The Nancy Drew series was originally penned in the 1930s and 1940s for the most part and most were rewritten in the 1960s and 1970s. These rewrites usually consisted of tightening up the story and modernizing it, including removing language that had become offensive and stereotypical in the ensuing years. In the case of The Clue in the Jewel Box, the story was shortened considerably, although not changed all that much.
Although the story might not be familiar to the 9 to 12-year-old girls market this is aimed at, for most adults, it should be. Adults who pick this up should immediately recognize the story being along the lines of the legend of Anastasia, the daughter of deposed Tsar Nicholas of Russia. For many years, it was rumored that she had escaped the murder of her entire family by the Bolsheviks, and several people claimed to be her.
Nancy meets Madame Alexander at a downtown department store when the woman nearly passes out in her presence. Instead of taking her to the hospital or doctor, Nancy brings her to her home. There, Nancy meets Madame Alexander’s devoted housekeeper, Anna. After admiring the many unique objects in Madame Alexander’s home, Nancy visits Mr. Faber, who is a friend of Madame Alexander’s and an antique dealer. Together with her best friends, cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne, Nancy hears the story of Madame Alexander being the only surviving royalty who fled her country during a revolution and now lives a life of quiet anonymity in River Heights. She believes one grandson survived the revolution, escaping with his nurse, but was never heard from again.
Nancy is determined to hunt for the nice woman’s grandson, and another mystery is thrown her way when she observes a pickpocket in action. It seems there has been a rash of these thefts in River Heights lately, including her father, renowned lawyer Carson Drew, among its victims. He lost a substantial sum of money as well as important papers.
But the pickpocket is the one who leads Nancy to the man she believes is Madame Alexander’s grandson all grown-up. When a picture falls from the wallet of a man whose wallet she recovers that is the same picture Madame Alexander possesses, Nancy thinks she has the mystery solved. The only problem is that this alleged grandson is rude and obnoxious with no manners. He has an annoying German shepherd dog and pretty much stalks Nancy. This loutish boor couldn’t possibly be the real prince, could he?
The biggest problem with The Clue in the Jewel Box is its utter predictability. Some of the mystery I figured out before she did as it was terribly obvious. It was nice to see Nancy stymied a bit by the criminals. This wasn’t a case where she was always one step ahead of them. Instead, they managed to weave her into their plans and use her to keep them from being suspected.
The characterization of Francis Baum, Madame Alexander’s alleged grandson was troubling at times, although forgivable in the end. Even Nancy is guilty of not liking him simply because he is not perfectly mannered. There are other issues, such as his stealing from the Queen, that make the behavioral issues a moot point in the end. However, earlier on it seems he is being condemned as not being a suitable heir simply because he has behavioral issues that many would consider “low class”. An issue I have had with many of these books is Nancy making superficial judgments about people based on looks, and unfortunately, the message they all seem to send is that if you don’t look and behave in a certain manner you are most certainly a criminal. The idea was probably to help instill good manners and decorum in the girls who read it, but I think it can be taken another way as well, with girls learning not to befriend those who don’t exhibit “acceptable” behavior.
There’s a halfway decent side-story that brings back Helen (Corning) Archer, Nancy’s friend from the first four books, who got married. I like it when the books draw on characters from past books, and this was a good storyline. Helen and her husband Jim bring back a talented dressmaker from Europe and hope to have her build a successful business.
The Clue in the Jewel Box is one of the better books I’ve read recently in this series, despite my misgivings with certain characterizations. The pacing is good, and the characters are pretty well fleshed-out, rather than expecting the reader to accept things that don’t make sense with knowing so little about a character. It draws on history from other stories pretty well. My 13 year old enjoyed the book, and it gave us the chance to talk about the story of Anastasia and what happened in Russia as well. What could have been very contrived and forced actually ended up working better than I expected.
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