Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion – Nancy Drew and the Exploding Oranges

Even when it comes to books aimed at the tween audience – something I am definitely too old to qualify for – there are some plots that in the end just make me scratch my head and wonder what the heck the author was thinking. The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion is one such book.

This is part of the Nancy Drew series, which was written by various authors and published under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene.” Most of the books were updated in the 1960s and 1970s from their original stories. The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion was originally published in 1941 and extensively rewritten in 1971 so that it in no way resembles that original story.

Nancy is helping her father, noted attorney Carson Drew, who is puzzling over a series of messages in the personals column of a Florida newspaper that might have some relation to a case of his. The two are sitting in the living room of the Drew home when there’s a car crash out in the street. George and Bess, who were coming to stay at the Drew home, were hit by a driver whom police deem was under the influence of drugs.

It isn’t until the next day that Nancy and her father get back to the code. Bess helps them solve one of the messages and it relates to NASA. Carson Drew tells them his case has to do with explosives smuggled onto the base inside of oranges.

Mr. Drew invites Nancy, Bess, George, and Hannah to come along on his trip to Florida. Circumstances allow the three girls steadies, Ned, Burt, and Dave to join them.

Right away when they reach Florida and travel to the residence of the man accused of the crime, which is where they are supposed to stay, you can pick up who the “bad guys” are. The couple that takes care of the house allegedly shows up at the wrong place to pick up the group, then act rude and try to eat all the food Hannah prepares. You just know that makes them guilty! Off with their heads!

Nancy and her friends go to visit the Nickersons (Ned’s parents) at their Florida home. Mrs. Nickerson takes Nancy to see a house she thinks would be perfect for Carson Drew to purchase. Next door to that home is a house hidden by thick Spanish moss and separated from the other home by a heavy mesh fence. While they are there, they hear a terrible scream from the property.

With the formulaic writing in the series, I just knew that the Spanish-moss-covered house would have some relation to the mystery of the exploding oranges. However, there are so many other problems with this book, it makes me wonder what were they thinking when they published it.

The story itself is so far-fetched and full of holes that it isn’t the least bit believable. There are so many holes in the case against Mr. Billington, the man accused of bringing the exploding oranges into the Kennedy Space Center (okay, please stop laughing) that the man should have never been arrested, never mind the case going to trial. Nancy pokes the case apart within about five minutes of her arrival in Florida. If she could do that, what does that say about the investigative powers of the U.S. Government? I could possibly stretch my brain to believe that the River Heights police force are nothing more than a bunch of Keystone cops desperately in need of her guidance, but not the military and government.

In addition, when Ned’s mother wants Nancy to see a house she thinks would be of interest to Carson Drew, Nancy goes along and is basically acting like her father will buy it on her say-so. Now, before this book, the family has never shown an interest in having a house someplace else. I could see it if there were some dialogue to the effect of Carson thinks it might be getting to be the time he thinks toward his retirement, but that doesn’t occur. He’s basically acting like he’ll buy the house because his daughter says to.

The pace of the book is totally off. It spends a lot of time on a tour of the Kennedy Space Center – it almost sounds like a travelogue for it! There’s also a number of pages spent describing a local museum. The mystery itself is wrapped up in Scooby-Doo fashion as Nancy and Ned overhear the crooks spell out their whole plot over the course of a page or two. The involvement of the “moss-covered mansion” feels forced as well, as if it’s there just to keep the title intact.

Reading The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion is sort of like watching a car crash. I can understand wanting to modernize it and even excuse them for wanting to capitalize on the popularity of the space program to propel the story. However, the story is just so lame it isn’t worth the time spent reading it. Even my 12-year-old daughter said “Okay, that was a weird book” after reading it. It’s not even that it’s dated as my daughter knew what Nancy was talking about at the Space Center – that part excited her. It was the mystery that is just too contrived and forced to be believed.

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8 replies »

  1. I wouldn’t have liked that book as a kid. I never discriminated against books with female protagonists, but even as a young “tween,” I was picky to a fault about books and the quality of their content.

    Heck, I’m hard on myself. That’s why I’m always tinkering with Reunion: A Story even though it’s already “out there” on Amazon. All authors, no matter who the intended audience is supposed to be, should respect readers’ intelligence, and at least give them the best work possible. (Even the Stratemeyer Syndicate should have done that with the Nancy Drew series.)

    • I remember reading these over and over again when I was a pre-teen. I don’t think I was quite as picky about these issues back then. However, I did pick up on a few issues, especially the fact that the protagonist was always 18 years old. She crammed a lot into one year.

      • Also, I think I was pickier than my peers because even as a kid, I gravitated more toward books aimed at adults rather than at kids my age. I don’t remember my personal library stocked mostly with “children’s books,” at least not after we moved back to Miami in 1972.

      • I was reading Stephen King by 4th grade, I think. But before 12 I was only allowed in the children’s section of our library without a parent, so I was stuck with these.

      • I can’t remember when my mom took me to what was then the Concord Branch of the Dade County Public Library System. Certainly, when we still lived in Coral Estates Park, but I don’t think I was under 12 at the time.

        The one children’s book that I do remember reading (and having a strong emotional reaction to) was Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. Mostly, though, I read “age-appropriate” history books (mostly from the school library) and adult-oriented WWII histories (such as The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far). I think reading grown-up books and magazines at a precocious age made me impatient with “kids’ books.” 🙂