Emerson College planned a summer trip across Europe, and somehow Nancy and the girls got an invite. Along with Ned, they head across eastern Europe with Professor Bagley, his assistant Eric, who is in a wheelchair, and some other random kids. Nancy gets a telegram from her dad because one of his clients needs her help. Kessler is an immigrant East Germany and an award winning film director. He recently made a documentary about his life before leaving Germany, but someone stole it from the film festival, so Nancy agrees to check things out.
After arriving at the airport, a random porter steals the professor's bags and runs off. Ned and his friends give chase, but Nancy actually catches him. He threatens her before disappearing. They board a bus to Austria, but the driver acts really gruff. When Bess hears a knocking noise coming from under the bus, he claims it's just some loose tools.
At a random stop, Nancy sees him take something off the engine and throw it in the bushes. He tells the students that there is something wrong with the engine and that help can't arrive until the next day. When she confronts him with the distributor cap that he threw away, he lunges at her and then runs away. A car suddenly appears, he jumps inside, and they take off. Despite giving chase, he's just gone. They then inspect the cargo area and find the real bus driver tied up inside.
They finally get to Austria and find out that someone canceled their hotel reservations. Mr. Gutterman, a big deal real estate agent, offers to find them a place to stay, but the professor turns him down in favor of the hotel helping. Since it's the busy tourist season, the hotel can't find them enough rooms. Gutterman just so happens to know about a brand new hotel that just opened and has plenty of rooms, which he walks them to and helps them get rooms. He seems particularly interested in poor Nancy, which makes Ned slightly uncomfortable.
When she tries to call her dad and all the pay phones are occupied, Nancy follows the advice of the front desk worker and uses one down the street. While chatting with her dad, she hears the tell tale sign of someone tapping the line. Carson points out that he spent quite a bit of money protecting their own phone line from tapping so it must be on her end. The professor then appears and tell her that the front desk worker also recommended that he use the phone down the street.
Bagley, the professor, and Eric need Nancy's help and let her in on a big secret. The professor actually set it up for someone to steal his bags at the airport because he wanted to pass on some misinformation. See, in addition to hosting a college approved trip, the two men have a second mission. They're in Europe to help 10 little kids escape from East Germany and reunite with their families and parents who already left. They bring Nancy in on their plans and ask her to help. Though she already has one mystery on her hands, she willingly agrees.
To check on the missing film, she needs to go to another city. When she can't find a rental car, she agrees to go with Gutterman. Ned is upset until she reveals that she wants him to go too. Gutterman is less than happy and shows them to his car. He puts them in the back and says that he needs to pick up his driver first. When they get to his driver's house though, it's the bus driver from before. Gutterman then tells them that the divider between the front and back seats actually blocks off air in the backseat and that if they don't listen to him, they'll both die.
Nancy and Ned communicate with notes they pass back and forth as she lets him in on her plan. She conveniently brought a weapon that looks like a book but is actually tear gas. When the car stops, she'll spray Gutterman while Ned attacks the other. Instead, Gutterman flashes a gun, forces Nancy out of the car, and locks Ned inside.
He takes her into a secluded cabin that he set up just for conversations like this. It even has a lock on the outside to keep people trapped inside. When the driver serves them tea, she throws it in his face, grabs his keys, rushes outside, and locks the door. She gets to Ned and gets the car started, but the guys get out. Gutterman throws himself in front of the car, and she uses her evasive driving skills to escape. There's like a solid chapter of them getting lost in the mountains and literally driving the car through a river for several miles before it gets stuck. They leave it behind, walk to town, and get on a bus back to the hotel.
Bagley has some big news. Someone tried to steal Eric's wheelchair at one stop. They carried him into the bathroom and when they came out, someone was taking off in it. Nancy goes to the film festival and learns that someone swapped the real film with a blank film. She and Ned check out the processing center that made the film, which should have the negatives, and learn that it mysteriously burned down and all copies are now gone.
Gutterman then calls with a deal for Nancy. If she meets him in private, he'll tell her everything he knows. Not only does he tell her that he knows all about the plan with the kids, but he also shows her a print of the missing film. If Kessler agrees to turn himself in and say that he lied about everything he experienced, they won't go after the kids. Nancy tells him that he's evil for supporting such a bad country, but he just laughs and tells her that he doesn't have a country, he works for the highest bidder.
Some random guy appears at their hotel room. He's one of the “inside” people helping the kids escape. Eric then reveals that he can actually walk but opted to use a wheelchair because it made people think he couldn't do certain things. Random guy tells them everything they need to know about the plan has something to do with that wheelchair. They rip it apart and find the plans hidden inside the seat. And Kessler hops on a plane to turn himself in because he would do anything to help kids in need.
Nancy comes up with an awesome plan and sends her group out with a random list of things to buy. It's like theatrical face paint, black face paint, inner tubes, sunglasses, a blonde wig, ballgown, and inflator. They dress George up like Nancy and send her off with Ned, while Nancy wears a black wig and goes off with Eric, who dresses up like her driver. Gutterman follows closely behind.
Eric takes her to this big and fancy opera performance right on the border of the two countries. She sneaks into the show and then sneaks back out, for reasons that make no sense. Gutterman shows up and claims he has an urgent message for Nancy Drew, but she and Eric sneak away to put on wet suits and black paint.
They then go to the river, which is conveniently located right next to the opera hall. After getting into the water, they inflate all the inner tubes and get to the opposite side, where all the kids are waiting. Bagley and others help them load the kids onto the tubes and head back out, but they hear boats coming, which leads to Eric sneaking onto the shore and causing a huge scene that lets them get away. The police learn what they're doing and help them get all the kids to safety.
Kessler doesn't have to turn himself in after all, but he really wants to know what happened to his documentary. Nancy tells him what she remembered about the place Guterman took her, and he suddenly knows the location. They get there and find Gutterman waiting with the film in one hand and a lighter in the other. Kessler talks softly to him, gets close, and takes the film back while blowing out the lighter. He tells Nancy that they were once friends and even served time in prison together. When Gutterman got out, the government forced him to make propaganda films and that hopefully now he can get his life back. Mm k.
In the end, Kessler wins some big award for his film and invites the whole gang to watch. When he gets his award, he calls Nancy up on stage and tells everyone that he wouldn't be where he was without her help. Yup, 10+ years in political prison and being on the run means nothing if you can't get a little help from a teenage detective.
*This book made me wonder why Nancy never went to college. I guess classes would get in the way of her sleuthing, but what excuses do Bess and George have?
*The real bus driver is a dick. He keeps going on and on about classic music and at one point, climbs off the bus and gets in a fight with someone on the street because the guy disagreed with his choice in music.
*What kind of hotel just cancels like 20 hotel rooms on the day a big group is supposed to arrive without double checking anything?
*Nancy refers to Ned as her “special friend” instead of her boyfriend in this book, which I find absolutely charming.
*There's a whole scene with the driver almost going over a mountain with Ned and Nancy in the backseat before gaining control of the car. It's kind of random because it doesn't really add anything to the story.
*My book has a coupon in the back to join the Nancy Drew River Heights USA Country Club. For just $5, you got stickers, a membership card, bookmark, iron on transfer, enamel club logo pin, and FOUR copies of the newsletter each year. Where do I sign up???
*Someone actually filled out the order form in the back too! This little girl from Michigan picked out all the books she wanted, which was 13 and include two Hardy Boys crossovers, and actually filled out the credit card information. I bet her parents weren't too happy!