Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bungalow Mystery – Nancy Saves a Family Fortune

Some of my favorite television shows are the various C.S.I. series. However, one thing that really bothers me is that things too often just fall together perfectly. If a character states “If we only had the victim’s two front baby teeth that fell out when they were five..” I pretty much know that those teeth will turn up somehow.

What’s this got to do with Nancy Drew, and in particular The Bungalow Mystery? I just found as I was reading it that things were fitting together a little too neatly, just like those episodes of C.S.I. Perhaps this is where the root of my affinity for those television shows lies.

Nancy Drew and Helen Corning are on a vacation to Twin Lakes. While they are out and about in a motorboat, a terrible storm blows up and sinks their boat. The two girls are in grave danger until rescued by Laura Pendleton, who has seen Nancy’s exploits recounted in the newspaper.

You see, Nancy is eighteen years old and a bit sharper than many other girls her age. She lives a somewhat affluent life in the fictional town of River Heights with her father, attorney Carson Drew, and housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Hannah has been a maternal figure in Nancy’s life since the death of her mother when Nancy was three years old.

The bond of losing a mother is what draws Nancy and Laura together. Laura is now an orphan since her mother died just about a month before. She is awaiting the arrival of her new guardians, Jacob and Marian Aborn, who were distantly related to her mother, but Laura has no memory of meeting them.

Various clues in what Laura tells her two new friends leaves Nancy to conclude her parents must have been fairly well off. After several days spent doing things together, Laura asks Nancy and Helen to meet her guardians. Immediately, Nancy is distrustful, especially of Mrs. Aborn with whom she and Helen had an encounter the day before.

However, all that is put on hold when she has to return home. In addition to Hannah being hurt, Nancy’s father asks her to help him on an embezzlement case he’s investigating.

Can Nancy figure out what’s going on with Laura’s new family? Is her father’s case somehow related?

The Bungalow Mystery is the third book in a three-book series first penned to test out the new concept back in the 1930s. They were greatly rewritten back in 1959, but some of the original formulae that tied the three books together remain. All three stories originally ended with Nancy receiving a gift to remember the help she gave. It would seem that at least initially Nancy was destined to become a packrat.

The formula that was added to many of the novels in the 1950s is two stories that are somehow related. Generally, the one Nancy stumbles on is in the forefront and the one she is involved with her father on is secondary. There are many predictable points for those of us who watch mysteries unfold on television. For one, Nancy and Helen conveniently encounter both of Laura’s guardians before they formally meet them in Laura’s presence. Nancy’s instincts always seem to be spot-on about people, whether positive or negative.

Nancy has often been portrayed as something of a goody-two-shoes, but if you read between the lines, she is bolder than anything else. At one point in The Bungalow Mystery, she and Helen commit the crime of breaking and entering, reasoning I’m sure the owner of this bungalow will forgive us for going in. Nancy can be annoyingly perfect sometimes. She doesn’t throw a coat on a nearby chair or leave her boots in the hallway when she comes home. The coat is hung up and the boots put away out of sight in the closet before she dashes off to anything else in the home. Hannah never has to yell at her to get her damn boots out of the hallway. I wish my kids were like that!

At the same time, I am glad my girls aren’t like Nancy Drew. She is most definitely a product of the times she was written, often “sleuthing” in pumps and a dress or skirt rather than jeans and sneakers which would ultimately be more practical. She seems to have no ambition towards college. Despite her father being a lawyer, there is no talk of her taking on that career for herself and possibly joining him in his practice. Instead, he has her use her wits in a capacity that is deemed “proper” for a young lady of her social status.

As of yet, Nancy doesn’t have a steady boyfriend. In The Bungalow Mystery, she meets up with Don Cameron, whom she apparently dated casually in high school. This encounter also hints at just how young she is and makes it appear that these first three mysteries have taken place in the summer following her graduation from high school.

This is one book where the pacing seemed a bit off. Near the end, it gets to feeling dragged out; like the story is forced to continue longer than originally intended to fill the general page requirement for these books. There are also many characters brought in – friends old and new – who are never heard from again. In just a few novels, Nancy moves to a tight inner circle of friends and those who seem to be in her wider circle of acquaintances aren’t heard from all that much.

The Bungalow Mystery isn’t as good in character development as the previous book, The Hidden Staircase. None of the regular characters seem to grow at all and there’s not much more learned about them. However, it still makes a pretty fun read for girls between the age of 9 through 12. My three have all gone through these books and although they don’t have the repeat value with them that they did with me, it’s still enjoyable. Compared to the first two novels, this is a bit weaker. However, it’s keeping pretty much in line with the formula and if your daughter enjoys it so far, she’ll likely enjoy this as well.

Previous book in the series (link): The Hidden Staircase

Next book in the series (link): The Mystery at Lilac Inn

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