I can remember that by the age of twelve, I was reading Stephen King books. Going back now and reading through the Nancy Drew series, which was near and dear to me in those tween years, I have to wonder how I ever reconciled the two. For all the faults others might have with King, his stories made sense and were evenly paced with believable characters.
Password to Larkspur Lane is a book of things happening just way too conveniently. If you can believe it, by the third page a homing pigeon has fallen out of the sky, injured by a passing plane (pay attention to the markings on the plane – that may be important later on). Nancy Drew picks it up and unrolls a mysterious message in the capsule on its leg. She then declares:
I’ll wire the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers and give them the number stamped on the bird’s leg ring. All homing pigeons are registered by number so the owners can be traced.
Did you know Nancy knew all that about homing pigeons? And the exact name of the agency she should contact? Of course, this was in the days before you could just go Google the information, but still… I mean, think of everything she has known over the course of ten books – scuba diving, horseback riding, Now add homing pigeon aficionado to the list. During this book, she also shows her skills as an award-winning flower arranger, her diving skills, and some keen powers of observation. All these skills and not one mention of college and a career.
To top it off, by the end of the first chapter, Nancy has taken a shortcut to get home from the flower show and coincidentally comes across an old black car with an out-of-state license plate similar to the numbers on the bird’s ring. And in her rearview mirror, she witnesses a physician friend climb into the car and disappear!
What a stroke of luck – a new mystery! Just how do all these amazing coincidences happen to Nancy Drew.
The answer is one that only the 9 to 12-year age group that these books are geared to will swallow. I am ashamed to admit that I was one of those girls many years ago.
Luckily, housekeeper and maternal figure in Nancy’s life, Hannah Gruen, falls down the cellar stairs, so Nancy has an excuse to go by Dr. Spires’ house. Apparently, doctors back then let just about anyone answer the phone because his wife asks Nancy to man the phone while they await his return. While doing, so, she takes down a strange message amazingly similar to the one in the pigeon’s capsule. Coincidence? I think not!
It turns out Dr. Spires was kidnapped but does he go to the police? Noooo! Instead, he brings in attorney Carson Drew and his crime-solving daughter. cause, you know, the River Heights police just can’t do anything without Nancy anyway and why bother going through Chief McGinnis – just go straight to the top dog yourself! Nancy even tries to give the bracelet given to Dr. Spires as a clue to the police and they just laugh and hand it back to her. How’s that for police procedure? Wanna bet all these cases Nancy solves walk on a technicality?
The second case here comes into play when Nancy runs into her old friend, Helen Archer (nee Corning). It’s nice to see the writers draw a bit on the history and bring back characters from previous stories. It seems her grandparents have been having some strange occurrences up at their house on Sylvan Lake and are becoming afraid to stay there. This side mystery provides Nancy with an excuse to get out of town. And isn’t it just perfect that dear old Dad has just purchased a new convertible for his only daughter. Top that Ned!
Speaking of Ned, once again, time is going backward in the Nancy Drew universe. In Nancy’s Mysterious Letter, Nancy, Bess, and George travel to Emerson University to visit their “special friends” (can you roll your eyes anymore) and watch Ned be the star quarterback and punter in a football game. In the next book, The Sign of the Twisted Candles, Ned says he has to get back to Emerson because football practice starts early this year. In Password to Larkspur Lane, Ned, Burt, and Dave are all counselors at a camp on Sylvan Lake. Last time I checked, first came summer camp, then came football practice, then came football games, not the other way around.
There’s some icky near-flirting between father and daughter as they are doing the dishes while Hannah is incapacitated. I am sure I didn’t pick up on it as a kid, but now it just left me feeling really strange about the situation. I mean, doesn’t Carson Drew date at all since his wife passed away? When a woman showed an interest in her father during the The Mystery at Lilac Inn, Nancy got all cool about it.
The main plus in Password to Larkspur Lane was the character of Effie. She’s Hannah’s niece and I got a real kick out of her. I think she was put in to be an annoying kook opposite the dignified and straight-arrow Nancy, but I found her limited appearances to be much more appealing. I can’t remember if it happens, but I hope there’s more of her character to come in later books.
I could rip the story even more, but why bother. Most tween girls will soak up the idea of an eighteen-year-old who is smarter than everyone else around her, seeing themselves in her place. It’s funny but the earlier stories seemed to be a bit better than these last few, especially the last two. I have to hope it got better, or I wonder how I managed to grow into an adult who reads Jane Austen and William Faulkner.
Previous book in the series (link): The Sign of the Twisted Candles
Next book in the series (link): The Clue of the Broken Locket