Friday, March 12, 2010

Flashback Friday

In addition to my more current reading, I sometimes dip into older series or favorites from long ago. They seem less newsworthy than advance copies or hot new releases, but might still be of interest. I thought Flashback Friday might be fun for these excursions! by Joan Hess: I like Joan Hess. Her Claire Malloy series is one of my favorite cozy series. I've dipped into her Maggody series before, but never read them in any particular way. To be honest, I'm not sure what to think of this series. It's a rather fun way to pass the time, but don't feel like "must reads" the way her Claire books do. Arly Hanks went off to the big city, got educated, and returned to be sheriff in her rural hometown of Maggody, Arkansas after her marriage crashed and burned. The tongue-in-cheek verbosity that is so well-suited to Claire (a bookstore owner in a college town) makes Arly a bit less sympathetic, as though she feels superior to her rural roots. This is perfectly understandable, given the stereotypical redneck hick neighbors (especially the Buchanons, an inbred clan featuring a moonshiner with a pet sow), but the line between contempt and amused affection is a fine one, and I'm sometimes not altogether comfortable with the portrayal of rural folk or of Arly's attitude toward them. Maybe I'm taking it too seriously. At any rate, this, the twelfth installment in the series, the town of Maggody is about to go online, with a new computer lab staffed by a new arrival in town. As the Maggody folk explore the internet, ghost images of their neighbors in compromising positions pop up unexpectedly, leading some to conclude the devil is at work in the internet. A meandering plot, some obvious twists, and the sidelining of the mystery in favor of Maggody life made this one tough to finish, though the flashes of Hess's trademark humor made for some chuckles.

They keep reprinting classic Nancy Drew mysteries, so someone must be buying them. But I have to wonder whether kids these days too savvy to enjoy Nancy's sleuthing. I hadn't read this in years, but I remember them with great affection, particularly the first, The Secret in the Old Clock, and some other standouts (The Brass-Bound Trunk and Password at Larkspur Lane), with only dim recollections of the plot. I re-read the first four, The Secret in the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, The Bungalow Mystery, and The Secret at Lilac Inn, when I was sick and not feeling up to very involved reading. These books are still fun, and the pre-internet, pre-cell phone era has great charm. Nancy is plucky and brave. Her father respects her contributions to his cases. And the mysteries are fairly interesting as they unfold. Who doesn't love an old-fashioned caper involving a missing will and deserving would-be heirs? And hidden staircases and secret passages? The Secret in the Old Clock was originally written in 1930 by the pseudonymous Carolyn Keene (produced by ghostwriters of the Stratemeyer Syndicate) and extensively revised in 1959. Good luck finding an affordable copy of the original, which I understand includes some racial stereotypes that were unacceptable by 1959, as well as cosmetic changes to cars and fashions. These four books are pre-George and Bess. Nancy's great friend is Helen, who is later written out. I found these to be fun, quick reads. The dated elements (social strata in River Heights are hilarious, average families have housekeepers) add to the charm, really. I've been collecting this series for Lilah to read when she's older.

A side note: I reviewed Not a Girl Detective, a CeCe Caruso mystery by Susan Kandel, right here. It's just a blurb, really. But this book is a lot of fun if you're a Nancy Drew fan interested in the history of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and of the Nancy Drew series. It's well-researched, and, while you can find the information on Wikipedia, it's more fun to watch CeCe unfold the layers of history.

1 comment:

Mary said...

An interesting tidbit. Carol Gorman, a local Cedar Rapids author, wrote some of the Nancy Drew books published in the late 1980's, 90's.I believe Carol is still writing young adult books.