Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mystery of the Ivory Charm – Nancy Drew Uncovers an International Coup

I guess somewhere along the line in my Nancy Drew book of the month club, the publication of the books was done before all of them had been adapted. The only story I know this is the case with is The Mystery of the Ivory Charm. The original date of publication was 1936 and it was later updated in 1974. I hope the update was a good one, because there were a number of things that alarmed me. I am sure 70-ish years ago some terms and views were acceptable, but I can’t imagine handing this story to my girls now and telling them this is a good book.

Nancy Drew and her friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne are returning from a month-long vacation at a camp in the mountains. They are waiting for a train which is late when a circus train pulls in. Since they have the time anyway, the three meander over to check out what’s being offloaded. After Nancy is accosted by a large snake and successfully escapes the big squeeze, an Indian man named Rai decides Nancy has some mystical abilities and bestows an ivory elephant charm upon her.

A short time later the train pulls in and the girls depart. On their way home, there is a disturbance on the train. A young boy named Coya has followed the girls from the circus and has been caught as a stowaway. He is running away from the abuses inflicted upon him by Rai, who stated he is the lad’s father. Nancy pays his train fare and brings him home with her, sort of like a stray dog.

At the house, Nancy gets consent for Coya to stay with them while her father, noted attorney Carson Drew, writes to Rai to inquire about the boy. Coya waylays the letter and it never gets mailed. While they are waiting for an answer that will never come, Coya settles in nicely doing chores around the Drew home.

Meanwhile, a visitor by the name of Miss Anita Allison comes to visit Carson Drew for advice about property issues. She’s heavily into mysticism and believes the fates are telling her through her dreams not to sell a valuable piece of property. When she sees Nancy’s ivory charm she faints and is taken from the Drew home by a companion.

Not being one to let anything go, Nancy drives out to Miss Allison’s property and finds a strange house with no insides. Beneath the house is a series of tunnels and one exits mysteriously through a door in a rock on a nearby hill.

Of course, these two will be connected. The story is one on a grander scale than ever before, but there are the usual trappings of these formulaic books. There are a number of plot points put out there that are never built on. Much is stated about the house and tunnels, but there’s really no resolution as to why the house is in the condition it is nor why the tunnels and the mysterious door exist. Just who Miss Allison’s companion is and why he does what he does is also completely dropped with no resolution.

When Coya disappears and Nancy suspects he has been kidnapped by his alleged “father”, Nancy doesn’t call the police right away. Instead, she waits to talk to her father about it. Okay, you have someone kidnapped by a man you think is abusing him and not really his father. Not only that, but by this time they already think he might be of royal lineage, and the three members of the Drew household basically keep his disappearance to themselves for quite sometime. Carson Drew does eventually contact friends in Washington (their trip there ends with an invitation to luncheon at the White House with the First Lady) but by then quite some time has gone by.

Anita Allison comes off as a total flake and doesn’t seem capable of the crimes she apparently committed years before. Her character isn’t consistent at all and very poorly written.

That’s not the worst of it. All of that might be annoying, but that’s no reason for me to say you shouldn’t read the book or give it to a tween to read. The maternal figure in Nancy’s life is Hannah Gruen who has served as the Drew’s housekeeper since about the time of the death of Nancy’s mother. Her reaction when she first sees the boy Nancy has brought home with her? But if you think I’ll take a brown-skinned boy to raise, you have another think (sic) coming! Now “Gruen” does sound German but I never would have pegged her as a Nazi before now. There are many stereotypes of Indians (the far-East Indians, not Native Americans) throughout the book and they often made me uneasy. However, that line was what really made me almost stop reading right there. At one point he is also referred to as a little brown boy. That’s just an example of the language which was apparently perfectly appropriate in 1936 but seems abhorrent now.

I don’t know if the update jettisoned the bigoted language and stereotypes, but before I would let a girl in the age group these books are geared for read it, I would check it out. Just knowing the background of the story before the revision is enough to make me nervous.

The time problems are back as well. Summertime in Nancy’s universe must be one of those things that has enough weeks in it to accommodate what she has to do. Only one of the earlier books took place in the late fall. Another recent one was just as the summer was over. Here she’s leaving after a month-long vacation. There’s no way in a calendar year all these things could happen – time seems to stretch endlessly for the sake of telling her mysteries.

I would not recommend the book based solely on the bigoted language and the stereotypes. If the newer version has been cleaned up, it is better, but there are still many of the issues present such as plot points that go nowhere and characters that don’t make sense. Still, it would probably be fun for the tween market. Just check out the update first to see if what needed to be cleaned up actually was to make it less offensive.

Previous book in the series (link): The Message in the Hollow Oak

Next book in the series (link): The Whispering Statue

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