Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action packed, fun mystery
Cons: Weak characters, dated language, one massive coincidence
The Bottom Line:
Mystery on haunted ranch
Fun Nancy story
Is the Ranch Haunted?
I know I read some Nancy Drew books as a kid, but I’m finding I have a hard time remembering which ones I read. I feel like I read The Secret of Shadow Ranch, but I didn’t remember any of the details at all as I was reading it this month.
It’s summer, and Nancy has been invited to spend it with her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne on the ranch their uncle Ed and aunt Bet have just bought in Arizona. However, she has barely landed when she learns that things aren’t going well on the ranch. Someone is trying to drive the new owners off the land with acts of sabotage, most of which are foreshadowed by a phantom horse. There is a legend that an old outlaw cursed the ranch, but Nancy thinks the culprits are more modern and very real. Can she figure out what is going on and why?
This may be the fifth book in the series, but this is the first time that Bess and George show up since Nancy had a different sleuthing partner in the first four books. I find it funny that, at least in the edits, we don’t get much of an introduction to Bess and George here, but I’m not surprised. Ned and his friends are still absent, although Ned does get a mention in passing, which is funny since Nancy hasn’t met him yet.
The mystery itself is fine. While I didn’t remember any of the specifics (if I’d read it in the first place), it is fairly easy to predict where things are going if you are familiar with the series, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. There are a few twists and turns I wasn’t expecting along the way which helped keep my interest. I had to roll my eyes at one mighty huge coincidence in the book even though I saw it coming early on, but that’s just how this series is.
Likewise, I always forget how thin the characters are in these books until I pick them up. The emphasis is on the action and story, with very little time put into the characters. Still, we do care about them. It’s a testament to how they are written that we can like them so quickly. I always find it funny how Nancy has the skills needed for any story. Fortunately, Nancy and her friends are expert horse riders since that comes into play here. I never really notice my issues with the characters as a kid, but it is obvious reading these books now.
Obviously, it is easy to notice the flaws as an adult, but I still zoomed through the pages as quickly as possible to figure out what happened. I’m sure kids today will do the same.
This book was last updated in the 1950’s, so some of the language used is certainly dated. Heck, a phrase or two stopped me. There’s nothing bad here, but I suspect that this is what will throw kids the most who pick up this book today for the first time.
But I suspect that, like me, they will find themselves flying through The Secret of Shadow Ranch to find out just how Nancy pieces things together. Flaws and all, this is still a fun mystery.