Monday, January 9, 2017

Nancy Drew Diaries, No. 14 - Riverboat Roulette

It truly is a shame that Simon & Shuster does not put more into this new Nancy Drew series.  This latest offering, Riverboat Roulette, has such a great premise to it (finally!  it's not sabotage!!), but it is not realized to its full potential due to the restraint in the page count.  With S&S reducing the number of books published per year from 3 down to 2, it was my hope that the series would not just increase the page count, but they would also provide higher quality tales of mystery.  Instead, this first book of 2017 features a lesser page count and a rushed story that misses the mark on providing a truly enjoyable tale.

Now the mystery itself was actually pretty good, all things considered. For one thing, it was not sabotage (the first book in this series, I believe, that does not feature this tired trope). Maybe this is a sign that we might be getting back to the days of mysteries involving thieves, kidnappers, counterfeiters, missing heiresses, haunted houses, etc.  I doubt it, but once can always dream, right? Anyway, the mystery centers around the charity proceeds that go missing aboard the Delta Queen, where Pet Crusaders is holding their annual benefit to raise funds to help shelter homeless animals.  Nancy and her friends only have three hours before the ship will dock, at which point the culprit may depart and the money gone for good!  Nancy's sleuthing skills are definitely put to the test as she narrows down her suspects, ferrets out clues, and does her best to avoid being pushed overboard or falling into the churning paddle wheel.

During the course of the mystery, there is an interesting subplot about George and the high-stakes poker tournament that is a part of the fundraising activities.  An never-before-revealed fact about George comes out, inasmuch as it seems that she has a real love for poker!  It is mentioned that this year is the first time the girls are old enough to actually participate in the games, leading the reader to believe that Nancy must be 18 years of age, since it is unlikely they would allow minors to play games where true monetary bets are stake.  In fact, George brings several hundred dollars with her, money she has been saving just for this occasion.  It is also clear that the author is either a poker enthusiast, or simply did a lot of research on the game, as there are a lot of interesting facts about the game and its players (particularly the professional ones) that are scattered throughout the story.

A few things I noticed as I was reading...

"Slalomed" - growing up reading Nancy Drew and other children's mystery series books, I picked up a lot of new vocabulary words I had never known.  As as adult, however, I certainly didn't expect to come across any in a Nancy Drew book.  This one proved me wrong.  "Slalom" is to move or race in a winding path, avoiding obstacles.  A new word for me, and kudos to the author for throwing it out there!

Something else I hadn't expected to see in any of these new books was a reference to prior mysteries.  However, on page 13, Nancy thinks back to prior mysteries she solved, involving historical museums (The Phantom of Nantucket), ballet companies (The Red Slippers), and organic farms (The Clue at Black Creek Farm).  Even later in the book, on page 52, Nancy remembers when they all went camping out by Mystic Lake (Secret at Mystic Lake).

And on page 28, there's a humorous moment when the head of Pet Crusaders questions Nancy's ability as a detective, commenting, "we need someone with a little more experience than the Case of the Stolen Lollipops from Mrs. Benson's Fourth-Grade Classroom."  A little nod to Mildred Wirt-Benson, the original ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew books back in the '30s, perhaps?

Now something others may not appreciate as much as me are the references to Superman and Lex Luthor on pages 66 and 67, when they are discussing Bess's 'superpower' at being able to get pretty much any man to do whatever she wants when she turns on her charm.

On the negative side of things, the editing was not particularly strong, as there was a glaring error on pages 84 and 87.  On page 84, Nancy refers to the competing pet charity as "Critter Kings," but just three pages later, she calls it "Kitty Kings."  So, which is it, and how did no one catch something so glaring before the book went to print?

And, sadly, the villain in the story is pretty much obvious from the moment Nancy meets this person.  The very first words this person says just screams, "It's me, I did it!" - - and, yet, throughout the entire book, Nancy never even suspects this person, which makes no sense, since this person has the most obvious motive.  Again, this boils down to page count and an inability of the writer to have more pages and a larger word count within which to fully flesh out the story and characters.

Finally, something that does hearken back to the old yellow-spine days happens towards the end of the story, as Nancy, Bess and George are investigating the crew's locker room on board the ship.  The suspect's locker is locked with a combination lock.  Nancy proudly steps up and says, I"I know how to crack those."  And not only does she get it opened, she (the author, really) provides a pretty detailed way in which to open a combination lock when you don't know the combination!  I always knew Nancy could pretty much do anything, but with the details she provides, now her readers can, too!

Let's see where 2017 and beyond takes our favorite teenage sleuth!

RATING:  6 scuba diving suits out of 10 for offering up something other than sabotage and as least providing a pretty decent plot.

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