The Hidden Staircase – Nancy’s good friend Helen Corning contacts her for help in finding out whether the mansion that Helen’s Aunt Rosemary lives in is haunted. Almost moments later, a stranger named Nathan Gomber warns Nancy to keep by her father’s side. One of Carson Drew’s cases, a land development deal, is going sour & Gomber makes vague threats about what might happen if he doesn’t lay off. Nancy travels to the Twin Elms mansion to help Helen’s aunt & finds Gomber there too, trying to buy the Revolutionary War-era home. Nancy soon realizes a connection between the two cases & works to solve the mystery despite her father’s sudden disappearance.
The Bungalow Mystery – After a disastrous boating incident, Nancy & Helen Corning become fast friends with their rescuer Laura Pendleton. Laura has recently been orphaned & is anxious about meeting her new guardians, the Aborns. After a less-than-cordial encounter with the couple, Nancy returns to River Heights, worried for her new friend & curious about her father’s new case. A number of bonds have been stolen from the local bank & the evidence indicates it was an inside job. When Laura shows up at Nancy’s house distressed & suspicious of the Aborns’ intentions, Nancy investigates & finds that not everything is as it seems.
My Blather: I actually timed myself when reading these two; it took me little more than an hour to read each one. Both books feature Helen Corning as the best friend instead of the cousins Bess & George; the requisite boy in each is someone other than the ever-constant, alliteratively named Ned Nickerson. I’ll have to go back & see if these previous characters were part of Mr. Stratemeyer’s original conception. These two books also set up the formula of Nancy’s investigations connecting two seemingly different cases: hers & her father’s. I wonder if that continues. It’s a nice way to show the father-daughter relationship, but at the same time, she is 18; there’s no reason for her to stand in her father’s shadow.
Also a curious thing I noticed is that there is hardly any reading in the Nancy Drew mysteries. Just because I’m obsessed with books doesn’t mean I’m looking for Nancy to be equally passionate about literature. Yet, the other mysteries I’ve read often throw in the act of reading & books in an attempt to muddy the distinctions between good & bad. In The Big Sleep, Phillip Marlowe investigates a used bookshop that covertly sells pornography & acts as a metaphorical gateway to the seedy L.A. underworld. In Miami Blues, the villain, a sadistic thug who enjoys anal sex, attends a lit class & learns how to write haikus. George Pelecanos is constantly describing his characters’ reading habits. The authors who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries don’t seem to follow the pattern. But then again, mystery isn’t really their genre, these books are about as systematic as technical writing. Although The Bungalow Mystery does end with the real Mr. Aborn writing a story about the events & sending it off to “a leading magazine” for publication.
Good Times: Nostalgia for Americana reigns in The Hidden Staircase. Nancy & Helen find a trunk of old clothes & Colonial-era wigs in the attic & play dress-up. Even Nathan Gomber admits to dreaming “of owning a Colonial mansion and having a kinship with early America” because his family “were poor folks in Europe”.
Also, no one dies or is seriously wounded in River Heights. The Bungalow Mystery ends with a high speed car chase where one of the cars goes over a ravine. The car is completely totaled but the occupants are “breathing but unconscious” & “cut and badly bruised”. One man survives with no visible injuries despite being thrown from the car.
That Was Easy: In Hidden Staircase, Nancy goes to the local realtor to see if she can get inside a dilapidated mansion to investigate. Despite the fact that he tells her it’s been sold, he shows up a day later to give her a key to the place. Just because.
After nearly drowning in a lake, Nancy, Helen, & Laura make it to shore & find shelter in a nearby bungalow. It’s fully stocked with food & linens, which they take advantage of. Ostensibly, this is the bungalow of the title & it’s later revealed to be owned by the villains, yet it never makes another appearance after the girls leave.
Lead By Example: In Hidden Staircase, despite feeling apprehensive about her father’s disappearance, Nancy stays on the case. She decides, “Work is the best antidote for worry.”
After helping the crooks from the wreckage of their totaled car, Nancy & her companions get help for them. When the police officer tells the bad guys who saved them, the female villain thanks Nancy, saying, “I’m tired of this whole business. You’re only a kid but you really taught me a lesson.”
Fabulous Cash & Prizes: Apparently each book will end with Nancy receiving a little memento of each case. In Hidden Staircase, there is no job-well-done prize, yet Bungalow Mystery opens with Nancy showing Laura a silver urn, which she says is from her previous case. Laura also gives Nancy an aquamarine ring as a thank you at the end of Bungalow Mystery.