Saturday, May 30, 2009

Experimental Nephew: Trixie Belden #8 "The Black Jacket Mystery"

Sorry this took me so long. It was a challenge to re-cap. I’ll admit that this is not one of my favorite Trixie books, though it is popular with a lot of the fans. It just seems like there is a lot of meanness and distrust throughout the book, and lots of arguing among the Bob-Whites. Dan is kind of a jerk at first (understandably), but so is Trixie. This is also the second of the books written by "Kathryn Kenney" (aka a series of ghostwriters) instead of series creator Julie Campbell, so there is a change in tone.

That’s Trixie and Dan on the cover. Yes, Dan is dressed like The Fonz on almost every cover of this book that exists. The black jacket is pretty important to the story, so I guess it’s a good little bit of consistency.

This is a winter story, which begins with Trixie hurrying to catch the bus. She has been up late worrying about her pen pals Dolores and Lupe, who live in Mexico. An earthquake destroyed part of their village, including their school’s library. Trixie wants to do something to help them. She comes up with the idea of an “ice carnival” to be held on the Wheeler’s frozen lake. It will involve skating exhibitions, races, prizes, food booths, etc. Patrons will have to bring donations of books to get in. it sounds overly-complicated to me. I mean, why not just have a book drive? I guess they think the carnival will draw more people. The Bob—Whites excitedly make plans throughout the day.

When Trixie gets home, she overhears Regan talking to her mother. Something is worrying him and he is asking Mrs. Belden for help. He also says he doesn’t want the “youngsters” to know about it. Trixie manages to tear herself away from eavesdropping, but of course she is curious about what’s going on.

Honey comes to spend the weekend with the Beldens while her parents and Jim are out of town. There is a funny scene of the Belden brothers both trying to carry Honey’s suitcase and help her into the house. It surprised me a bit, because it’s generally implied through the series that Brian and Honey like each other, while Mart was more into Diana.

The four of them go to Manor House on Saturday for ice skating and horse riding. While looking for one of Bobby’s skates in Regan’s tack room, Trixie accidentally knocks down a box of papers. She sees a legal document with something about a judge “willing to let (Regan) try.” She puts it back quickly, but of course, she doesn’t forget about it. Mysteries literally fall out of the sky and hit her in the head, it seems.

Later after they’re done skating, Bobby tells Trixie that he knows a “sec-rud.” (Secret). It involves Regan and Celia and Tom, and it’s a “sperimen.” Trixie and Honey figure out he means “experiment.”

The Bob-Whites come up with a Mexican theme for the carnival, since that is where the books are going. There is lots of planning, decorating, gathering donations, selling ads, and making posters that goes on that I won’t get into, because it’s not that exciting. Trixie and Honey manage to convince the boys to do most of the work, anyway.

The next Monday, a new kid gets on the bus at the Wheeler’s stop. He’s escorted by Mr. Maypenny, the Wheeler’s game warden. The boy is about Mart’s age, wearing a black leather jacket and cowboy boots. He is not friendly. Trixie decides right away that she doesn’t like him. Later, Mart is assigned to show him around at school. He introduces him as Dan Mangan. Dan is cordial but cool to the Bob-Whites, and ends up going to sit with some other guys from their class. They can hear him bragging to the other kids about being in a “club” who doesn’t let anyone push them around. The Bob-Whites wonder if he was in a gang, since gangs wear cowboy boots and leather jackets (??).

Trixie and Honey have several encounters with Dan throughout the next few chapters. Honey usually tries to be nice, and Dan looks like he might warm to her, but then Trixie mouths off to him and spoils it. I get why she finds him annoying, but she doesn’t really give him a chance. Strange things start happening, too. A large wildcat is seen and heard in the preserve. The girls see someone in a black jacket a couple of times, but when they ask Dan, he says it wasn’t him. Honey loses a valuable watch. She thinks it fell of when she was riding. The girls go back to the clearing where they think it might be, but it’s not there. They do find cowboy boot prints around the area. They go to Maypenny’s to find Dan and ask him if he found the watch. Dan says he hasn’t found the watch and was nowhere near the clearing. He gets mad and thinks Trixie is accusing him of stealing.

Later at Mr. Lytell’s store, Honey finds her watch. Mr. Lytell says a dark-haired kid in a black jacket pawned the watch earlier that day. Trixie thinks it was Dan, but Honey points out they don’t have actual proof. Unfortunately Regan comes in about this time. He finds out what happened and says that “Dan is an experiment that failed.” He says Dan will be sent away by the end of the week. Dan still denies that he pawned the watch.

The Bob-Whites clubhouse is broken into over the night. Someone stole some money they had in there, and walked all over the carnival posters. Muddy tracks are all over them. Cowboy boot tracks, of course. Mart points out that the tracks are bigger than his feet, but Dan wears a smaller size. Also there are cigarette butts in the clubhouse, but Dan doesn’t smoke.

The Bob-Whites decide to tell Mr. Maypenny that they no longer suspect Dan, and to invite him to come skate at the lake. But they find Mr. Maypenny hurt. A branch has hit him over the head, knocking him out and gashing his scalp. They take him to his home to doctor him up, but Dan is there. He seems very nervous and mad and tries to get them to leave, practically pushing them out the door. But the boys finally stand up to him and insist on taking care of Mr. Maypenny.

Future doctor Brian sews up Mr. Maypenny’s head just like on T.V. (It really does say that). The boys get annoyed with the girls for not really knowing what to do. Dan gets mad at the “rich kids” for being nosy. Like I said, there is lots of fighting in this one. After they yell at each other, as the Bob-Whites finally leave, Trixie knocks Dan’s jacket off the back of a chair. But it’s not Dan’s jacket! It says THE COWHANDS on the back. Tough gang name, there.

It turns out that a member of Dan’s old gang has followed Dan to Sleepyside. The guy wants to rob the Wheelers, and he wants Dan to help. He’s the one Trixie and Honey keep seeing in the game preserve, and he’s the one who pawned Honey’s watch and vandalized the clubhouse and hit Mr. Maypenny over the head with a branch. Dan finally stands up to him, even though he’s afraid of him. He even helps Trixie when she and Bobby get lost in the preserve. Bobby has fallen down into some kind of hole/cave thing, and Dan helps get him out and keep the wildcat away until help arrives.

It turns out that Dan is actually Regan’s nephew, the son of his now-deceased sister. Dan’s father is dead, too. Regan had brought him to Sleepyside to try and get him to make a fresh start, away from the city and his gang. Trixie explains to her family and Regan how Dan helped Bobby and protected them, and they agree to give him another chance. Trixie even apologizes for using the clues she found to make everyone suspect Dan. Dan softens up a bit, too, and even helps out with the ice carnival, which is a big cheesy success. Dan is voted into the Bob-Whites, and one more makes lucky number seven.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Username Change

I changed my user name to the same name I use pretty much everywhere else on the internet. I was tired of living a double life. Don't freak; it's still me. :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Every Family Has a Creepy Uncle: Trixie Belden #4- "The Mysterious Visitor"

This is one of my favorite Trixie books, so I apologize in advance that this recap is a bit lengthy. The mystery is good, the characters are, well, in-character, and Trixie and Mart face some actual danger at the end. I cut it down as much as I could, but there is a lot of good stuff here that I didn't want to leave out.

The cover above is the actual copy I read, but I really love this early cover as well.

It's a scene directly from the book, and I love the "fifties wealthy" decor of the Lynch mansion. :)

It’s October now, and school is back in session. Trixie and Honey are getting ready to ride home on the bus and are lamenting an essay they have to write over the weekend. The theme is “how I spend my summer vacation.” How many of us had to write that same essay every fall? School hasn’t changed that much in fifty years, apparently.

All of the Bob-Whites are attending high school together. They wear red jackets with “B.W.G.” stitched on the back. This always annoyed me a bit. I don’t have a problem with secret clubs, but it seems kind of jerky to throw it in peoples’ faces and then say “but it’s a secret.”

The (secret) Bob-Whites are dedicated to (secretly) helping others, and Honey has found their next victim-er, beneficiary. It’s Diana Lynch. She is the same age as Trixie and Honey, and is described as the prettiest girl in school. She’s sweet and funny, but lately she’s been quiet and withdrawn. Sensitive Honey says she used to be the same way and can tell something is wrong. Trixie feels guilty because she’s known Di for years but didn’t notice. She says Diana’s father made a lot of money very quickly, and they moved from a simple apartment in town to a home that rivals the Manor House out on Glen Road. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes about now at another poor little rich girl, but I can see how that would be a pretty big lifestyle change.

Honey and Jim ask Di to spend the weekend with them. She telephones her mother, who gives permission. Mrs. Lynch also says she is sending a car with a suitcase of clothes. This seems reasonable, but Di gets very upset. She refuses to say why, though.

The suitcase arrives, and Miss Trask ends up unpacking it because Diana is busy outside. She confides to Trixie that the dresses Di’s mother sent are too grown-up for a thirteen year-old. Miss Trask is worried that Diana will be a bad influence on Honey. (?!) Trix explains that Diana didn’t want the dresses and that Mrs. Lynch just got the wrong idea. But Di overhears them talking and gets upset. (She gets upset a lot in this book). She says she will leave, but Miss Trask manages to smooth things over.

After dinner, Di finally confides in the girls after the boys go to the movies. She says she wants to throw a simple Halloween party for her entire class, but her mother wants it to be really formal and elaborate. Honey agrees to have her mother talk to Mrs. Lynch and explain that not everything has to be Camelot all the time. Di is pleased, but is still worried that “Uncle Monty” will ruin everything. Apparently he is Mrs. Lynch’s long-lost brother, who showed up from Arizona after the Lynches made lots of money. How convenient.

The Bob-Whites plan what sounds like a pretty fun party. Roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, costumes, games, etc. But, just as she had worried, Uncle Monty does indeed try to ruin everything. He convinces Mrs. Lynch to hire an orchestra, caterers, and expensive decorations as a “surprise” for Di. The Bob-Whites show up to the Lynches early to set up for the party, but find it decked out like Hollywood. Di is upset (again). She thinks Monty is trying to annoy her father enough that he will give him a lot of money to leave. He didn’t have any actual proof that he was Mrs. Lynch’s brother, though he did know a lot about her family and the night she was born. Apparently Mrs. Lynch was adopted, so it is possible that she does have a long-lost sibling.

Uncle Monty appears then, dressed as a cowboy. Because he’s a REAL cowboy from a REAL ranch in ARIZONA, see. He calls everybody “podners” and “little lady” and stuff. Ugh. Di tries to tell him that most of the kids don’t know how to dance and that they would rather play the games she had planned, but Monty won’t hear of it. He’s really annoying and sleazy. He asks Honey for a waltz. She uses her power of charm to politely decline, then leads Monty off to the other room to plan a musical quiz game for the guests. (The orchestra plays a few bars of a song, the kids guess, Monty gets to be the M.C.) Honey is awesome.

The rest of the Bob-Whites discuss Monty after they leave. Trixie points out that Mrs. Lynch has blue eyes, but Monty’s are brown. She remembers that there is a portrait of Mrs. Lynch’s birth parents in the gallery. If she could see if both her parents had blue eyes, they would know Monty is an imposter. Blue-eyed parents can’t have a brown-eyed child. And while that’s not entirely true (the genetics for eye color are more complicated than that), it’s still good thinking on her part.

Later, Honey tells Trixie that Monty overheard them talking and he knows of her plan to look at the portraits. Monty practically glues himself to Trixie’s arm all evening, keeping her busy and away from the gallery. He’s so creepy. Other than that, the party ends up being pretty successful. The other Bob-Whites even start to like Monty a bit. He tells great (though exaggerated) stories about being a “bronco-buster” out West. (Do real bronco-busters even use that word?) They tell Trixie to give it up and stop investigating Monty, because it’s just going to hurt Di’s feelings.

Tom Delanoy (the Wheeler’s chauffer) shows up to pick up the kids around midnight. You know, until I started writing these recaps, I had always mentally pronounced Tom’s name as “Delaney.” But know that I write it out, it’s obviously “Del-uh-noy.” Anyway, the kids tell him about the party and ask if he has met Uncle Monty yet. Tom insists that he saw Monty in town at the train station two weeks ago! Monty came up to the car and asked (in an English accent) to be taken to 291 Hawthorne Street. Tom told that it was a private car. Tom has a photographic memory, and he definitely saw Uncle Monty in town before he said he arrived. Tom tells Trixie that Hawthorne Street is basically Skid Row, and that 291 is a bad hotel run by a man named Olyfant. Tom tells Trix to stay away from there. You know she’s not going to listen.

Over the weekend, Tom also tells Trixie that Mr. Wheeler has promised the old gatehouse to him and Celia (the maid) to live in after they get married. Apparently Celia moves fast. Didn’t she and Tom just meet in August? The Bob-Whites have been fixing up the gatehouse to use as their clubhouse for a while now, and they’re understandably bummed. Trixie calls Diana to tell her what’s going on, but Di refuses to speak to her. She’s upset about something. Again.

Trixie, of course, makes the trip to Hawthorne Street and Olyfant’s Hotel. It’s just as bad as Tom described it, and Trixie has a narrow escape with Olyfant himself. She fast-talks her way out of it. She also sees a personalized match book from the Lynch house in Olyfant’s hand, so the trip isn’t a total loss.

Diana finally forgives Trixie a few days later. She says Monty told her that Trixie said some bad things about Diana and her mother at the party. Di is now definitely convinced that Monty is a fake. She says she and Honey asked to see the portraits in the gallery, but someone had slashed them from their frames! Monty said he lost his key to the gallery and that one of the servants or caterers could have taken it and the pictures. Lame.

Diana invites Trixie to stay through the weekend so they can keep an eye on Monty. The first night, Trixie checks the veranda fireplace to see if Monty tried to burn the portraits. Canvas is hard to burn. She does find a piece of the portrait in the ashes, and Di’s grandparents do have blue eyes. She also finds Monty. He confronts her about her visit to Hawthorne Street and the portraits. Again, she talks her way out. She says the portraits were probably painted from black and white photos, and Mrs. Lynch probably just requested blue eyes because hers are blue. So they don’t prove anything. But there is no doubt that Monty is on to her now, or that he is shady.

The Bob-Whites hold a meeting after school the next day. The girls tell them everything they know about Monty. The boys want to tell Mr. Lynch right away, (which is what they should have done all along!) but Trix says they don’t have proof. She says she will get it by the next day, before Mr. Lynch gives Monty a check and the Robin so he will leave. The boys tell her it’s too dangerous. Mart says he has a plan to get the proof without endangering them, but he won’t say what it is.

There is a hilarious bit around the dinner table that night at the Lynches. Mr. Lynch says has indeed given Monty fifty thousand dollars, plus the Robin.

“Mr. Lynch said to Di with undisguised joy, ‘Your uncle is driving back to the far, far West tomorrow morning, dear. Early tomorrow morning. So be sure to say goodbye to him this evening.’
Staring into her soup, Di said dutifully, ‘Goodbye, Uncle Monty.’”

Bwah! Di has a bit of a snarky side sometimes. I love it.

Trix knows it’s now or never. She searches both Monty’s room and the Robin. She finds a pistol permit with Monty’s picture, but the name Tileny Britten on it. Of course, Monty catches her right about then. He’s holding said pistol, and he’s not happy. He ties Trixie up and they take off in the trailer, but not before he spills his whole plan to her. Why do the bad guys always do that?

Trixie is in real trouble as Monty pulls away from the Lynches in the tow car, with her tied up in the Robin behind him. She starts to cry, but right about then she sees the door to the shower compartment opening. It’s Mart! I love Mart. He unties her and they manage to attract the attention of a local cop who is always stationed at the traffic light on the edge of town. The cop takes them all to the station, where Monty’s plan is revealed for all to hear. Mart had hidden a tape recorder in the Robin just before Trixie came in. He had planned to confront Monty and get him to reveal his plan so that it could be recorded, then come back and get the recorder later. Monty saved him the trouble by spilling his guts to Trixie as he tied her up.

As usual, it all works out in the end. Monty goes to jail, Mr. Lynch doesn’t lose his money or the trailer, Mart and Trixie don’t get shot, and Trixie doesn’t get in as much trouble as I think she should. I mean, between the trip to Hawthorne Street and confronting an armed man, that’s pretty risky behavior. Not only is she not really in trouble, Mr. Lynch decides to give her and Mart the Robin as a reward. They agree to give it to Tom and Celia to live in after they get married. The Bob-Whites get to keep the gatehouse for the clubhouse. Diana’s mother sees how unhappy she is and she gets rid of a bunch of the servants they don’t really need. Di will also get paid to help take care of her twin brothers and sisters. And the REAL Uncle Monty has been tracked down! He really does have a ranch in Arizona, and he invites the Bob-Whites to spend Christmas there with him. Two diamonds, a horse, a trailer, a trip to Arizona...what awesome free stuff will Trixie find or be given next? Stay tuned to find out!