Consistency is not something that the Nancy Drew universe has a lot of respect for. I can remember this was the first book I read that I caught a major inconsistency in back when I was in the age group these books are aimed at. Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk was actually brought up by a soldier at the performance Nancy gave in the previous book, The Clue of the Tapping Heels. Yet, when the book starts, the story quite obviously is not one that would have been told to her by a soldier. In fact, it couldn’t have been told to her at all as it seems she happens onto it by accident like many of the mysteries she involves herself with. I can distinctly remember going back and reading the end of the previous book to check if I had remembered correctly.
For some unknown reason, Nancy Drew and her two friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne were in Holland. I don’t know how they got there or why they were there. The whole point is they were there, and now they are coming home on a ship. I don’t know if they flew over and are taking a ship back, or if they took the ship there and now are making a return trip. And why Holland? Why not London or Paris or Italy?
The three girls share a cabin and are given a new roommate, Nelda Detweiler. She’s the niece of the Captain and going to study in America after having been falsely accused of stealing jewels in her native South Africa. While on deck as the ship was departing, Nancy caught half of a conversation in sign language between a passenger and someone on the dock. Could Nelda be the “Ne” person she saw the men conversing about along with a warning to beware of Nancy Drew?
The mystery is thrust upon her when their luggage is delivered to their stateroom. A brass-bound trunk very similar to Nancy’s is delivered erroneously. Mostly, Nancy seems to be fretting over not having any of her clothes or personal articles. However, the trunk has no stickers, tags, or markings. It soon becomes apparent that someone on board desperately wants to get their hands on the trunk – the question is why?
Instead of a relaxing trip home, Nancy and her friends become involved in a mystery that involves international jewel thieves and potential espionage. This is par for the course and at least with them being on board a ship, there’s a reason Nancy and her friends are pretty much on their own solving the mystery with the exception of the ship’s captain. They do get help from the assistant purser, Rod Havelock, who develops a bit of romantic interest in Nancy.
For the first time, George refers to the girls’ three steady boys back at Emerson College as their boyfriends. Despite this, it might be a bit confusing to girls to see Nancy, Bess, and George have boyfriends and yet accept dates with other men. It’s amazing to think in this time period people could have “steadies” and go out on dates with others and no one got upset about it. I would also think her friends who have accompanied her on the cruise believing they are in for a leisurely trip back to New York, would get a little upset at being constantly dragged into Nancy’s mysteries and having little time for the fun they anticipated.
The story itself is pretty good, if predictable the way many of the newer stories are. There’s no question that the mysterious trunk Nancy receives in error and Nelda’s false accusation of jewel theft are related. As with many of the mysteries, things conveniently happen when Nancy wants them to. If she is bound and determined to find a clue on the deck, the wind is the perfect speed and direction to give her the clue she wants. Even when she briefly hits a dead-end, it resolves itself in her favor soon afterward.
One thing that has bothered me about many of the stories is how Nancy always can know that someone is guilty or innocent, based on her perceptions. Her new friend, Nelda, tells the story of being accused of stealing jewelry in her hometown of Johannesburg, and Nancy just knows she’s innocent because she’s “so lovely”. This is after five minutes. The villains all behave in a way that makes them appear guilty or “distasteful”.
The pen and ink drawings in this book are pretty basic and I was a little disappointed. Some of the artists do more with the scenes than others, and these look like something the average high-school art student could turn out.
The pacing of the book is good, even if the predictability is obvious as an adult. It unfolds quite nicely and those girls in the age group this is aimed at will enjoy reading it. There’s nothing offensive in Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk, even with Nelda’s home country being South Africa. Apartheid wasn’t a term known to anyone when this book came out. It’s easy, inoffensive reading that will keep a pre-teen girl pretty interested.
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