28) The Hudson River Mystery
Jaws music would create a suitable backdrop for this story. Trixie spots the impossible; a triangular shark fin gliding along the Hudson River near home. She becomes a laughingstock because saltwater fish cannot inhabit their freshwater section of the river, yet she knows what she saw. Trixie picks the brains of two experts, commercial fisherman Pat Bunker and river author Thea Van Loon, who give her contradictory feedback. Meanwhile Brian is in a serious plight. His crucial college entrance work is due soon, yet he can't shake off a feeling of sickness, despair and always feeling shattered.
* The Bob White station wagon now has three eligible drivers, since Dan has recently acquired his license, like Brian and Jim.
* Brian hangs out along the river with a girl named Loyola Kevins, who is his Chemistry lab partner at school. They are collecting water samples for an ecological survey which could have potential environmental benefit, depending on the results. Loyola is described as a 'short skinny black girl' who lives with her grandfather. Somehow, she puts me in mind of Hermione Granger. She's the same sort of brilliant, intense student.
* Mart teaches Bobby to use Spoonerisms; those verbal errors in which initial beginnings of words are swapped around. Bobby is so hooked on them, he can't get lo. (Oops, can't let go.)
* Honey is surprised and sympathetic when the author Thea Van Loon informs the two girls that there is not much money to be made writing books. She 'shakes her head in stunned disbelief.' I find myself rolling my eyes in sympathy with Thea in this instance, when she reflects that little rich girls like Honey are out of touch with the paltry salary authors earn.
* Oh gosh, the Trixie Belden books are cosy escapist reads generally, but real life intrudes for poor Brian. And the Belden family is not immune from curve balls after all. The drama plays out vividly as I read it. Brian collapsing on the floor during his birthday dinner, the paramedics carrying him out on a gurney, Peter and Helen rushing to hospital after the ambulance, Mart and Trixie barely keeping a lid on their own dread and trying to pacify terrified Bobby at the same time, and Mart dashing to the phone as soon as their mother touches base with an update. Phew, it's a rude awakening to see Brian, our favourite first aid dispenser, needing drastic medical intervention himself.
* I considered not mentioning the cause of Brian's illness. But since it has nothing to do with the main shark mystery, I'll go for it. It's one of the few incidents from the series which stuck in my mind from my teens. He has arsenic poisoning, from crunching loads of Loyola's Waldorf salad, which is packed with apple seeds. I shudder at the thought of crunching all those gritty seeds myself, as Brian must have done to have had such a terrible effect on him. Perhaps she at least pulverised them, yet it doesn't sound likely. Yucky! (Loyola's Waldorf salad won't make it into my dream Trixie Belden cookbook.)
* I appreciate the dash of black comedy, when Trixie jumps to conclusions and accuses Loyola of trying to poison Brian deliberately, since he's her most brilliant rival for the best college offers. And poor Loyola has to convince Trixie that although she's a serious and focused scholar, she wouldn't stoop to actually trying to kill her competition off.
* This story takes place in late October, so Brian's birthday, which is said to be a full week before Halloween, can be traced to October 22nd. But since Mystery on Mead's Mountain (number 22 in the series) ended with New Year's Eve, Trixie, Honey and Di should be fifteen by now, and Mart should be sixteen. Yet they're clearly not. This is why the latter books of the series must be taken as anecdotal rather than chronological. The timing is totally messed up at this point.
* Ah, the nostalgic old library days of the twentieth century. Trixie wants to look up information on sharks, and the librarian tells her to try to encyclopedias first, then the card catalogue.
* Trixie teases Mart that he's ugly and their mother reminds her that the taunt might come back to bite her, since the pair of them look alike enough to be twins. Touche.
* Trixie and Mart are roped into helping their mother can loads and loads of tomatoes. It seems Brian is now exempt to focus on his senior studies and Bobby is still too flaky to be much help. Fair enough. Middle kid power.
* I really had to laugh. Trixie is so annoying, intrusive and pesky that she drives the villain to want to kill her and Honey, just to get rid of them, a bit like swatting mosquitoes. Honestly, it's not in the baddie's best interest to dabble in murder. It's just the Trixie Belden effect to the extreme.
* It seems Mart and Brian don't share a bedroom now (even though they clearly did in Mystery of the Emeralds). Mart has been locking himself away in his room working on a secret craft project which he's keeping from everyone until the big reveal. Presumably that includes Brian.
* Four of the Bob Whites decide to wear Halloween costumes to their own little clubhouse gathering. Mart and Diana's homemade costumes make Trixie groan, but hers and Honey's are arguably even cornier.
* I love this observation about the Hudson River on the eve of the storm at the start. 'Trixie stared at it for a long moment, awed by the thought of nature transforming a joy into a threat in such a short time.' Yes, never underestimate the force of nature.
* My quote of the book is this exchange between Trixie and Brian. Trixie: Doesn't she (Loyola) seem kind of inhuman to you? Brian: No, you're the one who's striking me that way! (Haha, I love it. This bit of dialogue sums up the overall Trixie effect on many people in this book.)
29) The Mystery of the Velvet Gown
Diana gets to play the role of Juliet in the school Shakespeare play, which is a thrill for the Bob Whites, but there is some turmoil going on behind the scenes. Fellow student Jane Morgan, who badly wanted to play Juliet, resolves to make Di sorry for auditioning. Miss Darcy the drama teacher receives word that her father has been kidnapped, and she's also behaving strangely paranoid about some costumes she's borrowed for the production. Meanwhile her handsome fiance, Peter Ashbury, seems to be throwing his weight around. Can Trixie and the others get to the bottom of it all?
* One thing is clear. After weeks of working on her speaking voice, projection and poise, Di clearly did a good enough job to have earned the part of Juliet. Miss Darcy was obviously impressed enough by her audition to have given it to her. The implicit question is whether or not her physical beauty gave her an edge if it came down to a decision between her and Jane Morgan. If they were equally competent but Diana's beauty was the deciding factor, then I guess Jane has a fair case for being disgruntled. But if Diana's gorgeous appearance wasn't taken into account at all, then poor Di suffers the fate of many pretty girls throughout history. Some people are wrongfully resentful and suspicious of the victories they so rightly earn. Oh dear, they tell me it ain't easy being beautiful.
* Only Miss Darcy knows the answer to that one for sure, and of course she isn't saying. But Trixie reflects, 'Di is so pretty with her shiny black hair and violet coloured eyes, she'd make a perfect Juliet. She's just got to get the part!' Hey Trixie, surely you know all that has no bearing on whether or not Di can actually play the role.
* Diana's nerves and low confidence set in instantly, which gives Jane more ammunition. Oh, how easy for anybody to gripe, 'She only got the part because of her looks,' whether it's true or not.
* As always, the Trixie Belden novels provide some interesting background detail. We learn all about stage directions and stagecraft.
* There is a school newspaper called The Campus Clarion. Submissions aren't open to Freshman students like Trixie, Honey and Di. Jane Morgan's brother Bill is a photographer for the paper. We've never heard that Brian, Jim or Dan ever submitted anything to the paper, so presumably they didn't.
* Trixie compares Peter Ashbury to Robert Redford and Paul Newman; two very old heartthrobs who most readers probably wouldn't remember now. Either young Trixie has been roped into watching very ancient movies or she is indeed a product of a former era.
* Aww, the Bobby and Reddy moments are enough to melt soft-hearted readers like myself. Real life intrudes once again, when Reddy gets knocked over by a car and breaks his leg. But after a few days with the vet, Dr David Samet, he's allowed home, and the reunion scene is a highlight of the book.
* Brian and Mart go up to their rooms to finish their homework. Not a singular room. Just sayin'.
* Ooh, shame! The narrator refers to Miss Trask as 'the governess.' But we all know very well that Honey hasn't needed a governess for years. Miss Trask's actual current role is estate manager of the Manor House.
* Here's an interesting bit of trivia. Nowhere throughout the story was the velvet gown described as red. But those of us with the oval design cover probably assume that it is because of the picture.
* Okay, so the baddie is caught and Trixie gets most of the credit, but how does Di fare in the play? It's a fair question but we never find out. After all her stress and mental angst, the story ends weeks short of the big night. I think sometimes Kathryn Kenny forgets that Trixie isn't the only Bob White whose threads we readers are following.
* My quote of the book is from Trixie, while the girls are tossing around possible theories and Honey expresses her disbelief that anyone as handsome as Peter Ashbury could possibly be a criminal. Trixie shouts, 'What's in a name? Well, what's in a face, Honey? Good looking people can be involved in crime just as easily as anyone else.' Bravo, Trix!
30) The Mystery of the Midnight Marauder
An anonymous troublemaker who signs crime scenes as 'The Midnight Marauder' is at large in Sleepyside. Poor Mart is one of the prime suspects, since he was spotted at one of the locations and refuses to reveal why. Not only is Trixie anxious to clear her brother's name, but she's burning with curiosity to find out what he was really up to. Can the Bob Whites unmask the Marauder and also help Mart out of his jam?
* Just so we're all clear, I looked up the definition of 'marauder' before beginning this book. It is, 'One who roams from place to place making attacks and raids in search of plunder.' That's exactly what the Sleepyside Midnight Marauder does. This menace steals odds and ends from each place, leaves a calling card in black spray paint and sends letters in advance, announcing the next target. The marauder's motivation for telling people beforehand is something the Bob Whites can't figure out.
* Poor Mart is high on Sergeant Molinson's list of suspects. Not only was he spotted at school the night it was vandalised and robbed, but he's been stressed and preoccupied, and even lost his legendary appetite! He won't divulge why he was on the school grounds at midnight. A couple of middle aged women are fueling the fire with their certainty that the Midnight Marauder must be a teenager, although it seems to be based on prejudice rather than actual insider's knowledge.
* I've decided not to reveal Mart's secret business which is shredding his peace of mind. If you've yet to read this book, it's best to get the total surprise factor along with the other Bob Whites. Suffice to say he suspects the nefarious marauder's nocturnal activity may be indirectly his fault.
* If the school security system was up to modern standards, I guess Mart's purpose for being there would have been on record for all to see. That's a possible factor that dates this book.
* Sergeant Molinson is a bit of a duffer in this story. It's outrageous that he should suspect Mart in the first place. I understand professionalism demands that he must follow all leads, yet surely prior knowledge of a person's character should help him avoid wild goose chases. But wait, it gets even worse. Toward the end of the book he suspects Trixie and Honey too, of being Mart's accomplices! Come on man, wake up!
* Having said that, I don't quite get why Mart refuses to tell Sergeant Molinson what he was really up to the night he was seen at the school. I'm sure Molinson would keep it close to his chest. We know Mart is embarrassed about the fix he's in and assumes some responsibility for the head space of the Marauder, but come on! Mart, would you rather be seen by the police as a floundering student who tried something he couldn't pull off, or as a vandal and thief?
* Dan and Brian are both with me on this one. At different times they both give their opinions that Mart should just tell Molinson all about it and get him off his back.
* Peter, Helen and Bobby Belden set off on a day trip, but rough weather and a freak accident holds them up for a few more days. What a crazy story awaits them when they get home!
* Mart has another problem on his mind too. He enrolled in a Journalism class at school, but Mr Zimmerman the teacher keeps judging his material unfit to publish. I suspect Mart was always due for a rude awakening. Anyone who's tried their hand at professional writing knows that short, simple words are recommended over long, complex ones. That might be tough for our favourite wordsmith to swallow, because I don't think he can help himself. Now he probably thinks he's lousy at his passion. Poor Mart.
* We get inside info about Crimper's Department Store, Sleepyside's grand old retro shop, and the family who run it. Old Grandpa Crimper is the retired owner who hates to relinquish the reins to his son, and causes his family a great deal of stress by doing whatever he jolly well feels like, includes joyrides in the car, although he's a menace to every other road user. Even though his family don't think he qualifies for residential care, he should arguably still be restrained from possibly causing a fatality. I'd consider him to be a ticking time bomb rather than a lovable, crusty old man.
* There may be a couple of minor problems with credibility. Reddy follows Mart when he heads off to await the Midnight Marauder at Crimper's, and we're expected to believe that Mart manages to keep this ebullient free spirit silent and still in an enclosed space with him for a couple of hours. Even if Reddy slept for part of the time, it was such a long wait. However the premises were empty for a great deal of that time, so perhaps whines and barks wouldn't matter so much then.
* Speaking of dogs, it appears Jim has given up on his plan to train his puppy Patch. He had such high hopes of making an obedient hound out of Patch, but it hasn't eventuated. It would seem the live wire Reddy has rubbed off on him too much.
* Diana admits that she wrote a letter to Miss Lonelyheart, the school Agony Aunt. It comes to light that it was over her sadness about not being invited to the spring dance. I find that unbelievable! Diana has always been a magnet for hopeful wannabe boyfriends, with her beauty and skillful flirting. Perhaps what she really means is that the only guy she wanted to go with hasn't asked her (which is easier to believe, since he was preoccupied with things that must not be mentioned). Since that makes more sense, it's how I'll interpret her comments.
* Dan goes behind the scenes and invites the school shy girl, Ruthie Kettner, to be his partner. Go Dan! In his unassuming way, he makes moves.
* Now for a quote of the book without giving anything away. It's from Mart. 'It's been just awful these last few weeks. I haven't had any idea what to do.' Just a bit of bait to get readers in the mood for this story.
Catch up on Books 25 - 27
Next up will be Books 31 - 33