26 July, 2011

"We didn't go looking for anybody's gold, because we know there can't possibly be any!"

Trixie Belden #10
The Marshland Mystery

The detectives:
- most you will remember from their last case
- the Bob-Whites of the Glen do have a couple of new additions, though - Diana "Di" Lynch, and Dan Mangan, both kids Trixie and co. helped in previous mysteries.
- Di is another beautiful rich girl, because you can only have one tomboy per group
- Dan is the nephew of the Wheelers' groom, Regan, an ex-New York gang member (or something. There's passing references to his menacing leather jacket.)

The Case:
The story begins with Trixie, Honey, and Di on their way home from school, making plans to go to a nearby swamp and collect plants for their biology teacher. There plans fall over straight away, when Mart informs them that none of the boys will be available to drive them, and the swamp has been paved over to make a new highway. I feel that in a more contemporary book, this would be an important Lesson about Disturbing the Ecosystem, but in this book, the girls just decide to bike to a different marsh instead.

Trixie hurries home, intent on asking Brian about what plants she'll be able to gather, but her and Mart are both distracted when they arrive by a little scene playing out among the Beldens' blooming crabapple trees - a slight, young blonde girl having her picture taken and an interview done. The young girl is Gaye, a famous violinist, staying with the Wheelers next door, but before any proper introductions can be made Trixie's dog, Reddy, starts chasing Gaye's pet poodle, who is hilariously named Mr Poo.

Trixie races after the two animals, and finally succeeds in calling Reddy to heel just in time to stop him from attacking a deadly copperhead snake. She triumphantly returns Mr Poo to his owner, who turns out to be a bit of a spoilt brat, and orders Trixie out of her sight. For some reason, no one tells her off. Her brothers sympathise with Trixie, although she notices that Brian seems to be a little sorry for Gaye, too, and she can't work out why. It's because in juvenile fiction spoilt brats are to be pitied and their parents condemned, Trixie. Just roll with it.

The expedition to the marsh gets off to a shaky start when Di can't make the trip, but she insists that Trixie and Honey go without her. Mr Belden tells Trixie the marsh's legend - that a pirate captain (of course) buried his treasure there, which naturally piques Trixie's interest. meanwhile, her mother guilt trips Trixie when she calls Gaye a "spoilt brat". At the Wheeler's, Trixie shows Jim the very helpful map Brian has drawn up for her and Honey, and Gaye appears, wanting to go with them. To Trixie's dismay, Honey says she can, if she gets permission, but as Gaye goes off she reassures Trixie, saying that Gaye is supposed to practice all morning. Being somewhat of a children's books aficianado, I can say with some certainty that Gaye is going to follow them uninvited. Then Honey and Trixie leave - only to realise they've left the map behind.

They press on regardless, and manage to find their way to the marsh anyway. They find the remains of the burned down mansion - and a mystery. The mansion's old rose garden appears to have been weeded recently - by a woman, no less, judging by the footprints. Further down the road, they find a little old cottage which appears to be in use, so they stop to ask for some water. They're greeted at the window by a ghostly hand which seems to be warning them off, and the two girls suddenly freak out and go running.

They quickly calm down and set to work picking herbs and flowers until the sky clouds over. They eat a picnic lunch and head home again, noticing a small boy's bike left in a ditch near the cottage as they pass it. The boys drive past and pick them up, and they head back to the Wheelers, only to find the police there - Gaye has gone missing! Totally called it. Poor Gaye - she fits both the "spoilt kid" trope and the "over-worked child genius" trope, she never had a chance.

Gaye's aunt, Miss Crandall, is worried at the thought of Gaye doing something that might hurt her hands and ruin her musical ability, but apparently not about the fact her niece is roaming the countryside all alone. In contrast, none of the BWGs are particularly worried about Gaye's disappearance, thinking that she'd probably reappear as soon as she was hungry. But when Trixie goes to retrieve Brian's map from their clubhouse, she finds it's missing. She thinks that Gaye might have taken it, but is sure that the young girl could never have walked that far. However, when she returns home, she finds that Bobby's bike is missing - he left it at the Wheeler house when his brakes started acting up. Trixie dashes to the Wheelers' and finds Bobby's bike missing, as she expected. Determined that the bike she saw earlier was Bobby's, and that Gaye stole it, she takes one of the horses and heads back out towards the cottage. She remembers seeing that the barn door was slightly ajar, and thinks that Gaye might have hidden inside.

Trixie borrows Lady, one of the Wheelers' horses, and heads back to the marsh. She rescues the abandoned bike, and heads into the barn after she's sure she hears Mr Poo (which is still hilarious) barking. Gaye doesn't appear, and the previous ghostly figure appears again, although this time it is less ghostly and more doddering old lady, who runs Trixie off her property. Trixie's still convinced that Gaye is there, even moreso when she finds one of the rhinestones from Mr Poo's (still hilarious) collar. She thinks that gaye must be hiding inside the old woman's house, and decides to ride back home to tell someone with a bit more authority than herself.

Naturally as soon as she gets home she runs into Jim and Brian, the two most sensible BWGs. They convince Trixie she doesn't have enough evidence to go to Miss Crandell - who is likely to panic, anyway - but agree to help her investigate a little more. Brian, who wants to be a doctor, tries out his "bedside manner" on the cottage's owner, and the resident - Miss Rachel Martin - becomes quite agreeable. She denies having seen Gaye or Mr Poo, and becomes quite agitated when Jim suggests that Gaye may have wandered into the marsh.

The cops suddenly show up with Miss Crandall, having been given a tip-off from an eaesdropping journalist that Gaye may be there. The sergeant doesn't believe Miss Rachel could possibly have kidnapped Gaye, because she's respectable, ie her family used to own a shit-ton of land, and we all know the old rich never commit any crimes. He talks to Miss Rachel all the same, and this time she gets hung up on Gaye's golden curls, making cryptic remarks about "Emily".

Then Gaye comes out of the shed, where she's been hiding the whole time. She accuses Miss Rachel of locking her in, but Trixie, who dislikes Gaye more than she finds Miss Rachel creepy, angrily accuses her of lying. The slimey journalist accuses the BWGs of making up the whole thing just to get tickets, although the sergeant tries to convince the kids to just shrug off the insult. They do - but the journalist doesn't. He publishes an article all but actually making his accusations in print. He also says that Miss Rachel thought that Gaye was the ghost of her dead sister, Emily. It turns out that Emily drowned in the - wait for it - marsh, the same night that Miss Rachel's family mansion burned down, hence her reaction to Gaye's looks and her fear of the marsh.

Trixie starts getting over her bad feelings towards Gaye when the two of them bond over Mr Poo (still funny). She goes further towards befriending her when she suggests that she, Honey and Di give up their horse-ride to visit Miss Rachel with Gaye, in her chauffeur-driven car. Gaye opens up a little to the other girls, until Di is silly enough to bring up Gaye's music, at which point she brats out again. However, the girls enjoy their visit, especially when Miss Rachel shows them her bejewelled brass box, an antique she inhereted which originally came from China.

However, back at home, there's bad news. The council has had plans to drain the marsh for some time, and put in a new road - straight through Miss Rachel's cottage. Thanks to the newspaper article, people are now saying that Miss Rachel is obviously going senile, and should be put into a Home (which, again, is apparently *particularly* terrible because her family were once 'respectable', ie rich.) At first it seems like she's not going to have to move for some time - but the journalist, and I use that word lightly, publishes another article about the legendary lost Martin treasure, and two men descend on Miss Rachel's property, digging up her land. She fires a couple of warning shots at them, and when the council hears of it - that's it, her time is up.

The BWGs can only think of one way to help Miss Rachel - find a way to make her some money, so that she can rent her own place and sell quilts and rugs, as she did when she was younger. Trixie hits upon the idea of Miss Rachel selling off all her extraneous furniture, and the BWGs hustle to get everything ready for a sale. Miss Rachel loves the idea, and is extremely grateful - she even gives Trixie the brass box as a birthday present.

Gaye wants to tag along - but isn't allowed to at first. She accuses the BWGs of trying to find the treasure, and says that if she found it she'd give it to her aunt, so she'd never have to play violin again. Still, she apparently talks her aunt into letting her go, and falls asleep on Miss Rachel's couch while the others are helping to pack and label Miss Rachel's herbs. As it starts raining, Trixie goes in to check on her - and she's gone. She has, of course, gone in search of the treasure.

Trixie runs off in search of her at once, worried that she might be trapped in the marsh. And Mr Poo finally turns out to be good for something other than having a hilarious name - he leads Trixie to the old, ruined mansion, and down to the cellar. Gaye has tripped and smacked her head, and is lying in rising water. Thanks to Mr Poo (still giggling) Trixie rescues her before she drowns. When her aunt hears about what has happened, she promises that she'll take Gaye on a long holiday, so that they can learn to be a real family. How sweet.

The weather means the sale is the flop, and Miss Rachel resigns herself to moving into a Home. But this is a children's book and that's not going to happen. What does happen is that Trixie polishes her brass box, finds it's actually made of gold, and it's worth enough money that Miss Rachel can buy a shop and a small house. Trixie turns fourteen, and everyone lives happily after until the next book.

Case Notes:
- This... isn't really a mystery, is it? I mean, if there had actually been a treasure and Trixie had found it, it kind of would have been. But this is just a story about an old woman getting turfed out of her home, and a young girl who is unhappy, and Trixie just happens to be able to help them both.
- There's a bit of romantic tension between Trixie and Jim, and it's cute. He bought an "inexpensive" bracelet for her, and Honey and Di tease Trixie about it, making her blush.
- Again, Trixie and her brothers' relationship feels very real to me. Trixie and Mart, especially, spend a lot of time sniping at each other without their being any real dislike there.
- Poor Di and Dan, they keep getting conveniently left out of the plot. I guess seven is an awful lot of people to include in a fairly simple mystery, but it could be Trixie's brothers or Jim who are left out occasionally.
- A new word! For her first marsh visit, Trixie wears brogans. Not to be confused with bogans.
- Gaye is basically never called on acting like a brat - at the same time, she's never allowed to have any fun, and doesn't seem to enjoy her music at all. In real life she would grow up to be a bitter and unpleasant woman, but this being a children's book everyone realises she's just lonely and tries to befriend her.
- When Miss Rachel first mentioned that Gaye looked like Emily, I had a moment where I thought she'd kidnapped her because she thought she actually was her sister. But Trixie Belden mysteries are generally at least a little more believable than that.
- The slimy journalist, Paul Trent, does everything he can to make trouble for Trixie and Miss Rachel, just because one of Trixie's brother's annoys him. I know it's usual in these books for adults to be some kind of enemy for the teen protagonist, but it comes across kind of creepily - a guy with power trying to get even with a kid and an old lady.
- Trixie's cloyingly sweet younger brother, Bobby, decides he's in love with Gaye and talks about her non-stop. Trixie feels jealous, but I'm not sure why. If he were my younger brother I'd quite happily lose him in a marsh.