire isn't quite out, and rub oil into his hairy chest. Those are the actual words. I guess I'm glad that Tim isn't bald. She falls asleep in front of the fire, and has to hurry back to her room in the morning. Anne is completely overwhelmed by George's daring. I'm not sure what part of this was daring, except that Uncle Quentin will flip his shit if he finds out George has been in there.

The next morning, George has a massive attack of sulks again and refuses to go to lessons. The others truthfully tells Mr Roland that they don't know where George is, and when Anne is sent to look for her she can't find her. Then Uncle Quentin appears to ask if any of the children were in his study last night, as test tubes are broken and there are important pages missing from his work. Uncle Quentin, didn't anyone ever tell you to back that up on a separate hard drive? Still, it's top secret government work, so he's understandably worried. Anne knows George was in his study last night, but she's sure it couldn't have been her, and manages not to give her away. Mr Roland tries to pin the blame on George anyway.

Unfortunately, then Uncle Quentin finds the empty oil bottle that George left in his study. Mr Roland can smell Anne's fear, and keeps asking her what she knows. Eventually, Anne bursts into tears, and - since he's the only one allowed to bully Anne - Julian tells everyone to leave her alone, since if she's keeping a secret she must have a good reason for it. The three of them then rush off to find George and warn her. George freely admits she was in the study, but denies breaking anything. George's father believes her, because she never tells lies, but when she suggests that the burglar must have come from inside the house he refuses to believe it. He then goes to consult with his wife about a suitable punishment for George, and George suddenly realises that his workroom has eight wooden panels!

George tells Julian about the panels, and also tries to convince him that Mr Roland must have been the one to steal the missing pages. Julian reluctantly agrees to follow Mr Roland on his walk that afternoon, and is surprised to see him pass on Uncle Quentin's papers to the two 'artists' staying at Kirrin Farm. Julian returns home to learn that there's going to be heavy snow for the next few days, which means that they won't be able to leave the house again - but that means that the 'artists' won't be able to leave the farm to pass on the pages to anyone, either.

George's idea about the Secret Way turns out to be right, too. The next day lessons are canceled as Mr Roland has a cold, so when Uncle Quentin goes out to shovel snow the children and Tim go into the study and follow the coded instruction, opening up a secret passage. They go down it to explore, and quickly come to the conclusion that it leads to Kirrin Farmhouse. Anne then suggests that if they can get into the Farmhouse undiscovered, they'll be able to steal back her uncle's pages.

The tunnel comes out in the cupboard with the sliding back! The children quickly search through the artists' rooms, but can't find the pages anywhere. And then Anne (of course it's Anne) accidentally drops a vase, and the smash alerts the artists to the fact that someone is in their room. The children flee, but at the last moment George has the brainwave to search through the artists' coat pockets. She finds a sheath of papers and takes them, not having time to see if they're the right things or not.

The children manage to escape back down the tunnel, but then Tim freaks out and starts howling, and the artists realise that there's something strange about their cupboard. The start chasing the children, who run for it. Anne has a tough time keeping up with the others, though, and between being pulled by Julian and pushed by Dick she falls and twists her ankle. George tells the others to keep going, with Anne and the papers - she and Tim will face down the men. Tim launches himself at the artists, which frightens them enough that they retreat back to the farmhouse. George and Tim catch up to the others, and they tell Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny everything.

Mr Roland had, of course, been planted in the house to gain Uncle Quentin's trust and steal his papers. He had insisted that Tim go outside so that he could move around the house without being caught. Uncle Quentin apologises to George for not believing her, and lets her lock Mr Roland in his room. The artists come back through the tunnel, but Tim is lying in wait for them, and they get locked into Mr Roland's room too. The police arrive - on skis! - to handcuff them. And the children don't have to have any more lessons for the rest of the hols.

Case notes:
  • The only reason that Dick and Julian have poor grades is because they were sick for part of the term, of course. Don't worry kids, they're still Good Examples.
  • I'm pretty sure we don't actually meet Anne and co.'s parents for the whole of the series.
  • Anne seems to like Mr Roland due to his white teeth and "brilliant blue" eyes. You know she'd be a Frodo fangirl.
  • We're told that Julian fancies himself as an artist. An Alpha Male with a sensitive side? Swoon!
  • Anne really is terrible at keeping secrets. Not even in a 'oops, I hinted at something there' kind of way. In a, she opens her mouth and the truth comes out without any prompting kind of way.
  • George is a pretty popular character, I know, but she irritates me so much. She hates Anne for liking Mr Roland, but when Anne says that she loves Tim, George likes her again.
  • A lot of the Christmas preparations are described, and it turns out that George has never had a Christmas tree before. Maybe they still weren't that common when the book was written?
  • Despite not really liking any of the characters, they are well drawn, and Enid Blyton is pretty amazing at conveying personality in actions and reactions. You can see why her books have stood the test of time!
  • Anne and George are constantly described as "little girls" which, sure, I think they're ten and eleven, when this book was written that was considered pretty young - Anne still plays with dolls, for example. But Dick and Julian, at eleven and twelve, aren't described as "little boys". And George being constantly described as a "little girl" seems especially demeaning, given that she hates being a girl.
  • At one point, George is sent to bed as punishment, and the others are forbidden to talk to her. Dick suggests they sneak up and talk to her anyway, and Julian says that he'll go, by himself. Because he's the eldest.
  • The Kirrins' cook, Joanna, is new to the household. But George doesn't consider for one single second that it might be her who stole her father's pages. She just thinks, "It can't have been Mother, or Joanna," and that's it.
  • Dick worries that the men might have "revolvers". I think that might be the one thing that dates this book the most.

The cover: Do you think Anne and (whichever boy) are meant to look scared? Because they look more horrified. Like maybe someone just told them about The Human Centipede.

Less flippantly, it came as a bit of a shock to me that the kids are both shown wearing fairly modern clothes - at least, that hoodie is pretty contemporary. Obviously they're trying to appeal to modern readers, but these books are so mid-20th century to me the clothing just doesn't seem to 'fit' the characters.

24 July, 2010

At the Hop

Thanks to Oh YA! Comics I found out about this fairly awesome Book Blog party! And, since it seems like fun, I thought I'd join in. I've already found a bunch of fun new book blogs - check out my sidebar for all the blogs I think everyone ought to check out :D

Book Blogger Hop

This week's challenge was TELL US ABOUT THE BOOK YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING!, which is a little hard as I've only just started reading my current book. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, is the story of two comic book creators in the 1940's, one of whom is desperately trying to help his family escape Nazi Europe. I've read Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union and loved it, so I'm pretty excited about finally getting my teeth stuck into this one - I borrowed it off a friend back in February, oops.

If you've hopped here:
Hopefully tomorrow I'll be making that Famous Five post I've promised! I'd rather be doing that than what I'm currently doing, which is transcribing interviews. Sigh.

21 July, 2010

Wednesday Moment - Ti(c)k to(c)k

Since we're on the subject of Batman...

20 July, 2010

Teen Detectives Inc. Presents: The Boy Wonder Special

No, I haven't disappeared! I've just been super busy with a research project. I'm working on a Famous Five post, but in the meantime, here's a bit of frippery, courtesy of my indistinguishable love for all things Batman.

Have you ever heard of Batman? Of course you have, you're alive. You are perfectly familiar with the masked vigilante with abs of steel and a penchant for flying mammals and women who dress like cats! What you might not know, unless you are big into comics, is that Batman wasn't originally conceived as a superhero as such, but more of a detective. His original appearance was in the appropriately named Detective Comics, a title which is still running. And while Batman may be an adult of questionable sanity, he has often had young, teenaged sidekicks helping him solve crime. And unlike the teen detectives who work in children's books, the comics industry is not averse to showing something absolutely shocking: sometimes, teen detectives grow up.

Oh, and sometimes they die.

So what will future bring for our favourite teen detectives - the Nancy Drews, the Hardy Boys, the Trixies and Fives and Megs? Or rather, what would the future bring, if they were ever allowed to age? Batman's sidekick, Robin - er, Robins - can teach us some valuable lessons.

Robin #1 - Dick Grayson
This is probably the Robin most people are familiar with. Dick Grayson's parents were acrobats in a circus, who were cruelly murdered after witnessing a crime. Batman then took in Dick, leaving millions of fans to wonder a) why a single man was taking in an orphaned boy 2) whether letting him wear a bright red costume and fight crime was in any way sane and iii) seriously, how hilarious is the name "Dick".

Where-to from Robin: Dick eventually became frustrated with always being Batman's sidekick, and eventually took on a new identity, Nightwing, and moved from Gotham City to Bludhaven, where he began to fight crime on his own. Since Bruce Wayne, the original Batman, got lost in time*, he has taken on the identity of his mentor and is the new Batman in Gotham City.

The Lesson: Once a detective, always a detective. Detecting is in the blood, and our teen detectives are going to grow up into... adult detectives.

Robin #2 - Jason Todd
Jason first brought himself to Batman's notice when he stole the wheels off the Batmobile, giving him the honour of being the Robin with the biggest balls. Batman thought the kid had potential, and took him in with the hope of setting him on the straight and narrow. It didn't entirely work. Jason frequently disobeyed orders, he rebelled, he even - gasp! - smoked.

Where-to from Robin: Jason found out the mother he remembered was not his biological mother. He eventually found his birth-mother, but was brutally slaughtered by the Joker for his efforts. Batman put up a memorial to him in his Batcave to provide years of angst. Jason was later accidentally brought back to life**, and has since proved to be kind of a sociopath. Waking up in your own coffin will do that to you, I guess. He was last seen falling off a building, but it's not like being dead has ever stopped him before.

The Lesson: Not every villain will make do with tying up a teen detective and cackling before revealing all their plans. Our teen detectives ought to have a bullet proof vest, at the very least. Although may I suggest a tank?

Robin #3 - Tim Drake
Tim is what many people may term a stalker. That is, he stalks people. He stalked Batman and Nightwing until Batman finally gave in and let him be Robin 3.0, because Batman appreciates that kind of dedication.

Where-to from Robin: Tim stayed as Robin until his Dad asked him to quit so that the two of them could have a semblance of a normal life. He later returned to the position, but at Bruce Wayne's disappearance he decided to go his own way, taking a new name.

The Lesson: You may be a detective, but you're still a teen, and you have to do what your parents tell you. You better have tidied your room and taken out the trash by the time I get home, young lady, or there'll be hell to pay.

Robin #4 - Stephanie Brown
Steph's dad was a D-rate villain, and she wasn't very happy about it. She made her own costume - a purple cloak and black mask - and taking the name of Spoiler set out to, uh, spoil his plans. She met Robin/Tim Drake and the two started a thing, but he and Batman were supremely unhappy about her doing her own vigilante/detecting, claiming that her recklessness would only get her killed. However, after Tim quit the first time, she finally convinced Batman to make her part of the team, and she became the first, and as yet only, female Robin.

Where-to from Robin: Steph's recklessness... eventually got her killed. Batman wouldn't put up a memorial to her in the Batcave, either. However, it later turned out that Steph was only pretending to be dead so she could find herself***. She went back to being Spoiler for a little while, but is currently the latest in a short line of Batgirls.

The Lesson: Even if you're a great teen detective, not everyone is going to believe you can hack it out there in the adult world. (Oh, and Batman is a dick.)

Robin #5 - Damian Wayne
Damian is Bruce Wayne's son. Well, biologically, anyway. His mother, Talia, probably drugged Bruce and had sex with him in order to raise his son as the perfect assassin****. Damian badly wants to impress his father, but his early training means he is ruthless and completely lacks empathy. He's also ten years old, which means he spends a fair amount of time staring at Stephanie Brown's chest.

Where-to after Robin: Unknown, as yet.

The Lesson: If our teen detectives are too successful, assassins may use them to breed future detectives. Actually, that might explain the horror that is Famous 5: On the Case.

* Everyone thought he was dead, see, but then they found that there were clues all through history which were pointing to the existence of a Batman through the ages and... look, comics are messed up. You just learn to roll with it after a while.
** There're these pits, OK, and if you throw a dead person into them they come back to life. It all makes perfect sense!
*** She didn't suffer from recklessness so much as bad writing. Fans hated that she was tortured and killed, but they hated even more that she was blamed for her own death and wasn't even really allowed to be mourned by the other characters.
**** This is where just rolling with it comes in

08 June, 2010

"We always solve them, too."

Meg #6
Mystery in Williamsburg

We take a break from Nancy this week with a lesser-known mystery-solver who was nonetheless a huge part of my childhood. The 'Meg' mysteries were aimed at younger children, so the stories have far fewer cliff-hangers (and larger print).

Meg has a number of similarities to Nancy Drew - she's motherless, and largely raised by her housekeeper, she loves solving mysteries (of course) and she never makes any mistakes, leaving that to her best friend, Kerry, to do.

The case:
It's spring, and Meg is painting a picture of some dandelions for her father, who is away on business. Apparently she's amazingly talented at art. I suspect this will be relevant later in the book. You can tell she's talented because Mrs Wilson, the housekeeper, tells her her painting is "real pretty". She also brings Meg some news: her uncle is here to see her!

Uncle Hal has a Very Important job at the museum, although Meg's not allowed to ask questions about it. I'm thinking he's actually a government spy. He's also young and handsome. I'm thinking
sexy government spy. Anyway, Uncle Hal has arrived to invite Meg and Kerry to Williamsburg. A friend of Meg's (dead) mother is holding a toy exhibition, and she's asked Meg and Kerry to help, as tour guides.

When the three of the get to Williamsburg, Meg's (dead) mother's friend isn't home, and although she leaves her front door open, it sticks in the rain. No matter - her house has a secret entrance! There's a door next to the chimney which leads into the old wood shed, and then into the house. That is actually pretty cool.

Meg's (dead) mother's friend, Lucy, arrives home. Uncle Hal tells her something smells good, and Lucy flirtatiously suggests that it's her, although it turns out he's actually talking about dinner. Still, Uncle Hal is clearly a UILF. Lucy tells the girls about the mysterious Miss Mariah, who is donating some of the toys to the exhibition. She carries an old doll around with her all the time, and there's a locked room in her mansion (aka the River House) which she visits every day between 2 and 3pm. No one says anything about Bluebeard, but I bet they're all thinking it.

Before visiting Miss Mariah, Meg and Kerry get dressed up in Colonial style clothes. I remember doing that at school when I was a kid, and it being
totally fun. Kerry is a tomboy, so she has to wear stockings and breeches, which sounds less fun. They go to show off their outfits to Uncle Hal, and Meg finds a photo that he's dropped, of a man who is smiling - except the smile doesn't reach his eyes. Ladies and gentlemen, we have found our villain, and we don't even know what the mystery is yet.

Miss Mariah introduces Meg and Kerry to Paris, the doll she carries around with her. She was named Paris because... she was made in Paris. This seems like the doll-equivalent of naming your child after wherever it was conceived. Number 17 Bus Shelter knows what I'm talking about. Paris was one of the first talking dolls ever made, but one day... there was a tragedy. And after that Paris
never spoke again.

Miss Mariah's parents died when she was 6, and her Grandfather took her in. He filled her playroom with toys, all of which she was allowed to play with - except for two little peg dolls, named Mercy and Charity. Apparently, they were incredibly valuable, but Miss Mariah could never work out why. After all, they were made from clothespins. But one day, her visiting cousins completely wrecked the playroom, breaking the doll's house that was an exact replica of the River House (right down to a secret room), injuring Paris, and losing the two peg dolls. The resulting arguements and accusations broke the family apart.

Apparently Miss Mariah's grandfather found the two dolls, and hid them to keep them safe. But she was ill when he told her where, and all she can remember of his instructions is to "turn the house upside down, and you'll find them". She has turned the whole house upside down, searching everywhere, but she's never found them.

Strangely, a lot of people have suddenly started visiting her, and asking her about her toy collection. She's sure that someone's out to steal her toys. Perhaps she's been visited by Angelica Pickles. But she's sure they'll be safe at the exhibition while she's out of town, and Meg and Kerry promise to look after Paris as if she was there own child. Er, doll. Then there's a knock at the door. A young man, Stephen, comes to the door and asks where he can find the River House and Miss Mariah, Miss Mariah is incredibly suspicious, and turns him away before he can say why he's there.

Lucy takes the girls home with the toys Miss Mariah has donated to the exhibition, and it starts pouring with rain. They see Stephen waiting for the bus and offer him a lift, and as they talk he starts revealing that he knows things about Paris and Miss Mariah that she had said no one else knew. As thanks he offers to help carry the toys into Lucy's house. And they let him, because that is the
ideal thing to do when you think someone is trying to steal your shit - let them carry it for you. The front door is still stuck, so they have to go in through the chimney door again. Stephen, who is carrying the doll's house, slips in the dark, but the doll's house seems to be unharmed. The only thing that has changed is that the roof, which was slightly crooked before, is now straight. Meg notices this with her "artist's eye", by the way. Stephen apologises, saying he tripped over his own large feet.

The next day, Lucy, Meg and Kerry go out for a walk, and Meg decides she wants to do some sketching. Up until now, Meg has been the one looking after Paris, but she gives the doll to Kerry to hold so she can work. Lucy sends Kerry to buy some fresh cookies, and in the bakery the baker accidentally bumps into Kerry with a hot baking tray, burning her hands. She puts Paris down on the counter while she gets her hands bandaged up - and when she comes back, Paris is gone! Meg, of course, wouldn't have put Paris down for a second, 3rd degree burns or no.

Lucy thinks someone must have just picked up Paris thinking she was lost, but Meg wonders if she was stolen. She's further convinced when they visit the toy exhibition and she finds out that a lot of old toys are worth a lot of money - especially early models, like Paris. Lucy finally considers going to the police, but before she can ring them Meg hears someone coming up the steps towards the exhibition, and leaving again quickly. When Meg and Kerry open the door, they find Paris leaning against the doorframe. And I read enough horror stories as a young kid to be pretty convinced that Paris is alive and out to kill everyone.

Back at the exhibition, Meg and Kerry find footsteps muddy footsteps going up the stairs. Footprints made by large feet. Which is just the kind of feet that Stephen has! Even more suspiciously, after the exhibition opens, he comes to visit and makes a joke about Paris "getting back in time". The girls are sure he stole Paris, but Lucy points out that that isn't the hard evidence that they need. She might not have used those exact words.

Now, Meg's age is never actually given in the book, but I have to assume she's quite young - for one thing, she wears her hairs in pigtails, which is usually a sign of "young girl", and for another, Lucy worries about leaving the girls alone at night. So let's say she's thirteen, maybe fourteen at most (maybe younger). Stephen, on the other hand, is described as a "young man". So when Lucy goes out for the evening, and Stephen rings Meg and asks her if he can come over with "someone who wants to see you and Kerry", it is pretty damned skeevy. Particularly since Stephen doesn't say anything about checking with her parent or guardian about whether it's OK. Luckily, Meg tells him no. But it totally reads like a child abduction just waiting to happen.

Stephen's not the only suspicious person around, though. Meg notices a guy hanging around the toy exhibition with long hair, a bushy moustache, and a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. Personally, I suspect anyone who thinks a moustache is a good idea. He introduces himself as Mr Adam and asks a number of interested questions. Kerry answers quite happily, but Meg isn't sure about him. She tells him he'll have to leave, as the girls are about to go on their lunchbreak. When they get back from lunch, they find that someone has emptied all the furniture out of the dollhouse. (DUN DUN DUNNN!) Meg and Kerry try to put things straight again, and in the house Meg finds a cufflink shaped like an 'S'. S... for skeevy Stephen?

Lucy takes a delivery of an old diary and a bunch of other papers, but has to go out for the evening again. Meg looks through, and finds something shocking - an article on The Mystery of the Missing Washington Dolls. Turns out George Washington gave his sister two little peg dolls, named Mercy and Charity. Meg realises that other people have read the article, realised that Miss Mariah was (is?) in possession of Mercy and Charity and have started sniffing around for information.

Meg realises that the dolls must be hidden in the doll's house. She and Kerry remember the secret room and decide to open it and see if the dolls are inside. At first they can't get it open, but then Meg remembers Miss Mariah's message - "turn the house upside down". They do, and the secret room opens - but there's nothing inside but a scrap of material. The dolls are gone.

At the end of the day the girls are getting ready to leave when they spot Stephen and another man talking to Mr Adam. Panicked, Meg almost drops Paris, and hears a ripping noise. She realises what caused Paris to stop talking, and decides she needs to get to Lucy as quickly as possible. Lucy is working at the old jail, solely, I assume, so that Meg and Kerry can get locked in there after closing.

Luckily they're rescued... unluckily, it's by Stephen and the other man, who turns out to be his father. They say that Lucy asked them to pick the girls up, but Meg and Kerry are somewhat skeptical! Before they get to Stephen's car, they make a run for it, taking a shortcut which leads away from the road and towards Lucy's house. Just as they arrive, someone yells at them to stop running, because he wants the doll. It's Mr Adam, of the unsmiling eyes. They duck in through the chimney door, and Meg tells Kerry her discovery. One of the Washington dolls has been inside Paris, all this time!

But there's more - on the woodshed floor they find another doll. It had been inside the doll's house, but on that very first day when Stephen dropped the house it had popped free.

So that's one mystery solved! But what about the bad guys? Well, Uncle Hal and Lucy bring the girls out of the woodshed and Meg and Kerry finally get a proper introduction to Stephen and his father. Turns out, his father is one of Miss Mariah's cousins, one of the brats that hid the Washington dolls in the first place! He shoved one of them into the doll's house, and the other down the couch; it was Miss Mariah's grandfather who hid on in Paris. None of this makes Stephen's behaviour any less creepy, but whatever.

It was Stephen who found and returned Paris - he hadn't stolen her, but had thought she had been left behind. And the cuff-link isn't his, either. Oh, and they didn't actually know Mr Adam - they'd just met him when the girls saw them talking together. Uncle Hal becomes interested in Mr Adam, though. He produces the photo that Meg saw earlier and asks the girls if he's the one. Kerry says no, but Meg the artist draws on long hair and a moustache and bingo! It is Mr Adam after all! Turns out his real name is Scott, and he's one of the cleverest art thieves in the world. The cufflink is his, too, which places him at the scene of the crime. Uncle Hal is totally a spy. Scott is apprehended, Miss Mariah reunites with her family, and Paris gets her groove back. Case closed.

Case notes:
  • Miss Mariah's name irritates me. Not because of the alliteration, which is awesome (naturally), but because every time I read it I wonder if it's ma-REE-a or ma-RAY-a.
  • I have never understood the "eyes not smiling" trope so often used in kids' books. Don't people's eyes just naturally crinkle when they smile? Or does this mean something else?!
  • Mercy and Charity are such moralistic names for children's toys. But at least neither of them were named "Chastity".
  • Miss Mariah really comes across as having never got over the loss and destruction of her toys. To be fair, her grandfather died not long after, but even then, she's still tearing up while she talks about him. Then again, it would appear that she doesn't have anything in her life except her memories of her childhood. It's just sort of sad and awful.
  • There's actually some really decent descriptions of Williamsburg. The author is not without talent.
  • Meg and Kerry have to give speeches at the exhibition. Meg is a natural, of course, and Kerry keeps screwing up.
  • And on the first day, although they're both nervous, Meg gets over her nerves super-quick. Then, once Kerry gets into it, Meg just sits around and sketches while Kerry does the tour/demonstration/speaking.
  • Meg figures out there's a doll in Paris and just... doesn't tell Kerry for a while. Which is a total dick move, but just exactly what I'm starting to expect from her.
The cover: Is not really that mockable. Although I do wonder why Meg is trying to smother a baby with a pink blanket.

19 May, 2010

Wednesday Moment - From the mouths of babes

I spent last weekend at the Writers and Readers Festival where I was able to listen to a wide range of authors discuss a wide range of books. One of the best talks I went to was given by authors Rachel King and Paula Morris, at which Paula Morris talked about (among other things) her latest young adult novel, Ruined, a sort of ghost-story-slash-murder-mystery set in New Orleans.

One of her favourite letters, she said, that she had a received from a reader was from a twelve-year-old boy, who asked her if she could please write a sequel to Ruined set in New York, "But don't call it Ruined 2."

It's nice to know that children still have better taste in titles than movie producers, and Ruined is now on my to-be-read pile.

16 May, 2010

"George knew that Nancy and mystery were never far apart."

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #5
The Secret of Shadow Ranch

The Case:
Nancy touches down in Arizona, where she's going to be spending some time on Shadow Ranch, owned by Bess and George's Uncle Ed and Aunt Bet. George and Bess meet Nancy with the news that there's a mystery at the ranch, and Uncle Ed might not let them stay for long unless Nancy can solve it. Protip to Uncle Ed: if you do not want a mystery at your ranch, don't call it Shadow Ranch. Call it "Happy Hippos" or something. No self-respecting detective would take on a case called "The Secret of Happy Hippos Ranch".

Turns out that Uncle Ed only purchased the ranch recently and has been trying to do it up, but so many things have been going wrong that he thinks it must be sabotage. Then, one night, the ghostly apparition of a horse appeared.

Supposedly it's the horse of the outlaw, Dirk Valentine, who was shot by the then-sheriff after he started romancing the sheriff's daughter. Dirk swore that his horse would haunt Shadow Ranch for evermore. He sounds kind of lazy, to be honest. Why not just haunt it himself? I call animal abuse.

While the cousins are explaining this, some old guy steals Nancy's knitting bag. She finds it again almost straight away, and wonders if he'd been snooping for some reason. Then the girls find him dropping a note into their car. The note reads Keep away from Shadow Ranch. Subtle. Nancy decides that clearly someone is trying to chase the ranch's new owners off the property, and thinks it was probably an inside job.

The girls give chase, but lose the note-dropping, wool-stealing weirdo, and start the long drive to the ranch instead. Bess suddenly remembers that there's another mystery they haven't told Nancy about. Their cousin Alice's father went missing six months ago, after a bank robbery. The media has hinted that he may have been involved in the robbery, but Alice refuses to believe it. Nancy agrees to help. Now, what is the likelihood that these two, completely separate, mysteries somehow end up being related? Pretty unlikely, right? I'm sorry I even brought it up.

Naturally, some crazy shit goes down during the drive. The girls are hit by a sandstorm - Nancy's excellent driving keeps them on the road - and have to make a quick stop to make sure the car's OK (and reapply their lipstick - nothing erodes make-up like a desert storm!). Bad news: the car's radiator is stuffed, and the car keeps overheating. Worse news: even though the girls thought they had brought two flasks of water, they've already drunk one, and the other one is myseriously empty! Good news: at least their make-up is flawless. Thank God for ColourStay.

The girls contemplate death from broken car and/or dehydration for a while, but they're saved by one of the workers from the ranch, Dave Gregory. (He's tall and handsome, of course.) Dave tells them off for not bringing water, and also calls them "dudes" which I guess is cowboy talk. George protests that one of the other cowboys, Shorty Steele, had said he'd fill their flasks, and Dave's eyes narrow ominously.

At the ranch, Nancy is almost attacked by a farm dog whose name is, um, Apache Chief. Since I recently read a book where not one, but two cats were called 'N-word' this doesn't appal me as much as it might otherwise. Nancy stands her ground and the dog calms down and decides to become her best friend. I add "animal whisperer" to my rapidly growing list of Nancy's skills. Uncle Ed and Aunt Bet warmly welcome Nancy to the ranch, especially now she's proven she's not bad for a "tenderfoot". At dinner, Shorty denies agreeing to fill the girls' flasks, and Nancy is pretty sure he's full of shit, although her phrasing is slightly different.

Nancy decides to look at the warning note she got earlier, and Bess digs through Nancy's knitting bag to retrieve it. Surprise! There's a second warning note tied around a rattlesnake's rattle. It's even conveniently labelled, Second warning. You know, just in case Nancy had lost count, or had thought that she'd absent-mindedly put part of a dead snake in her own knitting bag. Nancy doesn't seem particularly bothered. Even though she lies awake that night, it's because she's thinking about Dave Gregory, not about the people who are threatening to kill her. Well, he is tall and handsome, so I can't really blame her for that.

Nancy and the cook both see an intruder, and the cook is positive that he's entered the kitchen. But there's no way out of the kitchen - except through a convenient trapdoor which apparently doesn't lead to anywhere beyond the basement. Uncle Ed, Nancy and Dave go down to the basement to find him, but there's no one there. Dave tells Nancy that he wasn't in the bunkhouse when the intruder arrived because he was doing "extra sleuthing", which Nancy thinks is pretty suspicious.

The next morning, the water isn't running - someone's dicked over the pump. The clay around the pump is red - and the same clay appears on both Dave and Shorty's boots. Dave offers to go into town to collect parts to repair the pump, and says he'll give Nancy a lift as well. When Nancy brings George along he gets all grumpy and Nancy can't work out why. Apparently Nancy is good at everything except noticing when cowboys have a crush on her.

In town, Nancy pays a visit to the sheriff, and I almost fall asleep because for a book jam-packed with action this scene is ridiculously dull. Nancy, sensing my mood, stops a burglary inside a gift shop. Some guy wearing a black kerchief over his face is busy scooping jewellery into a bag as Nancy walks past. Nancy stops him, of course, and the shop's owner is overjoyed even though Nancy doesn't manage to catch the thief. The shop's owner is Mary Deer, and she's Indian. You can tell she's Indian, because she's described as Indian right there on the page. Also on the next page, and the page after that. On every page, basically.

Mary Deer: she's an Indian!

Mary Deer wants to give Nancy something to thank her, and produces an old-fashioned watch on a fleur-de-lis pin which the outlaw Dirk Valentine gave to his sweetheart, Frances Humber. Mary points out Valentine's symbol - a heart - and tells Nancy that apparently he left a treasure for Frances that she never received. Rumour is that Valentine's fortune is buried somewhere on Shadow Ranch. Could that have anything to do with the shit going down on the ranch? Probably! Nancy plays with the watch for a while, and somehow manages to open up a secret compartment with a message inside. The message says, green bottle in-. Green bottle in where? Nancy doesn't know, but despite the fact that she has the whole world to search through, she doesn't seem particularly worried.

That night, the phantom horse returns. Lead by Shorty, everyone gives chase, and while they're gone someone turns over Nancy's room, searching for the watch. Nancy is wearing the watch, so she's not too upset. She tries to follow the horse's tracks (prints?) but Shorty produces a short-cut which somehow loses the trail. I would not trust Shorty as far as I could throw him, and I throw like a girl. Also, no one seems to be suspicious of him, and when Nancy ever brings up the fact that this has to be an inside job Uncle Ed gets shirty. Jeez, no wonder he needs an eighteen-year-old to solve this thing for him.

Alice sees a picture that Nancy bought from Mary Deer's shop, and decides that her father must have drawn it. Everyone else thinks she's still in denial about him being dead, and also a crook. Still, Nancy gets the name of the artist from Mary and learns that he lives in a cabin up in the mountain, and later she organises a horse ride for the four girls to go and meet him. There's nobody at the cabin, but there is a half-finished picture - another by Alice's father. Then, suddenly - a flash flood! Nancy, George, and Alice's horses are happy to swim across the now-swollen river, but Bess's horse isn't trained for it. Nancy has to go back for her and her horse. Which... doesn't make any sense to me. Bess's horse is happy to swim, but only if its lead? Admittedly, I know jack-all about horses. Plus, Dave is so impressed by Nancy's heroism that he actually apologises to her for being such a jerk. Nancy finds this somewhat suspicious. Then he locks her in stable, which she finds even more suspicious.

Nancy pries open a window with a crowbar, and as she climbs out she notices a light on in the spring-house, where the ranch gets its water from. She rushes over, and even though she doesn't see anyone leave the spring-house is empty by the time she gets there. Nancy realises there must be a secret passage from the spring house to the cellar. Along with Bess and George, she finds a false floor under one of the vats in the spring-house, and goes down through it to the cellar, where she discovers... Dave Gregory!

Dave freely admits that he's been looking for treasure, but denies being the phantom horse or sabotages the farm. Turns out he's a descendant of Frances Humber. His family has Valentine's will, and the missing part of Nancy's clue - the word cellar - and as they're hard up financially he thought it was about time they actually looked for it. Dave apologises for being such a dick, and says that he's caught someone else snooping from time to time - Shorty.

Dave tells them more of Frances and Valentine's story. They were meant to meet at the spring-house one last time, but the Sheriff lay in wait for him and shot the outlaw dead. When he came to tell Frances the news, she was lighting a lamp. Nancy wonders why she was lighting a lamp, when surely she must have heard the shots, and wonders if she'd found the green bottle and was hiding it. The girls ask Aunt Bet if there are any lamps left from the Humber ranch, and sure enough, there's one with a green bottle inside.

It took Nancy some time to work out which lamp contained the green glass bottle.

There's a letter from Valentine to Frances inside the bottle. Nancy starts to read it, but just then the power goes out. It's been cut, as have the phonelines. Nancy suspects that the ranch's enemies are after the new palamino horses. George and Bess hurry off to find Dave, and Nancy runs into ranch-hand Tex. Together they discover the Bud, who was meant to be guarding the horses, has gone missing. Then the phantom horse appears, and Nancy is determined to catch it. She chases it on horseback, but it runs right through the palaminos, and her own horse starts and throws her. Nancy blacks out.

Nancy comes-to to the news that the fences keeping in the palaminos have been cut. The men ride off to find the stray horses, and Nancy returns to the house to read the rest of Valentino's letter. It says that the treasure is hidden in the ranch's "oldest dwelling". Aunt Bet tells her that that's the house that they're in, but the girls are unable to find anything by searching.

Nancy and Alice decide to take another ride up to the mountsin cabin to find Alice's father. Shorty offers to saddle up their horses for them, and when Nancy gets on hers it starts bucking wildly. Tex quickly finds a nettle under the blanket, but Shorty denies all knowledge. As no one has any proof, they let him go, and Nancy and Alice ride to the cabin. It's opened by the man who gave Nancy her two warning notes. He claims to be the artist, but he refers to the pastel drawing as "paintings", and Nancy knows he's full of crap. It also confirms that whoever has Alice's father is also messed up in the ranch sabotage.

Nancy and Alice return to the ranch to get ready for the rodeo, barbeque and square dance that is planned for that evening. Dave is taking Nancy, and Bud and Tex are conveniently taking George and Bess. I forget which is taking which but they're pretty much interchangeable anyway. While waiting for the rodeo to start, Nancy is told there's a phonecall for her. As she excuses herself to take it, she's grabbed by two men - Mr Bursey, the fake artist, and Mr Diamond, the man who may have burgled Mary's store.

Luckily, on the very next page Bess and George demand the men let her go, and Nancy is free - but the men escape. Nancy worries that they'll never get caught, and gets a brainwave. After the dance, while the master of ceremonies is speaking, Nancy gets up on the stage and announces that the men of Shadow Ranch are going to go digging for Valentine's treasure the next morning. Shorty tries to find out what she meant, but Nancy won't tell.

The men set out the next morning on horseback, with an extra horse for the treasure. Nancy and the girls also set out, heading in the opposite direction. Nancy is sure she knows where the treasure really is - in a set of cliff houses, up Shadow Mountain. They're not part of the ranch - but they were when Valenting wrote his note. First, they head for the artist's cabin. It's empty once again, but Nancy is sure there must be a secret passage somewhere. There is, and it leads straight up to the rundown cliff houses. There they find Alice's father, bound on the floor. And they also find Valentine's secret hideout - and his treasure!

Nancy lights a fire to signal to the men that they've found it, but Mr Diamond appears, telling her that even though the gang started off following the ranch workers, they saw the sherriff following and realised it was a trap. They saw Nancy leave the house, and trapped Bess and George - and the treasure - inside. Nancy uses every delaying tactic she knows, then starts to play the gang members off against each other. She gets confessions from Bursey and Shorty, and Diamond angrily threatens to kill everyone. But before he can, Dave and the others arrive, having seen Nancy's signal fire go out.

Conclusion: Alice's father interrupted the gang when they were robbing his bank, so they took him with them so he wouldn't identify him. Why not just kill him straight away? Mr Diamond found out about Valentine's treasure while talking to Mary Deer, and they decided to stick around to try and find it. Oh, and the phantom horse trick was done by painting a horse with phospheresent paint, and then shining a light on it, adding crulety to animals to the gang's many crimes. Their biggest crime? Stupidity. In the time it took them to not find any of the clues to the treasure, and not find the treasure itself, they could easily have robbed a couple more banks and be off somewhere nice, living the high life. Instead, they're in jail, Dave gets the treasure, and there's a horse somewhere dying very slowly of radiation poisoning. (This might not be true. I don't actually know anything about science.)

Case notes:
  • This time, Nancy's hair isn't reddish-blonde, but titian. My good friend wikipedia informs me that this is more of a brownish-orange.
  • ...and Bess is only "slightly plump"...
  • ...and, just in case you were worried, George may be tomboyish, but she's attractive too.
  • Then again, the sandwich shop at the airport is also described as attractive. I'm thinking our author just needed a decent thesaurus.
  • The book's setting is really just an excuse to get the characters to unronically use the word "pardner". And it gets old real fast.
  • Mary Deer "was wearing a vivid red beaded dress and had a glossy braid over each shoulder". Well, of course. How else would people know she was Native American?
  • Valentine is so romanticised. I find it hard to believe that any real outlaw would go around wooing sherriff's daughters and drawing hearts on his horse. Real outlaws would be raping and pillaging.
  • So, now Nancy's a good knitter, an excellent driver, a baker of delicious chocolate cakes and a natural on horseback. Bess, on the other hand, fails even to throw a lassoo.
  • On the other hand, Bess does set up Alice with Tex's brother, Jack. George, on the other hand, contributes approximately nothing to the entire story.
  • The name of the nearest town is Tumbleweed. Tumbleweed.
  • Poor Ned only gets a one line mention in this book, in which Nancy says that he's in Europe and won't be back until after she returns to River Heights. This seems a little harsh, given that she's busy getting her cowgirl on with Dave, but in the original run of the series he didn't make his first appearance until book #7. Obviously the line was added in later, to explain his absence from the plot.
  • On one of their trips into town, the girls all buy "colorful squaw dresses". They then go to a Spanish restaurant and eat tacos, that well-known Spanish dish.
  • In case you're wondering just exactly what one does at a square dance, here's one I prepared earlier:

The Cover:
This book should have been titled "The Mystery of Why Nancy Thought That Shirt Was a Good Idea". She's rocking that perm, though, and I appreciate a girl who can stay on a bucking horse without blinking an eyelid. Still, this is hardly the most exciting cov oh shit it's a ghost horse.