Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: The Mystery in Arizona by Julie Campbell (Trixie Belden #6)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and interesting plot
Cons: The "travelogue" chapter
The Bottom Line:
Mysteries of people
Still crime is missing, slow start
Fun despite itself




Is Christmas in Arizona a Dream or a Nightmare?

When I first started reading the Trixie Belden series, I read the books in whatever order I could find them. As a result, I read The Mystery in Arizona, the sixth volume, second. While it is best to read the first 10 books in order, it didn't hamper my enjoyment too much.

It did help that the book offered a crash course in the characters. For those who don't know them, Trixie is a 13-year-old with two older brothers, Mart and Brian, the oldest. The three of them have formed a club with some friends in the neighborhood. They call themselves the Bob Whites. The other three members are Diana Lynch and Honey Wheeler, who are both 13 as well, and Honey's older adopted brother Jim Frayne. The six friends live outside New York City in the little town of Sleepyside on the Hudson.

Trixie isn't dreaming of a white Christmas this year. Diana Lynch's uncle has invited all the Bob Whites to spend Christmas at his Dude Ranch in Arizona. Trixie only gets to go on one condition - she has to study hard to bring up her grades. So with promises from Brian and Jim that they will tutor her the entire time, the six friends set off.

They no sooner land in Arizona, however, before Uncle Monte tells them about the tight spot he's in at the ranch. The majority of his staff is made up of members of the Orlando family, and they just up and left with no warning. Under staffed, there is now way he can entertain a group of non-paying guests.

When Trixie volunteers the Bob Whites to help, the other reluctantly agree. Now Trixie has to do chores in the morning and study in the afternoon. Will she ever get to have fun like the others? And what about the Orlandos? Why did they vanish? And what secrets might the rest of the staff be hiding?

As a kid, I devoured this book and eagerly searched out more in the series. Why? Because the characters are so wonderful. Trixie and the rest of the gang are real people with strengths and weaknesses, not the one dimensional characters I was used to with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. And while they aren't as rich here as they are in other books in the series, there is still enough richness there to attract kids.

The plot to this one is interesting. It isn't a mystery in the traditional sense. Instead, it focuses on people and why they behave the way they do. Yes, as a kid I noticed the difference between this and the other mysteries I had devoured. Yet there was so much going on most of the time that I didn't care. There are several sub-plots with unhappy guests and planning a big Christmas party for everyone at the guest ranch. All of this came together to make the book even more believable for me. After all, not too many kids really catch that many criminals.

There is one serious flaw, however. Near the beginning, we get an extended tour guide and history lesson on Arizona. There is little attempt to disguise it, either. It is pretty much an information dump recited by various characters while on a plane ride. And yes, it is that boring. The information never really comes up in the rest of the book, either, so it's not like we needed to know it. It's enough to knock a star off the book, but it's not a horrid flaw.

This is the last book that series creator Julie Campbell wrote. She was tired of the characters and sold the rights to them to her publisher, who went on to have many ghost authors write entries over the next few decades.

While The Mystery in Arizona isn't the strongest of Julie Campbell's entries in the series, there is still enough going on to entertain series fans and turn new readers into Trixie fans.

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

3 comments:

  1. Wow-we REALLY have different tastes! This was probably my favourite of the early 6 books! One reason was the "travelogue" the kids enjoyed whilst on the plane ride to Arizona! I especially liked the different ethnic groups represented with the First Nations stewardesses and Hispanic Orlandos. When I drove to Arizona in 1999 and again in 2000, I had a lot of fun comparing the experiences in these books to mine.

    One thing I didn't like was how helpful the Bob-Whites were. I mean it was great how they helped Uncle Monty by taking over the chores of the Orlandos, but they were on vacation! It always made me think that I was a bad person because I would have wanted to enjoy my vacation and not work if I were in their shoes.

    You said, " And while they aren't as rich here as they are in other books in the series, there is still enough richness there to attract kids" I actually did not like that Honey and Di were so rich. I did a lot of traveling as a kid, but I don't think of my family as rich. The fact that they were with servants kind of bugged me (although at least the series doesn't give the "money buys happiness" idea!)

    Another thing that sadly dates the series (along with the Three Investigators series) is that people are so obese today that the "fat lady" in the book is drawn as larger than the others, but still not fat like many today!

    I still like the illustrations in the Deluxe editions best and am sorry they didn't recreate those in the early 21st century editions that most today are exposed to. Oh well, some editions have no illustrations at all! I am sorry that they stopped putting drawings in the books after about book #16

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    1. My comment about who rich the characters were actually had nothing to do with money and more to do with how well developed they are. I just felt they were a bit more two dimensional here, something fans complain about with the later books.

      I definitely still enjoy this one, but not one of Julie Campbell's best. Which is a shame since I really love enjoy her first four.

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  2. This is my least favorite of the Campbell books. It's even less of a mystery than Glen Road was -- at least in Glen Road, Trixie goes in search of clues and tries to follow up on things. In this one it seems like all she does is wonder about things while doing something else!

    I thought the characterization of the three girls in this was wonderful -- this is the Diana Campbell meant her to be, I think -- but I kind of wonder whether Campbell's personal life (she and her husband were separating at the time) bled into the book, because this is the only Campbell book where I get a serious "girls versus boys" vibe.

    Obviously Trixie clashes with her brothers a lot, and just as obviously she can rely on Honey to back her up as a rule, but generally I feel like the characters have opinions based on who they are, so any split between the sexes is balanced out with scenes of splits between the boys or the girls, or Jim joining Honey in support of Trixie or whatever. This one felt unbalanced to me.

    What's funny about the info dumps is that, after a whole plane ride's worth of lecturing, the kids actually go to Los Pasadas -- and leave the reader behind! That and the many times they serve this or that "rice dish" (instead of some sort of authentic food) really make it clear that Campbell really wasn't making the effort she once had.

    Although as a kid my biggest puzzle with this book was that Trixie's parents would let her go somewhere without them for Christmas. My family was in no way as close as the Beldens', but even so my parents would have never considered letting any of us kids leave for Christmas before we hit eighteen. Christmas is family time for most, and this was even more true in the sixties, so it seemed really odd to me that all these families (Belden, Wheeler, Lynch) were fine with the kids leaving while the parents stayed home.

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