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.


  1. I love cheesy successes! But I don't like Dan much.
    Anyways, sometimes Trixie does annoy me, because she seems to have TOO many fauolts, be TOO nosy andd TOO pushy. My favourite is Honey all the way, I read the excerpt about Brian and Mart schmoozing up to Honey and it's hilarious

  2. ooh i recently found this one at a library (and it's massively overdue. Next time I walk into that place, police alarm bells are going to go off =_=")
    Actually, I must say it reconciled me to Dan. I think it was nice, bringing a person with such a different background into the story, showing that redemption was possible. I didn't like Dan before, I'd always seen him as an intruder, but I do like Dan now. He seems to fit right in with the Bob-Whites, courageous, good-humoured (though he started off on the wrong foot) and admirable like them all.
    It's a nice, homey story. Another Bob-White project, they're pretty fun. My only nitpick with this one was that they didn't talk more about the icecarnival! I would've LOVED to hear more about it!