Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Reader's Diary #827- Carolyn Keene (ghostwritten by Margaret Wirt Benson): The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

Even as a kid, I was more interested in co-ed pursuits. While, like the other boys, I read a couple of Hardy Boys books, and like the girls, I read a Nancy Drew mystery or two, I mostly read the Bobbsey Twins. Sadly no one seems to remember the Bobbsey Twins. At our local bookstore, the only book of any of the aforementioned sleuths was a Nancy Drew novel, The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.

So I decided to introduce my daughter to the Nancy Drew series, though not to the mystery genre (she already reads a lot of Jigsaw Jones Mysteries). She seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, but perhaps it just seemed that way as she's a sucker for cliffhanger endings, and each chapter of The Ghost of Blackwood Hall seems to have one of those. "Read me the next chapter Daddy!"

As for me, I wasn't a huge fan. I haven't really been a fan of the genre since I was a child, but I think I could enjoy a good whodunnit if the clues were all presented before me and I could race with the protagonist to figure it out. In the Ghost of Blackwood Hall, it's impossible to figure it out beforehand and the story is a bit of a convoluted mess. Trying to cram it all into a nutshell proves to be difficult, but it's essentially about a bunch of con-artists who use seances to dupe people. Along the way, there's kidnappings, spying, quicksand, ghosts, and even a trip to New Orleans.

The pace was certainly exciting, and I love New Orleans so that was a pleasant surprise, but it all felt a little Scooby-Dooish, only more mature. Like Scooby-Doo meets Alan Bradley. Actually the maturity of the book was also a bit surprising. First off, I didn't realize that Nancy was an 18 year old who had her driver's license. Not that she's mature in any inappropriate sense (she doesn't as much as hold hands with her boyfriend Ned), but I think the topics themselves were sometimes on the adult side. The subtext of the book is that people who are having difficulty dealing with the loss of loved ones can sometimes be taken advantage of as they are in a fragile state of mind and believe what they want to believe. A child, most likely, would miss this subtext and the victims merely come across as none too bright and unsympathetic.

Mix this light social commentary in with all those implausible coincidences and dated slang (flimflamming!) and I think you'd have to be the most nostalgic of fans to suggest this is a good book. Or else you're an easy to please 8 year old who will still, most likely, be reading a Jigsaw Jones mystery next week.


Anonymous said...

I could never get into Nancy Drew. My heart always belonged to the lesser-known Trixie Belden, who was kind of a working class Nancy Drew only way better. I got my nine-year-old niece hooked on the series, so maybe it will grab the attention of your daughter too. I wrote about the series over at Brain Vs Book too if you need more convincing!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Evidently I would read anything as a kid. I read both the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden, and really only got into Nancy Drew because of peer pressure.

raidergirl3 said...

I loved the Bobbsey Twins! My sister and I read a ton of them. It probably began with a family friend (only child) who had every one of them. Oh, that shelf of purple books that she had was my dream!

We even had some of the original Bobbsey Twins books. They weren't mysteries at all, probably before they were ghostwritten and serialized. There were some questionable references to the help that even a young child like myself recognized as being rewritten in the later books.

John Mutford said...

Brainvsbook and Barbara: Never heard of Trixie Belden before, I'll check her out.

Raidergirl: Well, between you and Barbara, it looks like I stand corrected about being the only one who still remembers them. As for being rewritten, I read yesterday about Nancy Drew books having lots of their initial racism removed (with questionable success).