Book Reviews

Book Review: The Sign of the Twisted Candles – Nancy Drew Ends a Family Feud

Nancy Drew, along with her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne are off to visit a distant relative of the two cousins. The mission is to discover if the old man, Asa Sidney, is being mistreated by his caretakers, Frank and Emma Jemitt. The old man lives in a tower at an inn called The Sign of the Twisted Candles, hence the name of the book. When they arrive, they find that it’s Asa’s one-hundredth birthday. A young woman, Carol Whipple, works at the Inn as well. She is the foster daughter of the Jemitts.

Nancy immediately takes charge and completely intimidates the Jemitts. She orders a full meal to celebrate Asa’s birthday and has Carol come to sit with the three friends and the old man in the tower room to celebrate. There he tells some tales, not realizing who Bess and George are.

Later on, after Nancy arrives home, Carol telephones the house and asks Nancy to have her father come meet with Mr. Sidney as he wants to change the contents of his will. Carson Drew is a noted attorney and agrees to do so. After a short interview with Mr. Sidney, he realizes this will entail more than a simple bequest and has a reputable friend come to witness the signing of the document.

Naturally, just a day or two later, Mr. Sidney dies. A three-way struggle begins between the Jemitts and two blood relatives representing the heirs of Mr. Sidney’s brother and his late wife. When the contents of the will reveal that the bulk of his estate was left to Carol, everyone wants to fight it. This also results in Bess and George rethinking their friendship with Nancy.

On top of it all, Asa Sidney hid a great deal of his fortune throughout the Inn. Nancy must go on treasure hunts to find the items as even he admitted to forgetting where he had hidden much of it before he died. The Jemitts have likely been stealing from him for years as Nancy witnesses several very suspicious acts by them before they disappear, leaving Carol behind (no great loss there).

There is so much wrong with The Sign of the Twisted Candles that I hardly know where to begin. Wasn’t there a story a while back where Nancy talked about how much she hated gossip? When Nancy arrives back from her first trip to the The Sign of the Twisted Candles, she, Hannah, and dear old Dad sit down in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace with cocoa while Hannah regales them with the tales of the feud in Asa Sidney’s family. Hannah even starts her story with: I heard this long ago from a woman who used to work for the Sidneys. Sounds like gossip to me!

Carol is the foster daughter of the Jemitts, but she is forced to quit school as soon as she is legally able and go to work for them. Is there no oversight? I mean, if she’s a foster daughter then she was placed there by the state or the courts. Does anyone ever come to check on her? Even in that day and age, a foster child who quits school should have raised alarms in people’s eyes.

Asa Sidney is an elderly relative of Bess and George, but it seems they don’t know him and he doesn’t know them. Yet they somehow feel that they are being wronged when he leaves his estate to someone else. If I had great-nieces or whatever they were who never came to see me, I don’t think I would be remembering them in my will, especially if they live as close as it seems in this book.

Initially, there’s a bit about two relatives who try to see him and are rebuffed by the Jemitts. If I was that concerned, believe me, I would have the police with me to check on the man’s welfare. Beyond that, there seemed to be some concern by Bess and George’s parents of him being mistreated, but not one of the Faynes or Marvins were motivated to get off their collective butts and check on him.

If pandering to the tween market means casting adults as idiots, this book is spot on. Not only are there the usual suspects in the local law enforcement, but when Carol is kidnapped from Nancy’s home in River Heights, Hannah calls Nancy, and not the police. They aren’t brought in until Nancy decides that since she can’t reach her father they are the best option. The security guards Carson Drew hires seem right out of the stooges. After being sent on a job to guard an Inn where they know there is a family feud going on over a dead man’s fortune, one guard leaves his post after receiving a note that his services were no longer required. Wouldn’t you expect to only be dismissed in person for something as serious as this, especially when the building you are guarding hasn’t had anyone come and evaluate it yet? The other guard gets knocked out twice. I would seriously question Carson’s hiring skills.

This is the first of two books where Nancy will exhibit some… interesting driving habits. She thinks nothing of speeding when it suits her and manages to outwit a pursuer at one point by abruptly changing direction when traveling. There are a few things here that make me wonder about her character. I know times have changed and all, but at one point Nancy does lament I wish I were old enough to be a lawyer! This opens up the possibility that she could be a lawyer and there’s no sexism at play. If that’s the case, then wouldn’t it be reasonable for Nancy to be in college? You don’t become a lawyer by wishing you were one.

The pacing is way off in The Sign of the Twisted Candles as well. At times every detail of a day’s events are explored in minute detail. Later on, the author glosses past many days at a time with one or two sentences. The timing is off as well and this is where although the books are sequential, they don’t seem to adhere to a set calendar. When Ned is briefly in the picture, he excuses himself by stating he has to get back to Emerson College because football practice starts early this year. Wasn’t he just the star of the team in Nancy’s Mysterious Letter? It would seem that time travels backward or we lost almost a whole year somewhere.

The more I read these, the more I can’t believe I soaked these up repeatedly as a young girl myself. My daughters do like them, as I think many kids that age like to think they are smarter than the adults in their lives, and this certainly feeds that notion. However, from an adult perspective, The Sign of the Twisted Candles has several questionable character traits displayed in the heroine as well as just poor writing overall.

Previous book in the series (link): Nancy’s Mysterious Letter

Next book in the series (link): Password to Larkspur Lane

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