Nancy Drew On Campus: Party Weekend

Well, the good news is that I can finally say I’ve read a Nancy Drew on Campus book. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news. The series is everything I expected it to be.

The Zeta fraternity is holding a casino-themed charity weekend, and all the Kappa girls are excited to help out their men. Nancy’s boyfriend Jake will be taking a turn as dealer, and Bess’s latest love interest Paul is in charge of all the games. The Zetas have had a party reputation in the past and are anxious that their attempt to do more will be a success, especially since they are getting backing from the wealthy Porter family. The trouble starts when a player wins big at the blackjack table with a hot streak that lasts most of the night. Someone gets an even bigger haul, however, when that night’s proceeds are stolen. To make matters even worse, Paul was responsible for the money and is now the main suspect. Bess, Nancy, and Jake must try to clear his name, but an incriminating witness makes their job difficult. Meanwhile, some of the girls’ suitemates are having troubles of their own. Casey should be thrilled that her movie-star boyfriend Charlie insisted on coming from LA to visit this weekend, but the truth is that the timing couldn’t be worse. She’s already scheduled to sing both nights at the charity event, and has papers and exams to prepare for that will make or break her grades. Her roommate Stephanie is also in a black mood about her father’s new trophy wife, and is ready to take out her frustration on anyone. Black and White Nights is turning out a lot differently from how everyone had planned.

Well, the good thing is that there’s lots of descriptions of clothes. We like that in Nancy Drew books, right? The dresses on the cover are so spot-on that the photo shoot was probably done before the text. Unfortunately, the focus is mostly on how everyone looks in the clothes. Here’s a sample of the girls getting ready:

“Tonight’s not black tie, you know,” Nancy reminded them.

Bess frowned. “Yeah, but how often do we get the chance to dress up in gorgeous clothes?”

“Sexy clothes is more like it,” Eileen commented it.

Nancy sighed. “I guess I’ll just have to wear my black Lycra micro-mini.”

“Perfect!” Bess cried.

Reva poked her head in the room. “Males have breached the walls!” She warned with mock alarm.

“Whose?” Bess asked.

“Yours,” she replied.

Bess quickly put on her lipstick. “Is he wearing his sexy cummerbund? If he’s not wearing his cummerbund, tell him I’m not coming out.”

Um, yeah. For every one page of mystery we get five pages of mush like this. If I’m reading romance or chick lit I at least want it to be good; this feels like what I wrote with friends back in middle school. I’m not necessarily saying all Nancy Drew books should win literature prizes, but the others all have decent plots and consistent characters whom I care about. George was not mentioned once, though I know from other sources that she is included in the series. The mystery felt like an afterthought to Nancy, and I got the feeling that if Bess wasn’t egging her on to clear Paul’s name she would rather have just spent the time with Jake. We also see a lot of all the roommates. It seems that each volume will focus on the problems of one or two of them. After a while they seem to take over the story lines, until you forget that the series is actually about Nancy. Right now the only thing that marks her as the heroine is that she doesn’t have problems.

I’ve read multiple volumes of every Nancy Drew incarnation, from original texts to Clue Crew. “My” Nancy is a mostly revised text with OT and Files mixed in, which were the books I read as a child and teen. I used to scorn the paperbacks my friend checked out at the school library because they weren’t “really” Nancy Drew, but over time I’ve become able to compartmentalize the different series. I can read an Applewood and a Notebook, a Supermystery and a graphic novel, and be okay with the differences in how the character is protrayed, because the overall framework and intent are still the same. (I’m guessing this ability is connected to my high school love affair with fan fiction). The On Campus series, however, misses the mark on both counts. I may still collect them if I can find them cheap because I am a completist, but I really doubt I’ll read any more.

Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Over My Dead Body

“It gives him the willies to hear a Montenegrin female voice talk Montenegrin. It’s a kind of allergy. I’m sorry, Miss Lovchen, but there’s not a chance. I know him from A to P, which is as far as he goes. P is for pigheaded.”

I haven’t read a Rex Stout book in several years, but my parents used to watch Nero Wolfe all the time and I can never think of him or Archie without picturing the actors (even more so than with Perry Mason, which is surprising because I actively watched those as well). Archie’s sarcastic narration is the best part of the books in my opinion. I’ve been trying to read them roughly in order, using a Nero Wolfe guide I found at a book sale once, and Over My Dead Body is the seventh book.

Something else that’s surprisingly more true for Nero Wolfe than Perry Mason: I can finish the book, enjoy it the whole time, and barely understand what actually happens. I usually consider myself pretty good about following plots, so maybe I just don’t mesh with Rex Stout’s dramatic denouments. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to summarize.

over my dead bodyA young woman meeting Archie’s approval, giving her name as Carla Lovchen, comes to the brownstone requesting help. She and her friend Neya Tormic are instructors at a fencing and dancing school where Neya has been accused of stealing diamonds from the pocket of a man’s coat in his locker. Wolfe has no intention of taking the case, especially because the two young women are immigrants from Montenegro, where he spent many years as a young man before ending his service there. Two circumstances, however, force him to change his mind. First, Carla tries to hide in his study an identification paper signed by Princess Vladanka Donevitch of Montenegro. The second is another paper, sent along by Neya–the adoption certificate signed twenty years ago by Nero Wolfe himself.

Archie accompanies Carla back to the fencing school, where it turns out that the accusation against Neya was due to a series of mistakes. Her troubles are far from over, however, when a body is found later that evening run through with a sharpened foil. The Englishman Ludlow was Neya’s fencing partner, and also responsible for her alibi in the diamonds affair. It seems that much more is going on beneath the surface than initially appears. It will take Wolfe and Archie’s best efforts, along with both help and hindrance from Inspector Cramer, to unravel events.

Unfortunately I know very little about politics in the Balkan Peninsula, both then and now. While it’s not an essential component of the intricate plot, I do feel like I’m missing something. The who and the why seem to be constantly shifting in mysteries with political allegiances involved. Because of that I wouldn’t call Over My Dead Body one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries. For devotees of his character, though, the revelation of his daughter and other details about his Montenegrin days will make it worth the read.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Lonesome Road

One of the first books I blogged about was a Miss Silver mystery by Patricia Wentworth, and I planned on adding her to my regular list of mystery reads. How easily my plans get sidetracked! I quickly remembered why I enjoyed her book, and Lonesome Road was the perfect follow-up in my sick-day mystery binge.

Rachel Treherne has never been thrilled to have the responsibility of her father’s sizable inheritance. Some she used to develop and maintain Treherne Homes, but much of it can only be disposed of by her will, which she must rewrite every year to alter the distribution among family members. Furthermore, said family members tend to rely on her a little too much for her own liking. Her older sister Mabel Wadlow is whining and peevish, with a husband who has little to recommend himself. Their children Maurice and Cherry are selfish and spoiled, a bit too vulgar for Rachel’s tastes. She prefers her young distant relations Richard and Caroline, though the latter has been acting strangely as of late. Even her dear cousin Cosmos’ constant proposals are beginning to grate.

The stress of the inheritance pales, however, in view of the recent accidents. As little as Rachel would like to believe it, it appears someone is after her safety or even her life. At her devoted companion Louisa’s insistence she seeks out the confidence of Miss Silver, who sees the danger of the situation for herself. Despite Rachel’s reluctance to admit the problem it seems the accidents are just the beginning, and only Miss Silver can have the presence of mind to stop them from going too far.

One of my favorite elements of mysteries is comparing the styles, and Miss Silver is so different from Perry Mason. Where he takes evidence and details and timetables and the like all very seriously, she is more inclined to be an observer of human nature. Of course, the types of mysteries they solve almost necessitate these approaches. Patricia Wentworth’s books all seem to be the country house murder sort, where even if the locale is different, the investigation features a closed setting and an intimate cast of suspects, all related somehow or another. It is of utmost importance for Miss Silver to determine the level and sincerity of all the relationships in order to ascertain motive. Mason’s cases are usually much more impersonal, and of course he would look silly representing the defendant in court without relying on hard evidence. It was nice to have a change of pace, though–no dead body and less to keep track of as a reader.

I  confess that when Rachel Treherne was described as being in her forties, I thought to myself that she must not be the heroine, then, because heroines are always young and in love. I do prefer younger heroines if I have to choose, at least for now, but it’s a pleasant change of pace to have one a bit older. The only other book of this type I can think of off the top of my head is Strangers in Company, by Jane Aiken Hodge. Feel free to prove me wrong with any others you know!

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Case of the Amorous Aunt

I had my first sick day of the year, and felt a bit guilty taking it, but I’d been under the weather for several days and really needed to rest. Of course there’s no better cure than a stack of mysteries! I try to read one or two of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mysteries every year, so The Case of the Amorous Aunt was up first on the list.

Young Linda Calhoun and her fiancé George Letty come to Mason’s office concerned about Linda’s Aunt Lorraine, a wealthy widow whom they fear has come across the equivalent of a modern-day internet scam. A little while ago she received a letter from a man named Montrose Dewitt in response to a letter to the editor she had written. They struck up a correspondence and now she has driven out here to meet him. Before leaving, she withdrew thirty-five thousand dollars from her savings. Now it appears they are en route to Mexico to elope.

Linda is concerned that Dewitt may resort to violence to get the money, but by the time Mason, Della, and Paul Drake catch up to the duo, Dewitt is the one who is dead and the money is gone. It will take all of Mason’s wits to get Lorraine off of a murder charge, complicated by the fact that the trial will take place in the small town where the corpse was found. He must contend with a local prosecuting lawyer determined to show him up and a witness who has been mysteriously squirreled away.

Trying to summarize a Perry Mason book is always a challenge, as Gardner’s plots have more twists and turns than a dance club. I can barely keep up with them as I’m reading! I haven’t seen the TV show recently, but I’m sure if the episodes were compared to the books a lot would have been cut out to fit into a half hour. Every story feels fresh, despite some of the common elements. One of the unusual aspects of this case is that during the trial Mason is aided by a young lawyer named Duncan Crowder, apparently the son of a friend. He is very bright and stays right with Perry, who is always one step ahead of everyone else. I think it’s the first time I’ve known him to collaborate with another lawyer on a case. Of course, I don’t always agree with everything he does to protect a client, and I’m sure other lawyers don’t either, but Crowder seems to be of the same mind.

I’ve come to really appreciate the setting of the books, especially after reading I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason. As a born-and-bred East Coast girl, Southern California and is landscape are totally foreign to me. Here we can hop between states; there it’s just a jaunt to Mexico. I love reading the description of scenery and can just picture the desert from the plane. If I recall correctly, one of the others I read recently also has Perry excited about a plane ride.

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The Meg Duncan Mysteries

Persistence has paid off, as lately I’ve had surprising luck finding series books on Bookmooch, but that’s a post for another day. The only ones I’ve had a chance to read are two of the Meg Duncan mysteries by Holly Beth Walker.

I suppose this is what I get for calling the first book in the series dull, because The Ghost of Hidden Springs and The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave were certainly different. I agree with the theory that the series had a variety of ghostwriters. As in Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds, the actual age of Meg and her best friend Kerry Carmody is never given, but based on the book length and style I stick to my estimate that they are around 11. I’m not really sure I would give these two stories to an 8-year-old to read.

The Ghost of Hidden Springs, set in Meg’s hometown, begins with the death of Miss Amelia Hannigan. She was a nice enough old lady but kept to herself in a historic mansion. Rumor has it the house is haunted, and even the town’s adults recall a tragedy of some sorts associated with it. Meg and Kerry ask the only lady in town who still remembers it, and this is where the plot gets disturbing.

Apparently when Amelia’s family first moved to Hidden Springs the town treated them aloofly for being Northerners. Only her vibrant younger sister Kathleen was able to make friends, becoming beloved by everyone. A party was planned at the house to celebrate Kathleen’s sixteenth birthday, with invitations to be sent to the many in the town, but on that fateful rainy night no one came. Kathleen was so upset that she ran out of the house crying, slipped on the wet stones, and fell into the river. No one in the town ever spoke of the invitations, they were so ashamed, but ever since then people have claimed to see the ghost of little Kathleen haunting the summerhouse by the river.

The mansion is now to be inherited by Amelia’s niece Kathleen Martin, provided that she and her mother stay in it for a month first. Afterwards she must throw a party according to exact instructions–but Miss Hannigan died before she could give the papers to her lawyer. Even her housekeeper Mrs. Grayham has no idea where they are. To make things worse, mysterious incidents have suddenly begun happening at the house, such as plates falling off shelves and steps creaking with no one around. Has the ghost suddenly turned into a poltergeist? Kathleen Martin is terrified, so Meg offers to stay with her. The older girl takes a strong liking to Meg, treating her like a sister and trusting her completely as they try to find the party instructions and get to the bottom of the strange happenings.

SPOILER ALERT

To make the disturbing factors worse, apparently the reason no one came to Kathleen Hannigan’s birthday was that Amelia was jealous of her sister’s popularity and never mailed the invitations, inadvertently causing her Kathleen’s death. Meg finds them nailed shut in the window seat of Amelia’s bedroom. Amelia spent the rest of her life mourning her sister, overwhelmed by guilt and afraid to tell the truth. The party dictated in her last wishes is meant to clear the air, inviting all the descendants of those invited to the previous party. How is this appropriate in a children’s book?

END SPOILER

The Mystery of the Black-Magic Cave is much less disturbing, though still questionably appropriate. As the title suggests, there is witchcraft involved. Meg’s Uncle Hal, whom she adores, vacations every year in Merrybones, Maine. Now the pretty young schoolteacher he met there last summer, Emily Hawthorne, has been receiving threatening letters. Even worse, her black cat Melissa has disappeared. When Uncle Hal flies up with Meg and Kerry to offer support, he also finds that stones marked with a pentacle have been left behind. Could there really be witches in Merrybones?

Emily is technically a newcomer in a town that distrusts them, but she hoped that living there as a girl until her father’s death would have made everyone more welcoming. (Apparently “Holly Beth Walker” thinks that close-knit towns automatically hate outsiders based on these two books.) It doesn’t seem to have helped; soon her cat disappears a second time. Meanwhile, Meg and Kelly find more evidence that witches are at work, and time is running out before Emily decides to leave Merrybones forever.

This was the first Meg mystery that actually had me laughing at parts, like when the girls notice the old-fashioned font in the book of spells and spend the rest of the morning pronouncing their s’s like f’s. I still don’t think witchcraft should be mentioned seriously in children’s books, though, even if it doesn’t really have any magic effects. (The Secret of Red Gate Farm and Harry Potter don’t bother me at all, though.) On the other hand, unlike most series books, the story has good people who did bad things rather than dastardly crooks. Much different from Nancy Drew!

I hadn’t planned on this post being so long when I decided to review them together; sorry about that! There don’t seem to be many sites about the series so I wanted to put out what information I could.

Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,