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.

11 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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    2. I too chuckle at how much crime there is, but that is something I kind of take with a grain of salt. I mean if you are a follower of "Murder She Wrote", you would begin to figure that Jessica Fletcher is committing the crimes herself! I mean how many older ladies go ANYWHERE and someone dies! I'll bet gas station attendants on the highway put up a closed sign when she drives up on a roadtrip in fear that someone who wind up dead! Hehe!

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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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  4. Part One:

    While this entry in the series is as entertaining as the rest, I have to admit to being disappointed in the mystery. After that stunning who-done-it in the last book, this one was rather cut and dry.

    Oh, a few things before I forget:

    --This really deals with the last book as a detective disguised as a census taker interviewed Trixie; I am dismayed to learn that I am now older than Trixie's parents (Dad is 39 and Moms is 37)! :(

    --These final books of the series were printed only in the square edition and they have illustrations at the opening of each chapter. These are actually the "contemporary" pictures I remember as a kid. Everything is very 80s as opposed to the "old-fashioned" look of the artwork from the 40s, 50s and 60s that are in previous books. The car for example reminds me of a Ford Tempo instead of those big monstrosities of yesteryear that everyone seems to fancy (I kid about the venom towards old cars, but seriously, my first experience with cars and driving were 80s vehicles, and compacts at that. I still chuckle at how all 7 kids fit in the station wagon. I think of station wagons like my friend's 1991 Honda Accord back then. Getting 5 in was a squeeze)

    --Also, the artwork is kind of hit or miss to me. I mean Honey is VERY pretty (I thought so as a kid), but Trixie looks boyish, and Brian looks more like a football star than the quiet doctor type I picture him. Mart isn't described with a crew cut in the latter books (I don't think) so his hair might not be a mistake, but I always picture him with one since this was mentioned ad nauseum in the first half of the series. Oh, and Sgt Molinson! They describe him as a big man, and I always thought that meant muscular. The pictures make him look like he's on the wrong side of middle aged and that he's hit the donuts a little too hard! Hehe!

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  5. Part Two:

    Ok, back to the story though:

    Trix and the gang are enjoying the annual memorial day parade (I hope you like "seeing" Di and Dan here-it's the only time you'll do so! Honestly, I used to pretend as a kid that the characters in the book were like actors in a movie and Dan and Di were too expensive for the publishers to use much-I mean why introduce the characters into the series if you're never going to use them?), when suddenly there is a HUGE explosion! Is it a terrorist attack? Ha! Of course not-this is a 1980s kid series! (I must be getting really stir crazy from being cooped up-I'm usually nowhere near this snarky) It's an arson attempt gone wrong. A building that houses the store of Nick Roberts' (remember him?) father!

    He was renting from a Mr Slettom-a "slum lord" who owns this building in a bad part of town along with a warehouse next door (Ok, he's not a slum lord-he just owns some run down property-what is it with me today anyway?) Mr Slettom seems a kindly, understanding man who offers Mr Roberts aid after he is accused of started the fire and arrested. You see, Mr Roberts business has done so well that he has been trying to get out of his lease and find a bigger property in a better part of town to set up shop and since that wasn't working out for him, the suspicion of the police has been aroused.

    Added to the mix is Jane Dix-Strauss-a pushy reporter who moved into town (but not an obnoxious one like that guy in the Marshland Mystery whose name escapes me at the moment) and gets on Trixie's bad side. When she discovers (in a touching and nostalgic scene where she and Mart go to the library and using reference cards and magazine requests (I tell you, if they used microfilm instead, I would be convinced they were at my hometown library with me as a kid doing research for school!)) that Ms. Dix-Strauss (what kind of name is that anyway?) knows a lot about arson and even wrote a big article about it in a national magazine, Trixie is convinced that she is the one starting the fires! When she finds a button with her initials on it at the scene of the crime, then she's doubly sure!

    Well, it turns out that this reporter isn't the crook. It's...you guessed it-the landlord wanting to collect insurance! He also set a fire to his second property to destroy his paperwork-you see he had this elaborate scheme to have some worn out appliances in the warehouse and have dummied paperwork that claimed that it was brand new to cash in even more, and when the building didn't burn completely, he needed to destroy the paperwork (the explosion was more outward force than destruction of the building like the fire he intended would have been)

    Ok, well the story was interesting, just not a puzzler.

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  6. Part Three:

    Oh, and of course, there is also the required fundraiser in the book. Trix and the Bob-Whites were selling shirts and stuff for the Roberts and hoping to use their part of the profits to do needed renovations on the clubhouse. Well, they are able to thanks to the big glowing front page article the reporter puts in the paper for them in gratitude.

    Oh, I didn't include the ending (I must be tired)

    We know how foolish Trixie is with taking risks, and she sure was here! She is sleeping over Honey's and sees a stranger enter the stables. Rather than calling the adults (or even waking Honey), she tiptoes down to check it out on her own! (Someone restrain this girl!)

    Turns out the intruder is Miss Dix-Strass. But she has a "good reason" for sneaking around someone's private property in the middle of the night: see, she knew that Mr Slettom is the bad guy, so she set a trap for him by meeting him at the Wheelers stable in the middle of the night, pretending to fall for a trap that he set for her there (If that sounds confusing to you, it';s because it is! Also, Slettom's secretary should have been arrested to-she lied TWICE for her boss! That is so despicable! Seriously, I remember when Tara (my secretary/assistant at the time) lied to a customer and said I wasn't there when she knew I didn't want to be bothered. I told her never to do that again! I despise lying!) Trixie was convinced to wait in silence for the reporter to spring her trap, and even though it works, the reporter is hit over the head by this criminal who proceeds to set the barn on fire with her in it! (And Trixie too, but he doesn't know that) Hmm, looks like the Trixster isn't the only one who takes stupid chances) Trixie manages to drag her out of the barn and gets Jim & Honey to call the fire dept and police. That's where the gratitude comes in (and I must say, the reporter is a lot more grateful than Mr Lytell was in the last book (honestly, I felt like smacking him!)

    So, that's it-I feel this book despite its odd turns was entertaining, but again, not a real mystery. Another thing is that Trixie has been acting a bit more independently from the group (well, she includes Honey) because they never believe her. I personally can understand her frustration there-what kind of friends/brothers are those? She solves mysteries about every other month, but when anything happens they say she is ridiculous! Mart was like that, but lately Brian has gotten more irritating too. Jim at least tries to be kind.

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  7. Part Four:

    One more thing I forgot: someone REALLY needs to start spanking Bobby! The family repeatedly explained to him how series the explosion was, and he was still running around screaming KABOOM to scare people (well, Trixie) I know I said Mart was the most annoying, but now he's getting there!

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