Saturday, October 25, 2014

Observations about the Valerie Drew Stories

It took me reading at least a dozen Valerie Drew stories before I fully understood the premise and was able to appreciate them completely.  Now that I've read quite a few Valerie Drew stories, I can make some observations.  Valerie is extremely well known, and people often recognize her on sight.  Flash is also well known.

Valerie's mysteries often start by someone coming to Valerie to request her services.  Other times, Valerie stumbles upon the mystery.  Valerie only helps girls or young women.  She does help men, but only if the man has a sister, daughter, or granddaughter who is the main person who gets Valerie's attention.

While that is a bit sexist, the stories were written for Schoolgirls' Weekly.  Of course the magazine kept the stories centered around girls.

I consider the 1930s to be the golden age of series books.  I dearly love the plot elements of books that were published in those years.  These stories have all of those plot elements, including hidden passages, haunted places, strange noises, and odd footprints.

I especially like books where the events are a bit far-fetched, because I find them entertaining.  These stories have that, too.  Here are some examples.

In a 1934 story, a house has a Dictaphone.  Flash's paw goes down on the pedal accidentally, starting it up.  An important conversion is recorded, providing Valerie with evidence.  I find it hard to believe that an average house in 1934 would have a Dictaphone, allowing for voice recording.

I checked on what a Dictaphone might have cost.  I did not find a 1934 price, but I did see where one cost $190 in 1924.  Running $190 through an inflation calculator gave me $2,560.  I'm off by ten years and don't know the price for 1934, but I feel confident that a Dictaphone is not an item many homes would have owned in 1934.  Also, the people Valerie helps are almost always poor.  No Dictaphone for them!

In a 1936 story, a telephone is present inside a tent in a camp in the middle of the country.  Say what?  It was explained that the telephone was installed because the camp was permanent for the summer.  It sounded like the camp was a least a few miles from the nearest town, so we are expected to believe that telephone poles were erected up to the campsite so that a phone could be placed inside a tent.  I find this hard to believe.  And remember, we are talking about 1936.

In a 1937 story, a television set is rigged with a film projector inside.  When the television is turned on, the film projector plays a film of an event, then automatically rewinds, playing it again.  It stretches believability to say that the villains would be able to rig a film projector inside a television in 1937 and then get it to behave like a modern device set on repeat.  Hmm...

We also have the usual array of stunning disguises where men masquerade perfectly as women and where young people pass themselves off as elderly people.  Valerie manages to pull off a few amazing disguises which always work flawlessly, including the following case in which she disguises herself as an Indian.

Last, Valerie's dog, Flash, is unbelievably smart.  In fact, he is easily smarter than Judy Bolton's cat, Blackberry, and is the most capable animal I have ever seen outside of a cartoon.  Flash can think and reason out what to do in various situations!  He is a perfect partner for Valerie, even better than a human!

When I read my first Valerie Drew story, I was taken aback by Flash.  He thinks in words, and at first, I thought he could speak, which would be silly.  Fortunately, the words are just his thoughts, and while Valerie knows he is smart, she doesn't know exactly how smart.  At the same time, the stories make reference to Flash's "doggy brain," indicating that he doesn't fully understand everything Valerie tells him. 

I find these stories to be really fun.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nancy Drew's Alter Ego, Valerie Drew

A few months ago, I wrote about the Valerie Drew short stories that were published in Schoolgirls' Weekly in the United Kingdom from 1934 through 1939.  Over 200 stories were published.  The old magazines probably survived in very low quantities and are now in rough shape with rusted staples, soiling, and foxing.  Even worse, I must import them from the United Kingdom, which raises my cost substantially.  I now have at least one-third of the stories and have been gradually reading them.  Even though I have spent quite a bit on the issues, it's worth it to acquire long-forgotten stories that most people have never seen.

These stories fascinate me.  Valerie Drew is Nancy Drew's British counterpart.  The creator of Valerie Drew quite obviously based her on Nancy Drew.  What is most remarkable is that a number of the Valerie Drew titles are eerily similar to Nancy Drew or other Grosset and Dunlap series titles that were published after the Valerie Drew stories were published.  It's almost like someone at Grosset and Dunlap saw the Valerie Drew stories.  I have no evidence upon which to back up that statement, and I have to believe that the similarities were bizarre coincidences and nothing more.

Here are some of the coincidences from the stories I have read so far.

"The Girl in the Red Scarf" was published on July 7, 1934.  The first Kay Tracey book by Frances K. Judd was published on August 24, 1934. That story was titled The Secret of the Red Scarf.  The Valerie Drew story features a girl named Frances.  While I haven't read the Kay Tracey book in a very long time, I seem to recall a girl having an outfit like Kay's.  In this Valerie Drew story, a girl is made up to look like Frances as part of a deception.  The publication dates of the story and the book were too close for this to be more than coincidence, but it is very strange.  "The Girl in the Red Scarf" is a very good story with a unique and very creative solution to the mystery.

"The Whispering Cavalier" was published on June 9, 1934.  A painting of a female cavalier whispers a warning.  This reminds me a little bit of the Nancy Drew book, The Whispering Statue.

"Hide and Seek in the Circus" was published on March 26, 1938.  In this story, a girl who works as a trapeze artist owns an ivory statuette.  She is the daughter of the man who runs the circus.  During this story, Valerie helps with the equestrian act so that she can live with the circus and not be suspected of being a detective.  This story reminds me of parts of two Nancy Drew books, The Mystery of the Ivory Charm and The Ringmaster's Secret.  One Nancy Drew book came before this story while the other came after.  This story is not at all the same as either Nancy Drew book, but the similarities are still interesting.

"The Girl Water-Walker" was published on June 13, 1936.  When I saw this title, I immediately thought of the Nancy Drew book, The Secret of Mirror Bay.  I knew that a girl would somehow walk on water in this story.  How interesting!  The story is not even slightly like Mirror Bay, and the method used by the girl is completely different from the method used in Mirror Bay.  Still, I love the title of this story.

 "The Threat of the Tolling Bell" was published on July 7, 1936.  In this story, the occupants of a castle are terrified when the bell in one wing of the castle tolls each night.  A legend states that the tolling bell brings tragedy to whomever lives in the castle.

Several times during the story, the phrase "the mystery of the tolling bell" is used.  In 1946, the Nancy Drew book, The Mystery of the Tolling Bell was published.  This Valerie Drew story uses the precise title of a future Nancy Drew book.

Also of interest, this story takes place by a cliff and on the ocean, and The Mystery of the Tolling Bell has a similar setting.

"The Threat of the Tolling Bell" is a very good story.

It's like Valerie Drew was one of Nancy Drew's relatives.  The entire time that Nancy Drew was solving mysteries in River Heights in the 1930s, her counterpart, Valerie Drew, was solving mysteries of her own in Great Britain.  And we had no idea.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Three Investigators Crimebusters #1 Hot Wheels and #2 Murder to Go

I originally had no intention of reading the Three Investigators Crimebusters series, since many people say that the books are awful and that the premise was changed too much.  Partway through reading the Three Investigators series, I decided to try reading some of the English translations of the German Three Investigators series, Die Drei ???.  Once I learned that the Crimebusters series is part of the German chronology, I realized that I needed to read them before reading the German books.  I rapidly built a complete set.

In the Three Investigators Crimebusters #1, Hot Wheels, Jupe's cousin Ty Cassey shows up unexpectedly at the junkyard in a flashy Mercedes.  Ty promised to deliver the car for someone and is shocked when two police detectives arrive at the junkyard, accusing him of stealing the car. 

In this new series, the Three Investigators are now 17 and are surrounded by cars and girls.  Jupiter is still smart, but he is constantly on a diet, which is usually a stupid one, and is extremely shy around girls.  Pete is still the athlete and has a girlfriend named Kelly.  Bob ditched his glasses for contacts, which somehow made him a super stud who is constantly surrounded by swooning girls.

This first book was written by William Arden, one of the writers for the original Three Investigators series.  You would think that having one of the old writers would have helped, but it didn't.  This serves as a good example of how what the publisher wants will guide how the author writes the book.

This book tries too hard to be trendy.  Headquarters is called "HQ," which I found excessively annoying.  The girls are annoying.  The endless parade of car names is annoying.  All of the names of the karate and judo moves are annoying.  I don't know what the words mean, and I don't know how to pronounce them.  In short, the book is annoying.

I don't mind that the boys' personalities have shifted somewhat.  The extreme change in Bob's personality was most jarring for me, and I struggled with it.  I don't think I would have minded so much if he weren't surrounded by girls all the time.  It was just so... annoying.

Aside from all that, I did overall enjoy the book.

In the Three Investigators Crimebusters #2, Murder to Go, Big Barney Coop owns a popular chain of chicken restaurants.  Barney's daughter was in a car accident, and the Three Investigators suspect foul play. 

On page 7, I decided that Jupiter's diet schtick was getting old really fast.

I noticed that headquarters is no longer called "HQ" like it was in the first book.  Thank goodness.

I don't have much to say about this book, except that I enjoyed it. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Nancy Drew Game Is Near Its Goal!

As I wrote a few days ago, Quincy MacShane has created a Nancy Drew game.  She has obtained the licensing rights and hopes to get the game funded through Kickstarter.

Nancy Drew Board Game on Kickstarter

She is now within $2,000 of the goal!  There are just five days left in the campaign.

Another article has been published about the game.

Kickstartable:  The Nancy Drew Board Game

A new funding level has been added, allowing a backer to get two games at $55.00. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Three Investigators Series Summary

I have always heard that the first 30 titles in the Three Investigators series are better than the last 13 titles.  As I began reading the books, I wondered if that was really true.  I knew there was something to it, but sometimes readers react negatively to change, particularly for the people who were reading the books when they were first published.

#29 was the first book published only in a softcover trade edition, so I wondered if that was part of the reason for readers not liking it as much.  #30 was the last book with Alfred Hitchcock.  I know of people who refuse to consider any book past #30 as part of the series since none of them have Alfred Hitchcock in them.  So I wondered if that could be it.

Those feelings don't affect me since I did not read the books when they were new.  Furthermore, I always look past the format at the actual content. I wondered if I would like the books better.  Surely I would like the books.  Surely the books didn't get worse automatically as soon as they switched to softcover only and as soon as Hitchcock disappeared.  Surely not.

I soon learned that they did indeed get worse, although not immediately, at least with respect to the softcover books.  I liked #29 just fine.  It's not the very best but is still a good Three Investigators book.  I found #30 to be boring for most of the book.  #31 caught my interest faster, but the book was very uneven.  It was alternatively good and bad, switching back and forth between good parts and bad parts for the entire book.

I loved #32.  #33 was convoluted and boring at times.  #34 was very boring and the first book that I completely disliked.  So, yes, the books went downhill fast.  They did get better, however, past #34, so the series is still good after #34, although not quite as good as the earlier books.

Here is how I rank the books according to how much I enjoyed reading them.

Very good or outstanding books:  #1-29, 32, 35-38, 40

Not quite as good:  #30, 31, 39, 41, 42, 43

Mediocre or bad:  #33, 34

I want to address the main series authors and how I feel about them.  The core group of Three Investigators collectors considers Robert Arthur the best writer of the series.  My impression is that he is considered the best author by far.  I am not part of the core group of collectors since I only read the books recently, and my opinion does not quite match up with theirs.

I like the books of Robert Arthur, William Arden, and M. V. Carey just about equally.  I think most of the books by all three writers are excellent.  I have to say, though, I like many of the books by Arden and Carey more than I do most of the ones by Arthur.  There, I said it.  That may make some longtime collectors cringe, but that's how I reacted to the books.

The Arthur books are great, and as I mentioned, I like them about as much as the ones by Arden and Carey.  However, once I had read past the Arthur books and had read at least one book by each of Arden and Carey, I always checked the title page to see which of the two had written the book.  That told me what to expect.  I noticed that I felt greater delight when I saw Carey's name, because I really enjoyed the spooky elements of her books.

This means that Carey gets the edge, so I like the Carey books the best by a narrow margin, followed by the Arden books and then the Arthur books.  It's very close between the three.  If I were to rank the authors' books on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give Carey a 10, Arden a 9.5, and Arthur a 9.  All three authors did great, except for those few higher-numbered books that missed the mark.  For those books, I blame the editors since the authors had been great up to that point.

Of course, Arthur created the series; for without him, Arden and Carey would not have written so many great stories for us.  We owe a lot to Robert Arthur.

A small number of books were written by Nick West and Marc Brandel.  I greatly enjoyed those books, but there are not enough of them for me to rank those two authors quite as high as the other three.

I mentioned awhile back that I like this series a lot.  At that time, I stated that this series would end up ranking between third and seventh on my list of favorite series.  Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden always must occupy the first two positions since those are the two that I read as a child.  Judy Bolton used to be third, but Beverly Gray took third place after I read those books.  Beverly Gray has been securely in third place for a decade.

But no longer.  By the time I read #41 in the Three Investigators series, I decided that it would rank third after Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, moving Beverly Gray down to fourth place.  That is significant.

It's amazing that I have ignored this series for 20 years, selling each one that came into my possession.  I never considered reading them.  I didn't think I would like them.  I'm not sure why, except that I tend not to like boys' series books very much.  I like the Hardy Boys books, but not a great deal, primarily because of all the horseplay and boys' type activities.  I enjoyed reading Ken Holt, but the books got on my nerves the further I read.  That's because Ken and Sandy were always getting captured, and their escape was always described in painstaking detail, which was torturous reading for me.  The Ken Holt books are lauded for their realism, but the realism was too much for me.

Since the Three Investigators is a boys' series, I had preconceived ideas that caused me to ignore the books.  After I found a nearly complete set of #1-28 locally in a single purchase, I read the first two books to make sure.  I liked them enough to decide to read the books at a later date.  Reading these books this summer was a special treat.

The Three Investigators series does not read like the typical boys' series.  Early in my reviews, I mentioned that the series is more like Trixie Belden than any other series I have read.  I stand by that opinion.  Trixie Belden is a girls' series, but the Bob-Whites' activities fit both genders.  The same is true of the Three Investigators.  All of their activities could just as easily have been performed by girls.  There are only rare exceptions to this, like when Pete rides his bicycle with both Bob and Jupe perched on the handlebars.  Most girls would not have the strength to carry three people on a bicycle.  Otherwise, the Three Investigators could just as easily have been Trixie, Honey, and Di.  All of their activities would still have been plausible.

These days I try not to assure people that they will like a certain series.  I have noticed that some books that I really like are disliked by others, while books I hate are loved by others.  I didn't find Ken Holt quite as good as everyone promised.  Oh, the books are very good, but they are not strictly to my taste.  So even the best boys' series ever is not one of my favorites.

If you tend to like the same books I do, like a variety of series, or like Trixie Belden, then please consider reading one or two of these books to see whether you would like them.  I can't guarantee you'll like them, but don't make the mistake I did in ignoring the Three Investigators series for 20 years. You never know... the Three Investigators could end up becoming one of your very favorite series, just like what happened to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Three Investigators #41 Creep-Show Crooks, #42 Wreckers' Rock, and #43 Cranky Collector

In the Three Investigators #41, The Mystery of the Creep-Show Crooks, the boys find a tote bag on the beach.  They learn that the bag belongs to a missing girl, Lucille Anderson.  Lucille is soon located, and she has recently been cast in a horror movie.  The Three Investigators soon suspect that the producers are shady and set out to find evidence against them.

I don't have much to say about this book other than that I enjoyed it.

In the Three Investigators #42, The Mystery of the Wreckers' Rock, the boys go fishing off the coast near Rocky Beach.  They take pictures of a family reunion where the participants are dressed up as Vikings and Indians.  Later, the boys are pursued by several people who are desperate to obtain the photographs taken of the event.  The Three Investigators try to figure out what is so important about the photos while they dodge the villains.

A big deal is made about the boys not being able to accept money.  I'm pretty sure that they did in earlier books.

I enjoyed this book.

In the Three Investigators #43, The Mystery of the Cranky Collector, old Jeremy Pilcher disappears.  Pilcher is a book collector and hoarder.  He is mean, and many people greatly dislike him.  The boys suspect foul play, but unfortunately, just about everyone has a possible motive.

This book describes book collecting in rather unfavorable terms.  Here is a passage from page 28.
"Gives you a new feeling about books," said Bob.  "Like collecting could be a compulsion, like gambling or biting your fingernails."

"It's a disease," said Marilyn Pilcher.  "Believe me, it's a disease."
While I dislike reading that kind of statement, I have to remember that in other passages, Pilcher's collection is described in such a way that he must be a hoarder.  He is not a typical book collector, but rather, someone with serious problem.  Unfortunately, he is called a book collector.

On page 159, the villains shout threats at the Three Investigators in Spanish.  "The boys could not understand it all, but they knew that he called them sons of dogs."  I laughed.  I bet he said something other than sons of dogs.

I enjoyed this book.

I have not mentioned Hector Sebastian's Vietnamese cook, Hoang Van Don, who appears in #31-43.  Don is depicted as the stereotypical foreigner who has come to the United States and is so wowed by the American way of life that he behaves in an idiotic fashion.

A running gag throughout all of the books features Don cooking undesirable food for Sebastian.  Don is easily influenced by infomercials and television shows and insists on cooking whatever he sees.  Sebastian typically hates all of the food and is forced to eat snacks that he keeps hidden.  I found this subplot to be rather obnoxious.  I cannot understand why someone would allow an employee to cook bad food and not hold him accountable.  The running gag is supposed to be amusing, but it fails miserably.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nancy Drew Game Kickstarter Campaign

Quincy MacShane is a Nancy Drew fan who has decided to share her love of Nancy Drew by designing a Nancy Drew game.  She has obtained the licensing rights from Simon and Schuster and is using Kickstarter to fund the game.

Nancy Drew Board Game on Kickstarter

The game will go into production if the Kickstarter campaign raises $20,000.  The campaign has 10 days to go and needs less than $7,000 to be funded.  I'd really like to see this campaign succeed, so I hope you'll consider becoming a backer.

The Boston Herald published an article about Quincy's campaign.

Concord teen using Kickstarter to fund Nancy Drew game

Monday, October 13, 2014

Parallel Trilogy by Christine Kersey

The Parallel Trilogy consists of the following books.

1.  Gone, 2013
2.  Imprisoned, 2013
3.  Hunted, 2014

In the Parallel Trilogy, Morgan Campbell is furious when her mother takes away her cell phone.  Morgan runs away from home and stays in a cabin in the woods overnight.  The next morning when Morgan returns home, she discovers that another family lives in her house.  Her family has vanished!  Soon Morgan realizes that she has somehow stepped into a parallel universe.

In this strange world, it is illegal for people to be overweight.  People are sent to Federally Assisted Thinning centers, known as F.A.T. centers, in order to force them to lose weight.  Some people are sent to the centers because someone turned them in.

Morgan quickly makes a few enemies and gets sent to a F.A.T. center.  The center is little more than a prison camp, where people are tortured.  Morgan must find a away to escape the F.A.T. center and get back to her own world.

In the beginning of the first book, many readers will have trouble liking Morgan.  She is very immature and makes horrible decisions.  In short, Morgan is the cause of all of her problems.  As the story continues, Morgan grows as a character, and she is not the same person at the end of the third book.  By the end of the trilogy, I had fallen in love with both Morgan and Billy.

A fourth book has also been written, After, published in 2014.  In this book, we get to see what happens to Morgan and Billy after the conclusion of the Parallel Trilogy.

I didn't refresh my memory before beginning After.  Around ten months had passed between when I finished the Parallel Trilogy and when I began reading After.  It was like no time had passed, and I was able to remember everything about Morgan and Billy quite clearly.  These stories are memorable, and I recommend them to people who enjoy young adult novels.

Another story is to be released in late 2014, The Other Morgan.  I look forward to meeting the Morgan from the parallel world who switched places with our Morgan.