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.