Thankfully, this "authorized edition" Whitman mystery was a far cry better than the one I recently read with Bonita Granville as its star. What is interesting though, is although the dust jacket, as well as the cover and spine show the title of the book as Nancy Craig and the Mystery of the Fire Opal, the title page and the list of available books from Whitman in the back show the title of the book as Nancy Craig and the Fire Opal of Guatemala. I'd be curious to know exactly why there is a variation in the title of the book and what caused the change from the inside to the actual cover and dust jacket.
In any event, author Matilda Bailey provides a great little mystery here, with an interesting view of life in the Guatemala jungles. And Matilda Bailey, by the way, is actually the pen name for Ruby Lorraine Radford, who was a rather prolific writer back in the day. It seems she wrote a number of the Whitman authorized edition stories, and from what I've heard, some are better than others. Thankfully, this is one of the better ones.
I have to admit, I smile when I consider how similar this is to a Nancy Drew mystery of the '60s and '70s. Nancy (choose one) goes on a vacation, stumbles across some strange superstitions, and suddenly finds herself thrust into the middle of a mystery that only she can solve. Bailey (Radford) makes Nancy Craig a strong, independent female who, even during the late '40s, was determined not to let men - whether it be her father, her uncle, or any other man - tell her that she can't do something. And when it comes to helping someone in need - in this case, her friend Dannie - Nancy will not stop until the mission is complete.
As can be pretty much expected from the moment Nancy is told that there is something dangerous about the valley that keeps the natives from ever setting foot therein, it's pretty obvious to the reader that that is exactly where Nancy is going to end up. And end up there she does, along with her friend Kathy. They are searching for their friend Dannie, who mysteriously disappeared after visiting with the parents of Kathy's native friend, Maria. Nancy is sure that it has something to do with the valuable fire opal that Dannie had been carrying, and she is also sure that the rather slick North American men ("norteamericanos" as Maria calls them) are somehow involved.
There are plenty of clues and dangers aplenty for Nancy and Kathy - from earthquakes to infections to horse hoof-prints to fire opals in the raw to butterfly nets with cobwebs and so much more. And it certainly can't come as any surprise that the girls eventually find Dannie and also manage to stumble across an ancient native temple hidden in the Forbidden Valley, I found it rather amusing how the two girls manage to outwit the culprits in the end.
This book was definitely worth the read, and I am glad I purchased it. I suppose this will keep my faith in these Whitman Authorized Editions enough to purchase others if I stumble across them in my book-hunting.
RATING: 8 hand-woven shawls out of 10 for providing yet another strong female amateur detective in a well-plotted mystery in an exotic land.