Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: The Black Jacket Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #8)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Exciting book with great character development
Cons: None in my eyes
The Bottom Line:
New guy comes to town
Is he good or is he bad?
Trixie will find out

Ice Carnivals, Catamounts, and Cowboy Boots

The Black Jacket Mystery represents the second effort by "Kathryn Kenny" in the Trixie Belden Mystery series. Unlike many of her mystery series brethren (like Nancy Drew), Trixie's first six adventures were all written by a real person, Julie Campbell. When Ms. Campbell decided she no longer wanted to write about the characters, she sold the rights to her publisher, who continued them under the pen name. Despite a few flaws, this is an excellent entry in the series.

The series centers around Trixie and her family and friends. She's a thirteen year old with normal teenage problems like homework, chores, and an annoying younger brother. Her best friend is Honey Wheeler. The Wheeler's own the mansion next door to the Belden home on Glen Road, and it is filled with servants. They've also adopted Jim Frayne, a fifteen year old the two girls befriended early in the series. Rounding out the cast are Trixie's brothers Mart and Brian and their friend Diana Lynch. Together, the six teens have formed the club the Bob-Whites of the Glen.

It's still the dead of winter. As Trixie is heading home from school one day, she overhears the Wheeler's groom Reagan talking about some problem he needs help solving. The fact that he wants it kept quiet from the young people only makes Trixie more curious.

All that is forgotten on Monday when a mysterious new kid enrolls in Sleepyside Junior Senior High School. Dan arrives with Mr. Maypenny, the Wheeler's game keeper. Is he a long lost relative of the old man? Dan's attitude immediately turns Trixie off, and she decides he is up to no good.

The impression grows when things start disappearing around Glen Road. Some of the clues point to Dan, but he claims to be innocent. Then again, some of the clues point away from Dan.

Meanwhile, the Bob-Whites have started another service project, this time an ice carnival to help the school library of Trixie and Honey's pen pals in Mexico. And there is a wild catamount on the loose in the Wheeler game preserve. How does all this fit together? Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out.

I mentioned some flaws earlier, and they mostly revolve around timing. A couple of the things in this book are inconsistent with each other, but I only noticed them after rereading the book multiple times as an adult. Also funny, the book makes reference to the characters being bored since the last book ended, yet time wise, this one had to start before the last one ended. Okay, so these are the nit picks of an adult. Trust me, they don't really ruin the story.

And it is a great story. There is lots of action to keep any reader turning pages. Heck, I get caught up in events every time I reread the book, and I know what is happening. And the climax is one of my favorites. It's emotionally satisfying while providing nail biting suspense.

Finally, there are the strong characters. Frankly, they've always been one of the draws of the series for me. Some of the Kathryn Kennys got it wrong, turning the characters into shallow imitations of themselves. Not so here. They are as vibrant as ever, showing strength and weakness appropriately and providing some laughs along the way as well.

Unlike many series for kids, this series is best read in order, at least for the first 10 books or so. Heck, reading them out of order will spoil some events of this book. Plus, there is so much back story, it's easier to absorb it a little at a time over the first few books.

Having said that, The Black Jacket Mystery is a wonderful book for the 8-12 year old range. Heck, I still love it for the wonderful characters and entertaining story.

And if you are looking for more, here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.


  1. Dan! This is the book that introduces the last Bob-White. I REALLY like his character, so I so dislike how he is left out in many books after this. It's like the authors didn't know what to do with him. The tough gang he belonged to was kind of scary to me as a kid-especially the one villain we are introduced to who hurt Mr Maypenny. A very nice book in the series

    (Ok-i read the first 8 of your TB reviews, and you 1st Polifax review. I will return later (a few days maybe) If you are looking for recommendations of other books to read and review, there is the Three Investigators series, the McGurk Organisation series (by E W Hildick). And for adults, the Stephanie Barron Jane Austen mystery series, and the Carole Nelson Douglas Irene Adler series. If you want something besides mysteries, try the Robotech series by Jack McKinney, the Godzilla novel series by Marc Cerassi, and the Issac Asimov Robot, Empire and Foundation series. That will keep you busy for a bit! I have most of those in the original unabridged audiobook format. They were cassettes that I digitised to MP3!

    1. I'm with you about Dan. I wish he'd been included more in the series. But the climax of this one is still one of my favorite scenes in the series for character/drama. Okay, so I have many favorite scenes in the series.

      (I think you missed one of my reviews. No comment on #3, Gatehouse!)

      I'll take a look at the books on your list, although my TBR mountain range is threatening to take over my condo at the moment.

  2. I'll second Sean's Three Investigator's rec. Robert Arthur wrote the first nine or so, which are of pretty consistent quality, but while I didn't think all the later writers were as solid, they're all pretty good. I hated the first book for reasons that would spoil it, but happily I had read a boatload of the later ones first so brushed that off pretty easily. There are some things that change over time (even within the Arthur books), but reading them out of order isn't a problem.

    I think the mystery aspect of the Three Investigator books is the best of any series I read -- they generally "play fair" like Encyclopedia Brown does, where the reader ought to be able to figure it out, but the characterization is a lot deeper than in Sobol's short stories. The Three Investigators are probably less realistic than Trixie Belden (some of the mysteries they solve are pretty out there), but I think they're more exciting.

    Part of the appeal of the Trixie Belden series for me is the "hominess", which the Three Investigators lacks, but another part is the friends who work together and compliment each other, which the Three Investigators has in spades.

    Anyhow, got a little distracted there with TI love...

    I thought the Black Jacket Mystery was okay, and I liked that there actually was a bad guy who needed to be caught. OTOH, Dan is the one who most grows and changes in this book, and I would have liked to see more of his journey.