Thursday, May 19, 2016

Nancy Drew Diaries, No. 12 - The Sign in the Smoke

First, let me begin by saying - 249 PAGES OF STORY!!!!!!!

Okay, now that I've got that out of my system.  And if you're wondering why I am so excited over 249 pages of story in a Nancy Drew book, well let's see - when the original Nancy Drew books came out in the '30s, they were over 200 pages in length.  When they dropped from 25 chapters to 20 and began revising the earlier texts, they dropped down to an average of 180 pages of story, even when they changed to paperbacks and a new publisher in 1979.  Then, Simon & Schuster took over the books completely, and the format changed again, from 20 chapters down to 15 or so chapter, and the page count dropped even further (140 to 160 pages, depending on the book).  However, the font remained relatively small and the lines tight.

Enter the new millenia, when Simon & Schuster decided to revamp the series - out went the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories and in came Nancy Drew, Girl Detective.  Suddenly, the font grew larger, the lines spread further apart, and the page count remained in the low hundreds.  Of course, with the larger font and more space between lines, this ultimately led to less story for the buck.  The NDGD series only lasted 47 books before it got replaced with the current Nancy Drew Diaries.  While it was nice to see a return to the painted covers, the large font and open space continued, as well as the 140 or less page count.

Until now...

Weighing in at 249 pages of story (which would probably equal about 160 - 180 pages in the old format), this is by far the longest Nancy Drew story we have seen in years.  Which gave me hope.  Plus, the story was about a ghost haunting an old camp.  Something else that gave me hope - a story that wasn't about sabotage!  So, I went into this book with high hopes...

First, let's look at the plot.  Nancy, Bess, and George head out to be counselors a camp that Bess used to attend as a child.  The camp was closed just two years after Bess' last visit due to some tragic circumstances (which turn out to be a child drowning in the lake).  New owners have bought the camp and hope to re-open it with success.  But, according to one of the counselors warns them that all is not right.  That child who drowned is still out there.  Haunting the camp.  Waiting for new campers.   Nancy, of course, doesn't believe in ghosts.  Until something pulls her under the water.  And then the campers' sleeping bags disappear, only to turn up in the lake.  And then one of the cabin's is flooded with water.  And then a warning sign is lighted with fire in front of the dining hall.  Suddenly, the case is all too real, and Nancy realizes she has to do something before someone really gets hurt.  And that's when three of the young campers disappear!

Now, I'll readily admit, the plot reads somewhat like a tamed-down version of Nancy Drew meets Friday the 13th.  Which, quite frankly, is alright with me.  I love both franchises, and it was actually rather fun to see how Nancy would do in the wild, with no technology and no easy-to-find answers on the internet.

Second, let's discuss the actual writing.  Whoever ghosted this book may not have known the character of Nancy Drew well, but he or she definitely knows how to write characters.  With 249 pages of story, there was opportunity to flesh out many of the supporting cast - such as Bella, the former camper turned counselor who is obsessed with the ghost story; such as Harper, the young camper in Nancy's cabin who keeps to herself and her books and has problems making friends; such as Maya, the "mini-Bess" counselor-in-training who is assigned to Nancy's cabin and helps keep Nancy focused.  Readers even get insight into many of the other counselors, CITs, and even some of the other campers.  You actually have an opportunity to learn about and care about (or, in Bella's case, greatly dislike!) the characters.  There is also time to develop the story at a slower pace, so there is greater build up for a much more anticipated payoff at the end when the "ghost" is finally revealed.

Unfortunately, we are provided a Nancy who, while admitting she doesn't believe in ghosts, actually questions the possibility of one's existence in this book.

'You would think after solving so many cases in which 'ghosts' ended up being, well, 'not ghosts,' I wouldn't believe in them.  But sometimes it's hard not to."  (p. 52)

Say what?  Nancy Drew has never and would never believe in ghosts.  She is far too logical for that.  And since when do we get such detailed descriptions of Nancy needing to use the bathroom?  Well, there was that instance in the first Nancy Drew Super Mystery (who remembers that infamous pickle jar?).  But aside from that, references to the use of facilities has never been a part of these mysteries.  Yet, here we are, with more than a half-page description of Nancy dreaming she has to go, but stuck high in a tree and can't get down...

"Meanwhile the pressure was building, and I was getting really worried I wasn't going to make it!  The dream seemed to go on forever until suddenly my eyes popped open and there I was staring at the ceiling of Pine cabin, desperately having to pee.  I scrambled down as quickly as I could without stepping on Taylor and ran to use the bathroom.  Hugely relieved, I finished up and was walking back to my bed when I heard it..."

Okay, this is wayyyyyy more than I ever wanted to know about Nancy's physical needs.  It adds absolutely nothing to the story and, quite honestly, felt like nothing more than giving kids some giggling time at reading about someone using the bathroom.  Definitely out of place in a Nancy Drew story.

And now, my friends, for a SPOILER ALERT.  If you don't want to know anything about how this tale ends, read no further.  But there are a couple of points to be made about the ending.

First and foremost, Nancy accuses the wrong person and has them kicked out of the camp.  What?!?!  Now, Nancy has been wrong before, there is no doubt, but never to the point where she has someone punished before she has true evidence.  This, of course, opens the door for the real culprit, who turns out to be related to the drowning victim and has come back to the camp to teach everyone a lesson (hmmm, another Friday the 13th moment here).  Nancy (a la Alice Hardy from the original Friday the 13th) faces off alone against the culprit - but, whereas Alice found the determination to take down Mrs. Voorhees, Nancy is not only fearful and scared, she is actually wishing someone would come save her...

"I closed my eyes.  Please, Bess, I prayed silently.  Please anyone..."

This is DEFINITELY NOT the Nancy Drew we all know and love.  She wouldn't be praying for someone to help her.  She would be looking around, trying to find a way to distract the culprit and overpower them.  But that isn't the worst aspect of this ending.  Not only is Nancy a timid scaredy-cat, but she is ultimately saved by...are you ready?...a 10-year old girl who smashes her glasses to take a piece of broken glass and slam it into the culprit's leg, distracting her long enough for Nancy to escape.

Seriously?  We are supposed to believe that fearless Nancy Drew has to be saved by a 10-year old child?  Ugh, talk about a tremendous let down after such a great build up.  (Although, admittedly, that child was Harper, so I did cheer a bit at the idea that Harper broke out of her shell and did something so dramatic to save Nancy.)

Overall, this book was a VAST IMPROVEMENT over the prior eleven books in this series, as well as all 47 books of the previous series.  If Simon & Schuster keeps on this path (higher page count, more character development, stronger story), then they might actually be able to revitalize Nancy Drew and get her books back on the shelves.

The next book, The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn, is listed on Amazon at 192 pages - which, taking out the front pages, a possible preview of the next book, etc., might leave us with 180 pages of story, which is still not bad.  Plus, it's another story about a ghost, so that's another sign that this series may have hope yet!

RATING:  8 roaring rounds of Kumbaya out of 10 for taking steps to lead Nancy Drew in the right direction for making her stories readable and enjoyable again.

No comments:

Post a Comment