Friday, April 22, 2016

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #2: The Hidden Staircase (1930)


Quick note, this is the revised edition from 1959 and not the original edition from the 30s.

Nancy gets a call from her close friend Helen for help. Since this is early in the series, Nancy is still honing her skills and wants to go on another investigation. Helen asks her to come check out the home of her aunt and great great grandmother. Before she can though, a Mr. Gomber arrives on her doorstep. He's the lawyer for this guy Willie. Willie owned land that a railroad company wanted to buy, something happened with his signature, and now the railroad company is suing. Gomber warns Nancy and Hannah that Carson is in serious danger and acts so threatening that Nancy throws him out.

She then goes to see Helen's aunt Rosemary and Miss Flora, her great great grandmother. Rosemary gives her a short history of how they thought their big ass family home was haunted because they kept hearing weird footsteps and noises. Someone then broke in and stole some things. Nancy agrees to come back and spend a few days in the house.

Carson comes home, hears about what happened with Gomber, and pretty much just rolls his eyes. He promises that things will work out and that he'll be fine. Carson even takes Nancy to the construction site the railroad company is working on. A truck comes out of nowhere and almost hits them. Though Nancy thinks it's a warning sign, Carson just pooh poohs her and says that it was probably just an accident. He's a little too trusting.

Nancy goes to Helen's family's house. On the way there, Helen tells her that she's now engaged to some oil worker. They met, spent a few days hanging out, he went on an international assignment, and proposed to her over the phone. Seems a little fishy to me. Flora announces that someone broke in and stole her treasured pearl necklace. She also tells them about a second staircase in the house but claims that no one has access to it. It turns out that the staircase is hidden inside a closet.

Rosemary tells her about some guy who wants to buy the house. She says that he's a horrible man and keeps offering them less than the house is worth. Nancy also finds out that the original owner of the house built a matching estate next door. His brother lived there and they were best friends, but their sons later fought and stopped talking. Rosemary tells her that no one has lived there in years.

While hanging out at the house, there's a knock at the door. It's the guy who wants to buy the house, which turns out to be Gomber. He acts nasty again and hands over a document that he says Flora already agreed to sign, which gives him the house at a super cheap price. He snarls about how everyone knows the house is haunted and that he's the only one who will ever want to buy it. Nancy sends him packing.

Not long after he leaves, the chandelier in the living room starts swinging on its own. While everyone faints and practically gets the vapers, Nancy rushes upstairs. She discovers that by standing in a spot on the ceiling and rocking back and forth, she can make the chandelier swing. Helen suddenly starts screaming, and when she rushes downstairs, she learns that there was a horrible looking man standing in the window. Nancy deduces that it was just someone in a mask. Before they can do much, the radio comes on upstairs. Though Rosemary still thinks there's a ghost, Nancy thinks there's a rational explanation.

Not a whole lot happens after that. Nancy goes for a walk outside and runs into a police officer who introduces himself as Patrick. He tells her that he keeps an eye on the property. She later walks to Miss Flora screaming because she sees glowing red eyes in her room, which turns out to be an owl. Flora swears she closed the chimney, and Nancy worries that someone sneaked in and let the owl loose.

What happens next is completely random. In the hopes of making Nancy feel more at home, the women decide to put on a show. They find all these old clothes, shoes, and wigs from the colonial era in the basement, bring them upstairs, and pretend like they're from that era. They get interrupted by Patrick catching a prowler on their property. The “prowler” says he's a neighbor named Albert who was just out on a walk.

Nancy gets a call from Hannah telling her that someone saw Willie sneaking around River Heights. Her dad is now hot on his trail and hopes to stop by and see Nancy too. Helen gets a letter from her beau Jim that puts her in a happy mood. The girls then check out the attic and find something that looks like a hidden seam. Despite their best efforts, they can't get it open. Just as they're about to give up, they hear Patrick shouting from downstairs.

It turns out that one of the women thought they saw the couch move, which made Patrick run in to help. Nancy gets a telegram from her dad that says he'll be in town, but then she gets another that says he changed his mind. Hannah calls to ask if her dad made it there and says he never sent a second telegram. When Nancy calls the telegram office, they say they never sent the second one. She realizes that someone didn't want her to meet up with her dad and begins frantically calling around to find him to no avail.

She does, however, drive downtown and ask every cab driver she finds about her dad, but they all say they didn't see him. A woman stops her, explains that she works as a nurse, and says that she swears she saw Carson the day before enter a specific cab. They confront the cab driver who denies it until Nancy says she thought her father was kidnapped. He finally breaks down and admits that he picked him up and also picked up two other guys. The other guys made him stop because they said her father passed out. They drug him out of the car, and he basically took off.

After getting a description of what they looked like, she starts back and comes across an aqueduct that she thinks might hold the secret entrance to the house. While checking it out, she hears a noise and comes back to find a man matching a description of one of the kidnappers hanging around her car. When he sees her, he takes off running. She also manages to find a newspaper clipping from the River Heights paper that blows away before she can read it.

Still worried about her dad, she gets back to the house, only to have a chunk of the ceiling fall on her head. Rosemary and Flora think is was the ghost, but Helen points out that the roof leaks and recent rain made the plaster fall apart. When Nancy comes to, she calls Hannah and finds out that the article in the paper had a story about a school trip on one side and an ad for a used car on the other. This somehow convinces her that she knows what's going on.

Nancy takes her information to the police captain, he does some investigating, and he discovers that the kidnapper just bought a car in River Heights. Nancy and Helen then go over the parlor with a fine tooth comb and actually find the hidden staircase. All she finds inside is a letter from the 18th century that the owner of the house wrote because he worried that his servants had nefarious plans.

Flora suddenly get sick, but when she starts telling the doctor about the ghost, he thinks she's suffering from hallucinations. She keeps getting sicker. Nancy and Helen go out one day, and when they come back, they see Gomber leaving with a big smile on his face. Turns out that he tricked the housekeeper into letting him into the house, threatened Flora that he would go after the girls, and made her sign a bill of sale over to him. The doctor comes back and wants to take her to the hospital but she refuses.

She suddenly remembers her dad talking about a hidden entrance to the house in the roof. Nancy and Helen investigate, find the trap door in the roof, and learn that the latch rusted out. They still manage to get the door open and discover that it leads to a walkway on the roof. They also find evidence that there was once a connection between the roof walkway and the house next door. To make things even worse, Nancy leans that Gomber just bought the house next door too!

The captain calls Nancy to tell her that they caught one of the kidnappers and have the cab driver too. Nancy asks the driver to put himself in her shoes, which makes him break down and admit that the guy in custody was one of the kidnapper. That kidnapper himself breaks down and admits his part in everything, but he claims that the other guy was in control. She makes an appointment to talk with the railroad's lawyer and then gets a call from the real estate broker to say that she can get in and see the house next door.

She and Helen check the house out and discover that someone's been living there. Nancy then finds a hidden passageway in the house, which she literally falls into. She and Helen start wandering down the passage and then hear someone shout at them to stop. The man they find is Willie.

Willie tells them that he signed the contract to sell his house but that Gomber told him he could get more for it. He agreed to scare the women into selling their home in exchange for Gomber getting him more money. Though he never stole any of their jewelry, he does think Gomber did. He also helped take her father, or at least he picked him up from the other two guys and turned him over to Gomber. He's so upset over everything that happened that he's willing to confess it all.

They follow the secret passageway way back to the other house and call the authorities. The railroad's lawyer shows up, calls a notary, and finalizes all the sale documents. The cops show up, follow the passageway, and discover Carson passed out in a hidden room. Gomber apparently gave him a bunch of sleeping pills to keep him knocked out. Everyone celebrates, and Nancy looks forward to solving her next mystery.

*Rosemary and Flora serve the girls steak, french fried potatoes, and peas for dinner but make them eat a fruit cup first. How quaint!

*I wonder when Ned enters the series. Nancy goes on a date with a football player named Dirk and daydreams about him while going to sleep.

*Nancy gets a kick out of how tiny the old clothes are in the waist, which makes me wonder how tiny they are given her very small size.

*Am I the only one wondering what happened to Gomber? I swear there's no resolution or talk of him getting picked up!

*Sad to say that there's no resolution for Jim either. I still don't trust him...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fear Street: Secret Admirer (R.L. Stine)


Secret Admirer starts with a letter addressed to Selena from someone named The Sun that's all about how she is oh so beautiful and has hair of gold. Either she's a Wakefield twin or part of The Brady Bunch.

Selena is the top actress in Shadyside High School and super popular too. After finishing up her latest performance, she steps off stage and rolls her eyes when her friend Jake calls her Moon. It's a nickname from when she was a kid because her name literally means moon. Selena then chats with her best friend Katy who is one the backstage crew. They were both overweight as kids, Selena lost some weight, and since Katy still has 20 extra pounds on her frame, she's clearly a loser. Backstage, Selena finds a bunch of dead flowers waiting for her and a note that says tonight was her final performance.

On her way out, she has a run in with her ex-boyfriend Danny. Even though he's handsome, a football player, and super popular, she dumped him after six months. While he still likes her, she blows him off to take a ride to the cast after party with Katy. They stop by her house to see that someone used a ladder to peek into her room. The ladder has an orange sticker of a sun on the bottom rung. On the way to the party, someone starts following them, but it's just Danny being a pest.

Both girls notice a hot new guy at the party. The director introduces him as Eddy, an intern from the junior college. Selena encourages Katy to go over and talk to them, even though she knows that he can't take his eyes off her. Yeah, I already don't like this chick. Eddy blows off Katy to come and flirt with her, but then Danny walks in completely covered in blood and moaning. He collapses right at her feet. It's really just him playing a prank, but she later gets a threatening call from someone.

Jake and Danny really don't get along, and there's something up with Jake too. He snaps at Selena when she tries to talk to him at the party, and he then confronts Danny when the other guy tries to hit on Selena again. They get into a pushing match that ends with Jake on the ground. Katy tries to ask Selena what's up with him, but she's way too busy getting ready for the next play auditions.

They're putting on Romeo & Juliet. While everyone thinks she's a shoe-in, she tries to act like she may not get it. Alison, a girl also trying out for Juliet, is sitting on a bench and makes a rude comment about how Selena probably wants her to get up and leave. Seconds later, a heavy cabinet falls on top of her and crushes her. Selena then finds an orange sun sticker on the cabinet.

Eddy calls her that night to tell her that the show will go on. He mentions they way she looked as freshman, complete with baggy clothes. When she asks how he knew what she looked like, he says he looked through the yearbook and changes the subject. He also talks about how she's the best actress in the school and asks her out but tells her not to tell anyone because he's not supposed to date students. When she gets off the phone, she finds a package on her doorstep that the rain almost ruined. She opens it and finds a dead rat inside. The rat is missing its head and came with a note from someone saying that he killed the wrong person and that she's next.

Worried and freaked out, she calls Katy. Katy recommends that she pull out of the play before her stalker does something worse. Selena initially refuses because she has a shot at getting a college scholarship, but then she consider it. She also hears a noise and freaks out. Selena hides behind a door and plans to attack her stalker, but it's actually just her mom.

Jake later flips out when he learns that Danny got the role of Romeo, which was the role he wanted. Katy tells Selena that she just found out his parents are getting divorced, but I think he's secretly in love with Selena. While on stage, she hears a noise, the lights go out, and there's a loud noise. She thinks she's dead because a light dropped onto the stage, but the light actually knocked Katy out.

Selena doesn't see too concerned because she goes on her date with Eddy. Since he's a “serious” drama student, he takes her to a Chinese film with subtitles. They then go to a burger restaurant near the college, which is an odd choice for someone trying to keep their relationship a secret. Eddy offers to help her rehearse for the play, as long as she doesn't tell anyone because he doesn't want them to accuse him of playing favorites. Eddy makes it clear that he wants to date her seriously, but there's something about him that turns her off.

Selena then jumps up and freaks out because she sees Danny. She accuses him of following her and stalking her, but he introduces her to his date who lives nearby. Embarrassed, Selena rushes outside and sees Eddy waiting for her. He says that he took off to keep Danny from seeing them together. She gets home to see Danny standing outside her house and staring at her.

The next morning, she finds a bouquet of flowers waiting for her. Though she's super excited, her mom flips out because the leaves are actually poison ivy. Turns out that she's really allergic and her face swells up for over a week. Tired of the BS, she “borrows” a list of locker combinations from the office and goes through all the lockers until she finds a roll of orange sun stickers. Though she thinks it's proof Danny is her stalker, the locker actually belongs to Jake.

Selena rushes home and calls Katy. Katy isn't sure what to think but eventually believes her. Jake calls in on the other line and says he needs to see her right away. When she asks about the stickers, he says that if she meets him at the school, he will explain everything. Katy has to wait for something being delivered for her mom and can't go, so Selena takes the bus. When she gets to the school auditorium, she finds Jake's script and then Jake's dead body. The police say he accidentally fell off the catwalk and died when he hit the stage.

During their next rehearsal, the teacher tells them that the show will go on. Katy finally convinces Selena that she should drop out of the play, but when she goes to tell the teacher, he's too busy to listen to her. Danny then confronts her and tells her that if she drops out now, she'll disappoint a lot of people,. He snaps at her about how this is the last chance to act for a lot of them and how not everyone will go off to acting school.

Selena then gets a note from the stalker, claiming that he's not going anywhere soon. She keeps going through life until she gets a second note that warns her someone else close to her will die and that she needs to go to the school. Eddy calls and Selena gets him off the phone fast. She rushes to the school and hears someone crying in pain and then sees blood on the stage.

When she climbs up the ladder to the catwalk, she finds Danny waiting for her. It takes her a few seconds to see the big bruise on his head and to realize that he's tied up. Danny wakes up and says that he got a call from her to meet him and someone knocked him out. She runs to find clippers to cut the ropes off him and sees a shadow coming closer.

Katy steps closer and out of the shadows, wearing an all black outfit. She mumbles something about how Danny will never bother her again before slamming him over the head with a heavy flashlight. Katy then says that she and Selena can be best friends forever, just like they were in the old days. She holds up her hand and shows the roll of sun stickers.

Though Selena says that they are friends, Katy says it wasn't like the old days. The only reason she joined the theater department was because she thought it she let Selena get away, Selena would drop her as a friend. She also says that Jake found the stickers in her locker and was going to tell Selena the truth, so Katy lured him to the catwalk and pushed him over.

The two start struggling. Katy hits her in the arm with the flashlight and then pushes her hard enough that she falls over the side. Selena manages to grab the railing, but Katy gets ready to push her again when Eddy shows up. Eddy saves her life and then fights with Katy himself. He finally gets her under control, ties her up, and carries her to the prop room. Selena collapses, he asks if she's still acting, and when she says she isn't, he tells her this is just the first act of their story. Blah.

Yeah, so I totally thought I hadn't read this book before until halfway through, when I realized that Katy was the killer.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Nancy Drew Mystery Stores #33: The Witch Tree Symbol (1955)


Nancy is such a nice young girl that she offers to drive her new neighbor, Mrs. Tenney to Follett Mansion. Her Aunt Sara lived there for years before passing away. Tenney tells her all about how her aunt had a ton of antiques, but when they get there, everything of value is gone. Aunt Sara apparently split the furniture between Tenney and her cousin Alpha Zinn. Zinn is an antiques dealer, but Nancy doesn't think that's enough evidence or proof. Nancy does find a weird symbol. It's the witch tree symbol, which is a curse in Pennsylvania Dutch communities, and Zinn just so happens to live in that area.

Tenney also tells her about an antiques dealer she met. He heard about Sara's death and stopped by to say he was interested in buying anything the heirs didn't want. She says that he left at the same time she left with the estate lawyer but isn't totally sure that the door was locked behind them. Nancy calls local hotels to see if the dealer – Roger Hoelt - stayed in town and finds that he was there but abruptly checked out earlier in the day.

Nancy heads back to River Heights, stops by the police station, and asks the chief if Hoelt is in his records. Turns out he was arrested in the past for jewel theft. She also learns that he made a few calls while staying at the hotel and all were to a pay phone in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Carson warns her to be careful, and Hannah worries about the whole hex/curse thing. Nancy then takes her dog for a walk and sees a car come out of nowhere. It almost hits her dog and leaves behind a note that has the witch tree symbol on it and a threat to stay out.

This just makes her decide to take a trip to Lancaster for herself. Bess agrees to go because she heard the Amish make great food, and George goes wherever they go. They're on their way to Zinn's house when their car gets stuck in the mud. Manda, a random Amish girl just walking by, stops to talk to them, but she has some serious problems of her own.

She confesses that she was raised Amish but left because she grew tired of their ways. Manda left town, moved to Lancaster, and went to school while working. Though she eventually came home, she thinks her dad won't let her back in the house. Manda agrees to find a mechanic for them and leaves again. When the mechanic shows up, he gives them directions to Manda's house.

They get their in time to see Manda's dad about to be gorged by a bull and distract it. Even though he doesn't like “modern” women and seems to hate George's name, he invites them to stay for dinner. His wife then asks them to spend the night, which he says is a good way to pay them back for saving his life. Manda's little sister tells them that Manda came back and left again because her dad said she could stay but that no one in the family could talk to her. He then asks them to help them find his missing daughter, and his wife asks them to come by every day for dinner as payment.

While Nancy wants to find Manda, she also wants to find the missing antiques. She uncovers a threatening note with the witch tree symbol on it. Manda's family says they have no idea where it came from, and her dad says it's an old-fashioned symbol that the Amish no longer use. They then go to Zinn's antique store. Bess and George distract him while Nancy searches around and finds a table that exactly matches the description Tenney gave her.

Not knowing who they are, Zinn tells them that it's a replica of an authentic George Washington table. He made it to match one that his aunt had. He also tells them that the original tables had a hidden drawer that contained something expensive but that he never knew what it was. Nancy eventually tells him who they are and believes him when he says that he had nothing to do with the theft. They also learn that Roger Hoelt – who I'm calling Roger from now on – once lived in the town. He stole from Manda's family and went to school with Zinn.

While driving one day, Nancy sees a man rush past them in a carriage. They then come across a bunch of concrete blocks in the road that she can't avoid. Bess passes out in the crash but wakes up pretty quickly. Nancy find a note that calls her a witch and has the same symbol on it. When she tells Manda's parents, they act really strange around them, which leads them to check into a small boarding house.

The local police even show up to talk to her after getting a call that she was a witch. It was clearly a slow day. They stop by the antiques store and learn that Zinn sold the Washington table. When he describes the couple who bought it, Nancy realizes it was Roger and a woman posing as his wife. They also learn that the couple stole a carriage and paid for the table with fake money. To make things even worse, Zinn later accuses them of stealing. He got a call from an unidentified woman who told him to check their car. Though he finds two of his lamps in the trunk, his wife convinces him that Nancy and her friends would never steal.

Nancy starts worrying that no one in town will want to talk with her soon, so she decides to help the woman who owns the boarding house. The girls help the woman make a bunch of treats and pick vegetables that she sells in town. At the market, she jokes with them about how they might get picked up by some local guys. Nancy laughs until she thinks she sees Manda in the crowd. Am I the only one starting to think Manda is working with Roger?

It turns out the girl is Manda's cousin Melinda. She tells them that a man in disguise approached her, warned her that Nancy was a witch, and then ran away. Ned, Burt, and Dave then show up, and the owner of the boarding house offers to let them stay there. She also tells them about a barn dance later that night and encourages the girls to take the guys out for a tour of the countryside. They later get split up, and Bess and George's group hears people whispering about the witch.

When they get to the barn dance, people tell them that the witch suddenly flew into the air and disappeared. Oddly enough, there's no mention of what happened to Ned. The couple actually saw Roger and followed him. They find all the missing antiques and the stolen carriage inside a barn on his property. After calling the police, they catch up with their friends and find out that people still think Nancy is a witch.

The girls go out on their own and discover an old abandoned farmhouse. George briefly gets stuck in the mud, which leads them to find a sluice that proves the house was once used. They also find a family bible that has the name Hoelt inside. The next morning, they wake and find that someone painted the hex on the barn with a female figure inside that looks like Nancy. The owner of the boarding house also finds a note on her door that says Nancy is a witch. Are you sensing a theme here?

Manda's mom tracks down Nancy to tell her that she needs to seek out an older man in the community for help. We'll call him Greg because his name is way too long to type out multiple times. Greg tells them to stay away from the farm they found because it's bad luck. The Hoelt family originally owned it, had a run of bad luck, and left. The current owner left too after all his crops failed. Though Nancy thinks Manda his hiding out there, he warns them not to go. Greg also tells the Washington table was actually brought over by gypsies.

Bess and George refuse to let her go alone and tell her she needs help. Nancy agrees to wait before taking off. Bess then gets a phone call that causes her to burst into tears. She tells Nancy that the person called to inform them that Carson was seriously sick. They rushed him to the hospital but doctors aren't sure if he will make it.

George is the only one suspicious about the whole thing. She says that if Carson was that sick, Hannah would be the one to call. Before she can do anything, Mrs. Glick, the owner of the boarding house, gets distracted. Her son is playing with a slingshot and hits Nancy, which knocks her out. She comes to and agrees to wait before heading back home. If Carson really is sick, this is a bad decision.

The girls do want to do some more investigating, but walk outside and find their car gone. Glick agrees to call the police for them and leaves the girls with her sons. While playing in the barn, Nancy looks up and sees a beam getting ready to fall right on the boys. She rushes across the barn and gets there just in time to save him.

Glick agrees to take them via carriage to the old Hoelt farm. There, they find a guy sulking around. Nancy knocks him down and discovers that he's a deaf mute who she believes is working for Hoelt. Bess and George later come around the corner with Manda in tow. Manda says she's been living there with Roger and their wife as they restore the old farm. She refuses to believe that their thieves until Nancy describes some of the missing antiques and she realizes there are all in the house. Manda agrees to leave and go back home but won't talk to the police. Todd, the deaf mute kid, was the one who left some of the notes and painted the barn.

All four girls go inside the house and find the missing antiques, including the Washington table, which is hidden in the attic. They hear a noise downstairs and find themselves locked in the attic when Roger comes home and catches them. Nancy finds a way to signal for help and then examines the table. Not only does she find the hidden drawer, but she finds a note inside. The note came from a gypsy woman forced to flee her home and leave behind her love. She left him instructions on how to find a crystal cave that would make him rich, which I assume is a diamond mine.

The police arrive to save them. Instead of Nancy summing up the case, we get a police report over the radio. Roger was arrested and admitted to stealing the antiques. He grew up in Lancaster and posed as an Amish man. Manda then tells the girls that she met a man while in the city, he proposed, and she's now bring him home to meet her parents before they get married NEXT MONTH. She also asks them to come back and be part of her wedding. Nice to see that she doesn't hate everything about being Amish!

*Carson should pay Hannah way more. For a regular weeknight dinner, she makes chicken noodle soup, a pot roast, and apple pie.

*You can tell this is an old book because tomboy George wears a tailored brown skirt with matching jacket and a white button up shirt for a road trip.

*Has Nancy always had a dog? She calls Togo – crazy name by the way – her treasured pet, but I swear I never saw mention of a dog before.

*According to Nancy, there is a group called the Church Amish. They have the same religious beliefs but use electricity. I'm thinking this is some old name used for the Mennonites.

*Zinn thinks Nancy might be a shoplifter because she disappears in his store. That actually seems pretty realistic.