Sunday, September 11, 2016

Book Review: The Pet Show Mystery by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #37)



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good characters in a mostly fun book
Cons: For some, the 80’s elements; part of mystery feels forced into book
The Bottom Line:
Pet show to feed birds
Comes under some sabotage
Mostly fun entry




What Danger Could You Find at a Pet Show?

I’ve been one of the few Trixie Belden fans who didn’t think the final 5 books were that awful.  True, I never thought they were the best in the series, but I didn’t think they were the worst either.  As I’ve been rereading them, I am finding that they are more average than I remember them being, but The Pet Show Mystery is just a tad better than the previous two.

If you’re just stumbling on the series, or my reviews of them, this was a teen sleuth series much like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.  The series started in 1948, and this book, the 37th in the series, was published in the 1980’s.  It featured Trixie Belden, a fourteen-year-old detective, and her family and friends.  There’s quite a large group of characters, which is one thing that appealed to fans.

This book opens in the middle of an especially harsh winter.  It’s only January, and Trixie is ready for a spring thaw.  While traveling to the house of her best friend and next door neighbor, Honey Wheeler, Trixie stumbles upon her classmate Norma Nelson.  She is out feeding the birds, who are having trouble getting food because of how cold it has been.

Trixie immediately decides that the plight of the game birds is a perfect project for the Bob-Whites, her group of friends.  Not only will it help a worthy cause, but it will keep them busy during the cold days ahead.  The group decides that a pet show will be a great way to raise the money to buy food.  But not everyone agrees.  Soon the group has faced a hostile confrontation and a rumors that could shut down the show.  Can Trixie figure out what is going on?

Remember I said this book was published in the mid-80’s?  The ghost writer and publisher tried to update the series to modern times.  As a result, Trixie’s older brother Mart spends much of the book wrestling with a computer program and the Bob-Whites sign up people for the pet show outside the pet store at the mall.  Yes, that’s right, small little Sleepyside-on-the Hudson gets a mall.  When I read this book as a kid in the late 80’s, neither of these things bothered me.  As an adult, the computer sub-plot still doesn’t bother me (although it is horribly dated today), although I wonder at a town as small as Sleepyside is supposed to be having a mall.

My real issue with this book, however, is the plot.  While Trixie’s investigation into who is sabotaging the pet show and why is well done, it feels too light for a book in the series.  The publisher must have agreed because Trixie manages to find herself in a larger mystery over the course of the book, but it feels a bit forced into the story.  Yes, the author tries to set it up earlier into the book, but it still feels forced.  I never minded as a kid or when I reread it before, so obviously I’m getting pickier as an adult.

I have always loved this series for the characters, and that much still holds true here.  They aren’t as deep as in the earlier books in the series, but they also aren’t out of character.  I also appreciated some of what the Bob-Whites had to face here, since it seems to actually lead to some character growth for Trixie.

Despite the forced plot, I’m still fond of this book.  While not the best book in the Trixie Belden series, there is still much to recommend The Pet Show Mystery.

If you are looking to start the series, I do recommend you start with an earlier book.  Here are the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.

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

10 comments:

  1. I never made it to the later books. Wonder where I put those . . . .
    Thanks for your thoughts.

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    1. They're a decidedly mixed bag, but for fans they are worth at least one look if you can get them cheaply.

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  2. Loved your honest review about the differences between earlier and later books in the series. Thanks for introducing me to a series I'm not familiar with. I have a grandchild that would enjoy a good pet mystery.

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    1. There are horses in almost all the books in the series, so that's a good draw.

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  3. I probably read this when I was young, but with so many of them it's hard to say.

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  4. Part One:

    Ok, I have to tell you that this has always been one of my favourite books, and also my mom's least favourite. You'll see why as I go on, but first things first. Here's an overview:

    Trixie encounters a very shy girl (she literally runs into her) from her school who is out all winter long feeding the birds. Norma (the girl) bemoans how the poor wild birds don't have enough to eat, and her efforts are too little to really help all the fowl denizens of Sleepyside.

    This gives Trixie the idea of doing something to help those poor underfed birds. And her idea is...to have a pet show! They can use the entrance money for bird seed! (Ok, that sounds goofy, but I don't mind it-they always have some fundraiser or other, and it does meet the criteria of the club to help the needy, and to have fun!)

    The problem is, things start to go wrong. First they decide to ask a veterinarian to judge the show. The vet, Dr Chang agrees (sorry to have to point this out, but in an earlier book, they have a Black girl-the only one in the series. now we have the only Asian man in the series) That goes well, but when they tell the school secretary (you see, school policy is that the secretary needs to sign and approve all posters hung up in the school, and they want to advertise the show), she goes on a rant about how Dr Chang is a no-good quack! Both Trix and Honey are shocked as the secretary is said to be so nice and sweet. It makes Honey wonder if she is racist (Jonathan Deller, I know you said that in an earlier book, Trixie was accused of this, and I looked it up, and she wasn't, but this time it was said flat out). Trixie wonders about this too, but as Honey thinks about it, she dismisses the idea saying that there are a lot of non-Whites in the school and the secretary never seemed to mind (there are? That's news to me!)

    That's not the half of their problems though. First, many people begin to back out of the pet show because a rumour was spread that the Bob-Whites are keeping the money for themselves! They quash that by opening a bank account which they can't touch, showing that the money really is going to the birds

    Then, a radio station announces that the pet show is cancelled! When Trix calls them to tell them that there was a mistake, the radio announcer says that someone called earlier saying they were Trixie Belden and the show was cancelled.

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  5. Part Two:

    Ok, this is where I got mad (not at the book, but at the characters) We know that Trix sometimes goes off on a tangent, but here it seems perfectly reasonable that she believes that someone is sabotaging them. The boys poo-poo this idea and that angers me SO MUCH! I have no problem with the book for doing this as it isn't out of character, but I have a problem with the boys themselves. This is book # 37! When will they start taking Trixie's word for things? At least consider that she might be right! ARRGGHHH! Sorry about that, I had to get it out of my system.

    The next bad thing that happens is that Mart's computer program (oh, I forgot to mention that Mart was working on a computer program to classify all the pets entered in the show) keeps glitching. Later, he discovers that someone actually did sabotage the program! Ok, let me stop here. First, I was a kid in the '80s, and this was the time I first learned of Trixie. I know that for many fans, this is where the series "jumped the shark" because Mart is suddenly using computers. I didn't think anything of it because this book was the first one (or one of the first) I read brand new, so it seemed natural to me. Now looking back, I fondly remember the time when computers had to be programmed by the user. In fact, another series I read as a child was the adventure book series "Micro Adventure" (if anybody wants, I'll take a few pics of the covers and describe the books) One of the gimmicks of the series was that it had computer code in it that you could program into your computer to make rudimentary video games! I used to love typing those into my Commodore 64!

    Before I go on, there was something that didn't ring true to me in the book that I forgot-it's a little thing, but when the students were signing up for a pet show (Honey, Di, and Trixie were the ones taking entries at the time), one teased that he had a hamster that might escape and go running around which made Trixie pale. This should have made Honey (or even Di) blanch, but as Optimus Prime said, I thought Trixie was made of sterner stuff.

    So, it turns out a student in Mart's computer class was the culprit who sabotaged the program. He thinks the Bob-Whites are stuck up and was jealous that Mart was learning about the one thing he was good at. This makes Trixie wonder if Norma too was jealous of the Bob-Whites and is the one trying to wreck the pet show. (She was right-she was the naughty one) Norma even took Reddy to teach them a lesson, much to the woe of Bobby (who coincidentally is a LOT less annoying in this book-he actually was a great character in this one. So, good job, ghostwriter! Even Mart wasn't just getting on Trix's nerves. Probably another reason why this book is one of my favourites)

    I have to say that if this was the whole book, this WOULD be my favourite. Ok, so the "criminals" were kids, and no actually illegal crime was committed (if you want to be technical, dognapping is theft, and calling into a radio station and impersonating someone is criminal mischief, but if this were in real life-at least when I was a kid, the punishment for these acts would have resulted in a spanking, not a trip to jail from Sgt Molison). But this is how another series I am very partial to was (at least in the first half of the series); the McGurk Organisation. All of the bad things were neighbourhood pranks, not illegal stuff.

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  6. Part Three:

    But that was not all-you see, when Trix, Honey and Di were taking entries, a scruffy young man appeared and made a scene saying that people should support his charity of giving to the needy in poor countries instead of saving some birds. (Oh, and another thing I hated was the artwork of Trix, Di and Honey here. I said before that the artist in the last books make Trixie look boyish, but Honey did look attractive in the last couple books. Here, she doesn't. And Di! This is the only drawing of her from the last 5 books that I've seen (I no longer have books 38 & 39, so I don't know if she was illustrated in those), and she looks ugly! I thought she was supposed to be the prettiest girl in the school! In the old Deluxe editions, she really did look pretty, but not here!) A kindly man behind him donates $40 to Trixie's cause because the young man was so disruptive.

    To make a long story short, the young man and his assistant are keeping the donations for themselves, and going to those poor countries and smuggling rubies! The kindly gentleman is an interpol agent who was trailing him (Sorry-I reread it-he's with the Attorney General's office, but same thing). What bothered my mom is that when Trixie spots the kindly man watching Paul Gale's (the young man) office and confronts him, he invites Trixie and Honey to a cafe to explain. My mom always told me how this was irresponsible to have in the book as young people should NEVER talk to strangers. (Yes, Trix gets herself in trouble in other books, but this time, it isn't a trap, and my mom thought this sends the wrong message). Even more unbeliveably, the agent agrees to wire Trix, Honey and later Norma (who is the one who ultimately confirms Paul Gale's profidy) and lets them go to Paul's office by themselves! What professional adult agent would risk kids like that? And it WAS a risk as the three girls wind up getting kidnapped and only saved by Reddy! This part was completely unnecessary-I would have been happy with the two schoolchildren being the "villains".

    So, there are my thoughts. I actually am leaving a few things out here, but this is the meat of the story and my reaction to it in my opinion.

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  7. Mark, I totally agree with you that the latter books aren't the rotten eggs so many think they are. This one is truly in my top three

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