Monday, June 07, 2010

Nancy's Mysterious Letter, by Carolyn Keene

mysterychallengeThis is it! This is the last month in the six-month Children's Classics Mystery Challenge over at 5 Minutes for Books. (The post goes up Tuesday morning.) After this we have some new things in mind so you'll want to stay tuned for that. It's been fun planning these events with the team, particularly Dawn and Jennifer. Dawn will be hosting the challenge for the rest of the year and I think it's going to be a lot of fun! (Curious yet?)

In the meantime, we've got a challenge to wrap up and to do so, I read Nancy's Mysterious Letter (1932 ed.) If you recall, I prefer the original 1930's version of Nancy to the 1950's (and subsequent) remakes. Admittedly, it's a little more difficult to locate a 1930's edition, but if you ever happen to find one - PICK IT UP! They are awesome!

As you are likely aware, the Nancy Drew series was penned by many different authors who all used the pen name Carolyn Keene. The original book 8, Nancy's Mysterious Letter, was penned by journalist Walter Karig (who was also a World War I vet.) Karig wrote books 8-10 but fell out favor with the Syndicate when he revealed the fact that he had ghost written these titles. After he revealed himself and incurred the wrath of said Syndicate, Mildred A. Birt Wilson - who had authored the first 7 books in the series - was rehired to continue writing about Nancy. (Wilson apparently had decided to stop writing after the 7th book, The Clue in the Diary, because of pay cuts during The Great Depression. I guess she changed her mind about the money.) Unfortunately, I only own a handful of 1930's editions and of the ones written by Karig, Nancy's Mysterious Letter is the only one of his that I have. After re-reading this copy, I now will be on the lookout for books 9 and 10! Karig has a knack for writing believable conversation. There was more wit and humor in this book than I ever remember Nancy possessing before. The story flowed nicely and I thoroughly enjoyed the book!

In this version of the story, Nancy is concerned with helping her postman, Mr. Dixon, discover who stole his mailbag when he had made a brief stop inside the Drew home. Mr. Dixon had been serving the Drew community for a number of years and was approaching an early retirement after discovering that he was to be the recipient of an inheritance. He decided to retire from the postal service and raise guinea pigs. (Insert Carrie's laughter.) Nancy, the ever helpful, ever kind and benevolent recipient of all his kind mailman responsibilities, invites him into her home for a cookie and a thank-you for all his hard work. When he comes inside her house (handing her a "mysterious letter" from England in doing so!), his mailbag is stolen from her front porch.

Naturally, Nancy feels consumed with guilt and remorse and makes it her personal mission to discover WHO STOLE MR. DIXON'S MAILBAG! Dun DUN DUUuuUUuNnnnnnN!!!! (And in the process, of course, she has to solve the mystery of the letter from England.)

Now for what makes this book adorable and quaint:

1. The guinea pigs. Mr. Dixon is telling the girls about his new fetish and makes the following joke:

"I suppose you don't know much about guinea pigs," Dixon smiled, turning to George and Bess. "Funny thing, they aren't pigs and don't come from Guinea either. I suppose you know that if you pick one up by the tail his eyes will drop out."
The three girls gasped.
"Oh, how awful!" Bess cried. "Please don't try it with any of yours, Mr. Dixon."
Dixon laughed so hard that his cocoa nearly spilled. (page 7-8)
Makes you wonder what kind of exotic animal a guinea pig was back in the 1930's, huh?

2. The fact that the post master, Mr. Cutter, was so angry at Dixon for losing his mailbox (even though it was stolen) that he threatened jail time.

"Do you want this old bird run in, Chief?"
"No, he's under bond and Uncle Sam will keep an eye on him," Cutter said.
"You may go home and stay there until you are wanted, Dixon. I suppose you know better than to leave town until this is cleared up." (page 25)

As a book reviewer, I found this highly entertaining and hilarious! How many times do books get lost in the mail? Those of you who make a habit of reviewing books and receive copies for consideration in the mail - exactly how many times have you had to follow up with a publisher to say that you never received the book in question!? I've had to do it a WHOLE HEAPING LOT!

Should we return to a day and age when losing the mail was a mortal sin, worthy of the death penalty?! A thought...

(You've got to know that I'm joking here, right?)

#3 - They used a larger vocabulary in the 1930's than they do now. I actually had to look up the definition of the word "bumptious" when reading this book.

In case you were wondering - bumptious means "offensively self-assertive or conceited." It sounds offensive and conceited to use the word 'bumptious'. But I'm awfully tempted to incorporate it into my vocabulary. I can already think of plenty of ways to use it.

#4 - The fact that postmen were so very friendly and took the time of day to tell you how a letter would travel from River Heights all the way to England.

"We'll get your letter on the 10 a.m. air mail from here, which reaches New York - that is, the Newark Metropolitan Airport - at 4 p.m.," he explained to her. "It will be delivered to the Consultania by airplane at sea by 6 o'clock, if the weather is clear. There is a mail plane on board the ship and Friday morning it will be catapulted from the deck with the air mail, beating the ship to Southhampton by a day. Your letter will be in the London post office Friday night." (page 51-52)
#5 - The fact that ladies will wore hats. Nancy, of course, knows just how to select one!

"Finally she decided upon a snug-fitting felt of a deep rusty brown, which bore on one side a cluster of pheasant features. These she had replaced with a pair of quills in burnt orange color emerging from a fluff of violent down, thriftily retaining the pheasant feathers to put back on the hat after the university colors had served their purpose at the game." (page 101)

#6 - The fact that young men who wanted to date young women knew their place with the girl's parents. Permission had to be requested before a man could just cart a girl off some place!

"Good evening, Mr. Drew," the young man smiled, shaking hands vigorously with his host. "I just game into town from college to make some plans with Mother and Dad which concern Nancy, here, if you will consent." (page 40)
#7 - And it pays off for Nancy and Ned to involve their parents in their relationship in the end. Mr. Nickerson (Ned's dad) concludes the book with high praise for what could possibly be his future daughter-in-law (if she would ever age and grow up, with Ned graduated from college and Nancy becoming of marriageable age):

"I never saw a girl, or anybody, man or woman, to equal you!" (page 208)
High praise indeed! Ned and Nancy should take heart!

There are plenty of reasons to admire a decade long past, and these are just a few that I find smile-worthy.

Really, I rather thoroughly enjoyed myself!

If you'd like to learn more about Nancy, you can click here to read the History of Nancy. Also, Deborah of Books, Movies, and Chinese Food is hosting a Nancy Drew Challenge throughout this year. You may yet see some Nancy Drew posts pop up here from time to time over the course of the next six months.

I hope you enjoyed yourself also this month and I look forward to seeing what you all have to share on this last month of the challenge! (Post goes up tomorrow so you have time to prepare it still!)


Books I read during the Children's Classics Mystery Challenge (you can click on the title to read my reviews):

1. Robin Kane and The Mystery of the Blue Pelican
2. Cherry Ames, Student Nurse
3. Cherry Ames, Rural Nurse
4. Cherry Ames, The Mystery in the Doctor's Office
5. Cherry Ames, Ski Nurse Mystery
6. The Dana Girls, Secret of Lone Tree Cottage
7. Trixie Belden, Secret of the Mansion
8. The Trixie Belden Mystery Quiz Book
9. The Nancy Drew Slueth Book
10. Encylopedia Brown, Boy Detective

Ten books total. A nice even number that Mr. Monk would be proud of! ;) (Well, I suppose Nancy's Mysterious Letter makes it 11 so I've ruined it.) Ah well! I'll just have to keep reading to round that number off again!


Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

I forgot this ended this month.

Stephanie Kay said...

What a fun review! I've been too busy this last month to do much reading to I won't be participating but it sure was fun the other months!

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Great post, Carrie! I really enjoyed the challenge and can't wait to see what's coming next!

DanaB said...

I've been on the lookout for those older versions in our used bookstore...


Top  blogs