Sunday, August 30, 2015

Book Review: The Mystery at Maypenny's by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #31)



Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Characters, presents an underrepresented side in an important debate
Cons: Very weak mystery, important debate more one sided than I would have liked.
The Bottom Line:
Weaker mystery
As town debate takes the stage
Characters still strong




Sadly, Not as Good as I Remembered It

I remember being impressed with The Mystery at Maypenny's when I first read it as a teen, but I know many fellow Trixie Belden fans who think the book has serious weaknesses.  Rereading it for the first time in many years, sadly, I was able to see just what those weaknesses are.

If you aren’t familiar with Trixie Belden, she is a teen detective.  Think the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew with better defined characters.  She lives in a small town in New York called Sleepyside and she, her two older brothers, and their friends, including Trixie’s best friend Honey, have formed a club called the Bob-Whites.  Sleepyside might be a small town, but they seem to be a hot bed of crime as once again there is trouble brewing in the small town.

However, this time, that trouble comes in the form of International Pine.  This furniture company has already built a factory in town, and they want to expand production by building another one.  The site they want to use is located in the Wheeler’s preserve.  However, Honey Wheeler’s father doesn’t own all the land.  Part of it is owned by Mr. Maypenny.  While Mr. Wheeler has agreed to sell the land, Mr. Maypenny absolutely refuses.  As the issue heats up, it divides the town and even the Bob-Whites.

Meanwhile, Mr. Maypenny gets a surprise when his long lost nephew makes contact.  Throw in an out of town environmentalist, and you’ve got plenty of trouble.  How will it all be resolved?

And more importantly, where is the mystery?  While I vividly remembered certain scenes and plot points in the book, I couldn’t exactly remember what the mystery was.  There was a reason for that.  The mystery was shoehorned into the book almost as an afterthought.  Even when it does come to the forefront, we only get a glimpse before it is all being wrapped up for us by other characters in a few exposition heavy scenes.  The focus, instead, is on the proposed expansion of the furniture factory, which provides more than enough conflict to keep us reading.

Here’s the part I liked most when I first read it as a teen.  By the time I got to this book in the series, I realized one key factor – everyone but the villain would get a happy ending.  As we went along, I just couldn’t see how that was going to happen this time.  The ending was a bit of a cheat in some ways, but it also does show the importance of thinking outside the box.

I also remembered this book as being fairly even handed in the growth vs. environment debate.  Sadly, that’s not quite the case.  Instead, the book definitely takes the pro-growth side with the environmentalist character introduced here being more a caricature than anything else and that side never quite getting a fair explanation in the book.  However, I still like the fact that the author even tried.  So often, when this subject comes up, the arguments for growth are overlooked.  This is an important debate with two sides with information that we should be considering.  Sadly, this isn’t quite as even handed as I wish it could be.  Then again, this is fiction, and fiction aimed at middle graders, so I was probably expecting too much out of it.

The characters are actually fairly strong in this book.  While Di Lynch is written out for at least half of the story, Dan actually plays a bigger role than normal here which makes sense since he lives with Mr. Maypenny.  The rest of the Bob-Whites are at their best as are the supporting characters in the series.  From a character standpoint, this is definitely one of the stronger books in the later part of the series.

Overall, however, the underdeveloped mystery makes The Mystery at Maypenny's weaker than it could have been.

But don't let a weak book keep you from checking out the rest of the Trixie Belden Mysteries.

10 comments:

  1. I have the first 15 of the series, in the hardcover with b/w and color illustrations inside. After 15, the writing went downhill (IMO) so I didn't read any more than that. My faves were The Mysterious Code, The Mysterious Visitor, and the first one, of course!

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    1. I read them in random order from all over the series (they were all in print by the time I found them). While I admit the first 15 were generally better, there are some true gems later in the series. And, honestly, there were some bad books in those first 15 (even the first six) as well.

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  2. Oh my, this sure made me smile. I have to say, I haven't gone back and read any Trixie books as an adult. But like you, there are certain plot points and scenes that stick out in my head after all this time.

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    1. I still enjoy revisiting my Trixies (obviously), and some hold up quite well. Others? I shouldn't have reread them, that's for sure.

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  3. I don't remember this one specifically. My fave was always the camper mystery.

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  4. This one doesn't hold any memories for me--which I suppose says something. I'm both tempted to revisit my favorites (The Secret of the Mansion, The Gatehouse Mystery, and The Happy Valley Mystery) and a little fearful to do so. Revisiting childhood favorites has been a bit hit and miss for me--and I don't like it when fond memories get overlaid by adult perceptions (especially if my view as an adult isn't as favorable...).

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    1. Happy Valley hasn't held up well as an adult, but The Secret of the Mansion still holds up well, and The Gatehouse Mystery is still my favorite in the series despite some flaws. (And yes, I saw the flaws as a kid, too.)

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  5. I'm going to read your review and all the comments, but I thought I would make my review first, so as not to be swayed (I'll reply to yours and the comments too if I feel I have something worthy to add)

    First, let me say that I haven't read the latter entries in the series for some decades. Everytime I decide to reread the series, I've stopped around the late 20s (I don't know why). Well, this one I did not remember at all! I liked it, but yes, it isn't exactly a mystery until the end. I must say though that I was fooled. Well, partly. Of course, the two suspects are John Score and David Maypenny. At first I was thinking, well, Mr Maypenny's nephew won't be an actual crook, and they've had SO MANY imposters throughout the series, that the baddie has to be John Score. But then I thought, no usually the hippie/drifter character isn't a bad guy, so it must be David. Then I thought-let me stop playing process of elimination and use logic. Ok, I didn't think a real hippie would kill ducks, so it is probably not John. It has to either be David or somebody from the Pine Company. I don't think the villian will be some random employee introduced 5 pages before the end, so it must be that David is an imposter and is in the pay of the evil Pine company! (This is where I went wrong) I thought David was a crook, and probably not really the nephew, but I was sure he was with the Pine company somehow! It seems kind of random that a con man would kill the ducks without it being to the advantage of the business.

    Besides that, I could follow the mystery fairly well, and I thought the flow and pace was spot on. And hey, they even included every character for a change! *I guess Dan and Di are collecting their paycheques this time for being in the story!* I was sad that Di didn't have much to do, but I'd rather that than having her shoehorned in.

    That's about all I have to say, so I suppose I'll read the reviews now and comment on them (if I have something I strongly feel needs to be said)...

    And I've said it before, Carstairs-thanks for this blog! Many of the books I like I don't have anyone to discuss with, so this is great. I know I've mentioned several book series that I think you might like, and here's another: Diane Mott Davison's Goldy Bear(Schultz) Mysteries. They are adult books (nothing to graphic, but they are murder mysteries, and there is some swearing)

    Anyway, I'm going to read #32 now, (and we'll see if I actually finish it)

    Sean J Hagins

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  6. Oh, a few more things: The "ghostwriter" this time REALLY doubled down on Honey and Trixie's giggling, along with Honey's sobbing. It actually got a bit annoying-especially the giggling!

    You said, "The ending was a bit of a cheat in some ways, but it also does show the importance of thinking outside the box." I actually think the abandoned warehouse was a deux ex machina that REALLY was thrown in there! I mean from the descriptions of Sleepyside in the past, it's a small quiet town, not one of those run-down places with abandoned buildings, and especially abandoned warehouses and factories! Maybe it's because I live in such a rural area, and this is supposed to be quite close to NYC, but for me, factories in the town REALLY take away what I think of as a small-town feel!

    Ok, thanks for listening (reading)!

    Sean

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