01 May, 2010

"You have enough adventures in one day, Nancy, to last most people a week."

The Double Jinx Mystery
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #50

As I'm sure your own supreme detecting skills have already noticed, the cover claims this is book 38. When the series was reprinted in paperback, they were all done out of order - but I've decided to stick with the original numbering. So, it's book 50. Just roll with it.

The Case:
Our story begins with Nancy talking over her latest mystery with her friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne. For future reference, George has a "boyish figure" which I guess means she's flat-chested and short dark hair, while Bess is "plump, pretty, and blonde" which is short-hand for "the one the guys want: may have boobs". Nancy's father, lawyer Carson Drew, has been asked to un-jinx someone. He's already had several threatening phonecalls from someone who promises to curse him, which worries Bess although George thinks it's ridiculous. Being the pretty one also means you're superstitious, because only girly ladies are that silly!

Suddenly, the doorbell rings, and it seems that someone has left a (dead, stuffed) bird on the doorstep. In an incredibly lucky coincidence, Nancy's housekeeper, Hannah, knows all about birds, because studying them is her hobby. This will probably never be mentioned again. Turns out the bird is a wryneck, used in ancient times to put a curse on people! Nancy immediately leaps to the totally rational conclusion that there's a bomb in the house! There isn't! This is only the first chapter and I've already almost used up my exclamation quota!

A bomb, possibly.

Back to the mystery: Carson's client is Mr Thurston, who owns a bird sanctuary/aviary, but the High Rise Construction Company want to get it condemned so that they can develop their land. At this point, I laugh like a loon over the world's most unimaginatively named development company. Nancy and pals head over to the Thurstons' aviary and immediately stumble across some dude trying to cut open one of the bird cages. Nancy and George chase him, but lose him.

Bess is caught by Thurston's assistant, Rausch, by the open cage, and the girls are accused of being the perpetrators. George gets angry, but Nancy manages to save the situation. I know if a 18-year-old girl told me to "just calm down" I'd be perfectly willing to listen to what she said, and then believe her crazy tales about some mysterious guy with wire cutters. Nevertheless, Rausch does believe her, and introduces her to Mr Thurston, who then shows Nancy and pals around the aviary. Nancy is surprised to see a wryneck (that is neither dead nor stuffed) named Petra there, and wonders if its owner, a Eurasian girl named Kamenka Nolastnamesky, has anything to do with the mystery.

The girls meet Mrs Thurston, who is an invalid and incredibly superstitious, and Kamenka, who is quick to take offence when Bess inelegantly asks what she knows about wrynecks and jinxes. Nancy, of course, would never have been so gauche.

With her father's help Nancy determines that the dead wryneck came from Harper University. Where Kamenka is studying. And only Kamenka has recently borrowed the dead wryneck! Um, why, if she has her own? That doesn't make any kind of sense. Nancy then sees Kamenka talking to the same guy who was trying to break into the bird cages, but ol' Kammy claims she was just asking him what he was doing on the property. Despite this incredibly suspicious behaviour, Nancy doesn't think that Kammy could be involved, because she's such a lovely person. Nancy, sometimes seemingly nice people are employed by development companies to place curses on people, OK? And sometimes seemingly nice people are cannibalistic killers.

The local police let Nancy look through their sketches of wanted criminals with no supervision, and Nancy draws a beard on one of them. The sketches, I mean, not the police. Instead of telling her off for tampering with police property, the chief of police identifies him as the mystery bird-freer. His name is Slick Fingers O'Mayley. Of course it is.

Nancy calls her "special friend", Ned, and asks him to help her do some sleuthing. Apparently it's the summer holidays and Ned is selling insurance, but he happily gives it up help Nancy. He also accompanies her to the Thurstons', where Mrs Thurston is confronted by a ghostly, leaping spectre, who gives her a piece of paper with a jinx on it. She pretty much goes into hysterics, and Ned and Nancy offer to help the couple out while she recovers. This is a bad idea, since Ned gets knocked unconscious while Nancy is cooking dinner.

Nancy figures that Mrs Thurston's spectre could be a ballerina, based on the fact that he leaps. You know what else he could be? A long-jumper. The two N's head to the ballet. Nancy finds out the mystery leaper is probably Merv Marvel, who was kicked out of the company for unsavoury behaviour, but who had a fascination for superstitions and jinxes. The company director teases Nancy into dancing for him, and she turns out to be so good that professional dancers stop what they're doing to ooo and aaaah. I can only assume Nancy's dancing resembles Scott Hasting's:

Ned comes down with bird 'flu (actually, ornithosis which is really a thing even though I assumed it was made up) and Nancy gets really worried about him, which I can't mock because it's super cute. Despite being completely delirious, Ned realises that if he was deliberately made ill, then Slick Fingers will be sick too, so Nancy tries to find the hospital that is treating him. She not only discovers where O'Malley is being treated, but she also discovers he has a tattoo shaped like the jinx that the leaping ghoul gave to Mrs Thurston.

Since the High Rise Construction Company can't have the aviary condemned without the local council's approval, Nancy et al. do their best to convince the councillors to vote against the condemnation. Bess and George take it upon themselves to visit one of the councillors, a newspaper owner, themselves, and he shows interest in their proposal that the development be redesigned to include the aviary. He considers running some editorials in favour of the idea, and offers to show the girls around the offices. Everything is going swell until some little punk covers the girls with glue and red ink. Presumably some fashion journalist disapproved of their sweater-and-jeans combo. Personally, I think Bess can work it, but I'd like to see George in something a little more feminine ocassionally. She'd look fierce in a maxi dress.

Meanwhile, some crazy shit has been going down with Kammy Foreignerovich. First she packed up and leaves the Thurstons for no apparent reason; then she gets accused of stealing from her college; then her wryneck disappears. Nancy quickly clears up the confusion over the stolen items - Kammy's professor didn't think for a second that she was the culprit. It turns out that Kammy only left the Thurstons' because she thought she was bringing them bad luck. And, lastly, Petra reappears - with a missing heirloom of Kammy's taped under her wing. The plot thickens!

Mr Drew tells Nancy that all councillors but one have been convinced by her plan to include the aviary in the new development. The only one left stands to gain some serious money out of the new housing, and yet the fact that he has a vested interest in the deal is at no time pointed out as being the gateway to corruption. I guess political corruption doesn't exist in River Heights. Nancy offers to take his nine grandchildren to the aviary, and squeezes them all (plus Bess and George) into the car. She's immediately pulled over by a cop, but luckily the combined power of Nancy' wholesomeness and the children's lovableness is more than enough to assuage the policeman's need to arrest Nancy for breaking the law and endangering the life of each of her eleven passengers.

The children love the aviary, and mention to Nancy that not only have they seen the same dancing spook as Mrs Thurston, but they ocassionaly get visited by a "Mr Mervman" who threatens to put a jinx on them. Nancy, not being a complete and utter moron, assumes this is Merv Marvel. The kids love the aviary, and Nancy hopes their enthusiasm will convince their grandfather that it's worth keeping.

Nancy's tackled the councillors, but now she wants to talk to the High Rise Construction Company, too. Her and Ned go to the site where the company is currently working, and one of the workers suggests they have look over the river which runs next to the site. Then he pushes them into the river, and they go over a waterfall. Luckily, not only do they survive, but a cop saw them go over, and they get him to arrest the worker who tried to kill them.

Back at the aviary, Rausch tells Nancy that he's just chased off someone who was trying to poison the birds. Upon investigating, Nancy discovers that whoever it was dropped an envelope full of expensive rings. Assuming he'll be back to find his lost jewellry, she contacts the police, who arrive in time to snatch the guy - Slick Fingers O'Malley.

Then, finally, the scene which is on the front cover actually happens. Nancy goes for a stroll around the aviary by herself and Merv Marvel kidnaps her. He's described as tall and handsome. Nancy, isn't it a little early to be suffering from Stokholm Syndrome? Merv admits that he was working for Mr Wright, the boss at the construction company, but he wants to stop because Mr Wright "isn't honest". Slick Fingers was the one that stole the stuffed wryneck, trying to scare Nancy off the case. The fact that she wasn't actually on the case at that point seems to be irrelevent. Merv takes quite a fancy to Nancy, and takes her to an old barn to be initiated into his cult.

Help for Nancy isn't too far away. Ned finds her and Merv's footprints, and Nancy's friends and the police follow them to the barn. Nancy... somehow escapes, and tells the police that Merv clearly needs psychiatric treatment more than he needs jail, and that he's a member of a cult which scams money out of people. This cult thing seems to have come out of nowhere, but whatever, I can role with it. As for what happened to Nancy in the barn - well, who knows what really went on in there? But I imagine it went something like this:

So, to conclude: Mr Wright, of the High Rise Construction Company, employed Slick Finger and Merv Marvel to do his dirty work. He also instructed one of his employees to push Ned and Nancy over that waterfall. Apparently he was involved in the set up of the cult, as a little side project to his fraud and coersion.

The councillors decide to go with another building company, one which doesn't want to condemn the aviary, and Bess and George have magically talked Mrs Thurston out of all of her superstitious beliefs.

Kammy's problems were actually unrelated - a boy that she had been friends with was messing with her, probably because she didn't want to be friends with someone who'd steal her pets and her jewelry as a joke. Nancy apologises for suspecting her, and gives her a kiss. Which is possibly more than she's ever given Ned. I'm just saying.

Case notes:
  • Nancy is "an attractive girl of eighteen with blue eyes and reddish-blonde hair." Thank goodness they mentioned she was attractive: I'd hate to think that I was reading about someone who was in any way physically flawed.
  • Mr Drew is constantly described as "tall, hands and distinguished-looking". I strongly hope that was just the narrative and not Nancy's thoughts on the subject. I don't want the Drews going all Flowers in the Attic on me.
  • I thought I remembered Nancy having a Mustang, but here it's only described as a "convertible".
  • When Ned and Nancy speak to one of the councilllors, he thinks they're there to get a marriage license. Ned seems pretty upset that they're not.
  • Ned and Nancy are a seriously awesome couple in this book: instead of Ned getting all "I don't want you to get into danger" protector-ish, he admires her for her intelligence and sleuthing abilities.
  • Hannah and Nancy also have quite a sweet relationship. Despite effectively being the Drew's servant, Hannah mothers Nancy and encourages her when she's down. Awww.
  • Merv Marvel sounds more like a kids' party magician than a professional dancer and part-time spook impersonator.
  • One woman Nancy talks to is surprised that such a "lovely and wholesome girl would be trying to track down a criminal".
  • Everytime someone brings up a curse, or is cursed, Nancy or one of her friends say, "Of course, we're not superstitious." I'm sure this was probably intended as an Important Message About Superstition for America's Youths, but it comes across more like they're trying to convince themselves of the fact.
  • When Kammy thinks she's going to be arrested for being a thief Nancy tells her, "Here in America people are given a chance to prove their innocence before they're arrested." Not like whatever crazy Eurasian country you're from, Kammy!
  • There is so, so much information about birds in this book. Someone clearly had a long, hard read of the encyclopaedia before writing it.
  • This entire recap is longer than any of the chapters in the book. And ever single chapter ends on a cliffhanger (apart from the last one). No wonder I'm so exhausted after reading it.
  • High Rise Construction Company. I know I already made fun of that name, but I think it bares repeating.
The cover:
I've assumed that's Merv Marvel kidnapping Nancy. Nancy's eyes look quite dead, although I suspect that 50 books in she's been kidnapped so often that it doesn't really excite her any more. That also seems like a pretty uncomfortable way to kidnap a person; at any moment Nancy may stop doing jazz hands and poke out one of his eyes. Merv's legs are at a slightly awkward angle, too - they look like they belong on someone else's body. Still, that bird is enjoying Nancy's yellow cardigan and matching shoes.

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