Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review: The Mystery at Saratoga by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #24)


Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters; exciting second half
Cons: Weak ending; why couldn't Dan come?
The Bottom Line:
Race track mystery
Sheds light on Regan's story
Average entry




Trixie Races Through Another Mystery

Some of the books in the Trixie Belden series stand out vividly in my mind - usually because they are favorites I have reread multiple times.  Then there are the ones I hated and have rarely revisited.  The Mystery at Saratoga falls somewhere in the middle.  In fact, I want to like it more than I do, and a recent reread reminds me of the flaws in the book.

This is the 24th book in the Trixie Belden mystery series, a lesser known but usually better mystery series like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.  Trixie is fourteen and lives next door to her best friend Honey Wheeler.  The two solve all kinds of mysteries and hope to open a detective agency when they grow up.  Along with their brothers, Brian, Mart, and Jim, and two other friends, they've formed the Bob-Whites of the Glen, a club that gets involved in service projects (that lead to even more mysteries).  Yes, there is explanation of all this at the beginning of the book as well, but honestly, you're better off starting the series earlier for multiple reasons.  One of which is that the volume of characters can overwhelm at times until you really learn who all of them are.  But by book 24, loyal fans who have been reading in order are certainly ready to jump in.

It's August, and with Jim, Brian, and Mart at camp, it's quiet in Sleeyside.  That is until Honey calls Trixie with horrible news - Regan has vanished.  The Wheelers' groom has left a note saying he hopes to be back soon, but he hasn't explained where he went or why.

However, a trip to the library puts Trixie and Honey on his trail.  It seems seven years ago, before he went to work for the Wheelers, he was working with race horses in Saratoga.  One of them was drugged, and suspicion fell on the then teenager.  Now, Regan has gone back to clear his name.  Trixie and Honey manage to get a trip to Saratoga as well.  Can they track down Regan and prove his innocence?

Rereading this book, I was surprised at just how slow the first half of the book really was.  Of course, some of that is because you have to get Trixie and Honey out of Sleepyside and into Saratoga.  The author does a good job of laying a trail to get them there, but then the book slows as the next part is set up.  Plus we get chapters on racing and the history of Saratoga, some of which comes into play later and some of which is just filler.  Although I must admit that the chapter on the history of Saratoga does have some pretty funny moments that have stuck with me all these years later.

Once the mystery really gets going, the pace picks up.  However, I must admit I noticed just how much of the plot hinged on coincidence.  Yes, that happens a time or two elsewhere in the series, but here without coincidence, nothing would be resolved.

Plus there's the dues ex machina ending.  While many of these complaints are things I've noticed more as an adult than as a kid reading this book, the ending always bothered me.  It comes out of left field and just makes me roll my eyes.  It's like the author got trapped in a corner and this was the only way to get out of it and get the story moving forward again.

Plus there's the fact that Dan couldn't make it.  He's another member of the Bob-Whites, however his appearances in books is kept to a minimum.  He's actually quite active in the first part of the book, and with good reasons, Regan is his uncle.  So why, then, couldn't he have helped Trixie and Honey in their search in Saratoga?  Again, that always bothered me as a kid.

This late in the series, the characters can be hit or miss.  Here, they are the best versions of themselves.  They have their flaws, but they are still likable with strengths that outshine those weaknesses.

Even so, this winds up being just an average book in the series.  Fans will enjoy reading it and learning a bit more about our favorite groom.  But if you aren't already familiar with the cast, you'll be better served backing up and starting from the beginning before reading The Mystery at Saratoga.

And if you need to back up, here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.

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