Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: The Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene (1930)

I am quite sure that The Secret at Solaire, is not the only Nancy Drew book I read in childhood, but it was the only one I could remember, so I thought I owed it to myself to also read one of the original titles. I wanted to see how the 1993 Nancy compared to 1930 Nancy, and to get a sense of what the series was really all about. Because my fiance owns a 1930 edition of The Bungalow Mystery that I could easily get my hands on, that is the one I chose to read.

The story begins with a sudden rainstorm, which overturns a motorboat containing Nancy and her friend Helen Corning. The girls are rescued by a stranger, Laura Pendleton, whose mother has recently died. Laura has been entrusted to a guardian named Jacob Aborn, but as she soon realizes, he does not have her best interests at heart. Nancy, determined to repay Laura for saving her life, hides the girl at her house in River Heights, and heads out to spy on Jacob Aborn's bungalow to find out what he's really up to.

Because the book was written in 1930, some of the language - especially slang - obviously sounds dated to contemporary ears. In the first chapter or two, the author uses the word chum many times, to describe Helen Corning's relationship to Nancy, and each and every time, it made me giggle a little bit, because it sounded so silly. (I also think the author could have used another word at least a few times. I counted four uses of chum on just one page at one point.) I also thought the conversations Nancy has with some of the characters were very stiff. They lacked contractions and seemed overly polite, as though each character was a perfect robot with perfect manners.

Indeed, Nancy Drew is completely perfect in every way. She's a great swimmer. She can put chains on the wheels of her roadster. (Heck, she has a roadster.) She isn't afraid of intimidating men, she finds ways to get out of danger again and again, and she never hesitates to take someone under her wing and into her home for protection. I don't think she has a single flaw, and I think the only reason readers don't totally hate her is that she does so many cool things. Before the mystery even starts, Nancy has already survived two near-death storm-related experiences, and by the end of the story, she's been locked in a closet, knocked out, tied up, and left for dead in a dark basement. And every single time she comes out of the danger unscathed. What girl - in 1930 or now - doesn't want that kind of awesome, exciting life?

I enjoyed The Bungalow Mystery much more than The Secret at Solaire, mainly because the mystery was more suspenseful, and better-crafted, and because the older title had a lot of charm and history behind it that kept me interested and immersed me in a world quite unlike my own. Though I doubt I'll review them, I definitely want to read more of the books from the original Nancy Drew series.

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