Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: The Mystery of the Memorial Day Fire by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #35)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Mostly good characters, return of a character from an earlier book
Cons: Fairly obvious mystery, characters not as strong as earlier books
The Bottom Line:
Sleepyside arson
As final five books begin
Not the best; still fun




Ka-boom! During the Parade

We’ve reached the controversial final five books in the Trixie Belden series.  These books were in print only a couple of years before the series got canceled in the mid-80’s, so they are rarer and therefore harder to find.  Some fans hate them.  Personally, I still enjoy them while acknowledging that they aren’t the best in the series.  The first of these final five is The Mystery of the Memorial Day Fire.

If you’ve missed meeting her, Trixie Belden is a fourteen-year-old detective.  Think the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.  She and her family and friends live in the town of Sleepyside on the Hudson, New York, which seems to be a hotbed of crime since this is the thirty-fifth book in the series.

As the book opens, Trixie and her friends, the Bob-Whites of the Glen, are lined up on Main Street for the annual Memorial Day parade.  However, the excitement is soon dimmed when an explosion a few blocks away halts the parade.  When the smoke has cleared, a store and warehouse have been burned.

The store belongs to the father of one of Trixie’s friends.  When Nick Roberts’s father is questioned for starting the fire on purpose, Trixie knows that that Mr. Roberts would never do anything like that.  But can Trixie uncover the real arsonist?

Those who don’t like the later books in the series have valid points.  One thing that draws Trixie’s fans to the series are the characters.  We love them because they are richer than many of the other series characters for kids.  But as the series went along and more and more ghost writers tackled the characters under the pen name Kathryn Kenny, they lost some of their spark and depth.  This is especially obvious if you read the series in order.  And I can’t argue with that observation.  While the characters are still more realistic than the perfect Hardy Boys or Nancy, they have become defined by one or two big traits here.

Likewise, the mystery is fairly obvious.  I even had it pretty much figured out the first time I read it back in high school.  Still, it does unfold in a logical way.  My biggest gripe is actually that someone else had to point out the solution to Trixie.

And yet….

I can’t help it, I like this book.  It probably helps that I read these books in any more I could find them in originally, so this was one of the first 10 I read.  While the flaws are very obvious as an adult, they were less so as a kid, and I didn’t have years of loving the characters to build up expectations here.

One aspect I like is that this book brought back a character from a previous book.  Nick Roberts first appeared in book 20, The Mystery off Old Telegraph Road.   I hadn’t read that book when I read this one the first time, and the author does a good job of telling us what we need to know without spoiling the earlier book.  Heck, we don’t even get a hint of what the mystery in that book was about.  It’s rare that non-series regular characters popped up again, so I love it when it happens.

Plus all the Bob-Whites appear in the book.  No, they aren’t all in every scene, but all of them at least make fairly regular appearances.

These last five books include pen and ink illustrations at the start of each chapter.  As a kid, I had never seen the earlier, hardcover editions, so this is the first time I’d seen illustrations inside the books.  I find it fun, although some of them border on spoilers.

So don’t pick up this book expecting the earlier books in the series.  But if you sit down for The Mystery of the Memorial Day Fire remembering that this is one of the later books in the series, you’ll still enjoy your visit with these old friends.

Looking for Trixie's earlier books?  Here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.

This review is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

6 comments:

  1. It's always interesting to revisit a favorite childhood book. Some I have found as delightful as I remember them, some not so much. I never read the Trixie Belden books but loved Nancy Drew. Maybe I'll pick one up one day soon. Thanks for your review.

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    1. It is interesting picking up childhood books as an adult for sure. I need to revisit some more Nancy Drew books as well since I enjoyed her, too.

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  2. "hotbed of crime" - I love it! This is my favorite of the last 5. Like you, I have some gripes with it, such as the over-the-top-righteousness in reaction to the reaction of the fire, but it also has one of my favorite quotes from the series and I love that Nick comes back!

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    1. Actually, I love that reaction to the reaction of the fire. (Honey speak alert!) I've seen people rush into a canyon where a fire is burning to watch the fire fighters fight it. Um, hello? If they have to evacuate, you are causing more problems. I get their reaction to this.

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  3. I want to go back and read them all over again. :-)

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    1. They are such fun no matter how many times you read them, aren't they?

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