Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: The Mysterious Code by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of action and suspense
Cons: Some character differences from previous books
The Bottom Line:
Series changes hands
Gives Trixie and co strong case
Even through the flaws

Antique Fundraisers and Thieves

This is a transitional book in the Trixie Belden series. Don't misunderstand, the book is still about thirteen year old Trixie and her family and friends. Along with her two older brothers and their friends, they've formed The Bob-Whites of the Glen, a semi-secret club. They all attend Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School in a small town in Westchester County New York.

No, what makes The Mysterious Code different is the fact that it was the first one written by "Kathryn Kenny." The first six books in the series were all written by series creator Julie Campbell. But after six books, Ms. Campbell was tired of the characters and ready to move on to other things. So she sold the rights to her characters and her publisher continued them with many different writers taking on the Kathryn Kenny name. While there are some noticeable differences, this is still a fun book.

The story opens in late January when the Bob-Whites are asked to stay after school to meet with their principal. Unfortunately, he has bad news for them. The school has been hit by a string of petty vandalism and robbery, so the board has decided that secret societies will have to disband. Fortunately, Trixie comes up with a plan to save their club. To prove they are worthy, they decide to put on an antique show to benefit UNICEF. Not only does this mean lots of hard work, but it means constant run-ins with thieves out to steal the valuable stuff for sale and display. Can Trixie catch them before they ruin the sale?

As a kid, I bought the premise. Maybe it's the book's age (it was originally written in 1961), but I can't imagine anyone today disbanding a club of any kind because the school told them to do so. In fact, the school board would be hit with a lawsuit so fast it would make their heads spin.

Either way, those first few chapters are just a way to set up the antique sale and robbers. I would probably really classify this book as an adventure instead of a mystery, but that's a minor complaint. There is plenty of action to keep kids glued to the page. Not only do the thieves cause plenty of problems, but three of the characters get lost in a blizzard, Trixie's youngest brother gets sick, and there's a Valentine's party to attend. Yet the book never forgets the thieves, and they provide for a truly nail biting climax.

It's in the characters where the difference in authors is truly felt. In earlier books, Trixie's desire to solve a mystery is encouraged by her friends if not her parents (they understandably don't like the danger). Here, her "detecting" is a source of conflict between Trixie and most of her friends. In the first six books, Trixie was a tomboy, and that was actually encouraged. Here, her mother bemoans that fact, leading to a dress shopping scene for the Valentine's party.

That's not to say that the characters are bad. For the most part, they are the wonderfully real people we've come to know in the earlier books. They still have strengths and weaknesses. They still tease each other. And they are still so much fun to be around. In fact, this book has several pure character moments that are some of the best of the series.

Another interesting note is that this book introduced two new things to the series. This is the first time we see the Bob-Whites go to the diner Wimpy's. This is also their first charity event. Both things would become staples of later books.

Since the book is over 40 years old, the language may be a bit dated for today's kids. However, I never had a problem reading it as a kid. I'd say most people in the target age of 8-12 year olds will have no trouble with it.

Yes, Julie Campbell's touch is missed. But a new author takes the series in a new direction sure to please young readers with The Mysterious Code.

Looking for more?  Here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.


  1. You brought up some great points that I never connected before! The kids DID encourage Trixie's sleuthing in the Campbell books! I don't know why, but I never associated it with the different authors!

    Even as a kid, I thought the threat of disbanding the club was dumb. I mean I could see the prinicipal forbidding them to wearing the BWG jackets in school or something, but to stop their after-school activity seems a bit high handed! I always also liked how they advertised their "secret club" so much! That always struck me as humourous!

    1. I actually like it in a couple of the later books when other kids at school all but accuse the Bob-Whites of being a click. In some ways, they are, and their semi-secret club is a part of that. Not that there is anything wrong with having a group of friends you are close to as long as you don't exclude others.

      But yeah, after this book especially, they weren't really secret any more. I wonder when/if they stopped calling them that in the books. I'd have to look for that.

  2. I'm with Sean -- even as a kid, I never took the threat to the club seriously. If the kids lived at great distances from each other and needed the school as a meeting place, this would be a meaningful threat -- but they're neighbors who have their own clubhouse! Trixie's kind of a drama queen sometimes but I usually don't mind because she's got a valid point to make -- this time, not so much.

    And poor Regan in this book! He shows up and takes Bobby off Trixies hands without getting so much as a bit of banter, let alone being allowed to make a snarky remark. Some of the other characterization seemed a little off to me, but better iffy characterization than being nothing but a plot point!

    I did actually like the original characters, Mrs. Vanderpoel and Brom, and it's nice to have a well plotted mystery after two volumes where the mystery was nearly non-existant, but if I do a re-read straight through again, I'm going to do the Campbell books and then take a long break before tackling the Kenny's, because reading them all in a row the way I did, the drop in writing quality is jarring.