This weekend, I'm posting a new book review for Nancy Drew: Secrets Can Kill. That was one of my first reviews, and it was split up into three parts because it was over 40 minutes long. I quickly learned to keep my book reviews under ten minutes.
For the sake of posterity, here's the script for the original review. Whenever a page number is listed, that means I read an excerpt from the book, taken from that page.
The story begins in Nancy's house, where she is talking with her friends Bess and George after a day at the mall. They talk about her upcoming case, where she'll be posing a student at Bedford High. They also discuss Nancy's kind-of-but-not-really relationship with Ned Nickerson.
After a lot of joking around, Hannah Gruen arrives to deliver a videotape. Our friends decide to watch it, and it's a video of them at the mall, taken earlier that day.
Nancy drives to Bedford High, which is about fifteen miles away from River Heights. Along the way, she catches sight of a really good-looking guy, driving a Porsche. He revs his engine a couple of times, and they have a friendly race down the block, but she loses sight of him in the parking lot.
At the school, Nancy overhears one student threatening another student, but she doesn't see who it is. Her first stop is the Principal's Office, where she meets the stressed out Mr. Parton. 15-16.
Nancy gets permission to break any school rules she needs to, over the course of her investigation. She also gets told that the criminal has been stealing various items from the school video lab. That's when Daryl Gray, the Student Body President comes in. He's going to be Nancy's contact for this case, and to no one's surprise, he's also the incredibly good-looking guy she saw earlier in the Porsche. 19.
Daryl shows Nancy around a bit, but they're too busy flirting with each other to get any investigation done. 21-22. Not looking she's going, Nancy walks into the captain of the football team. His name is Walt, but everybody calls him "Hunk Hogan". Hunk Hogan is a popular guy, but he's kind of mean and he brushes Nancy aside.
Nancy also meets Carla, who gives her the stink eye before going away. Classes start, and Nancy makes friends with Sara Ames, the editor of the school newspaper. Sara invites Nancy to join the writing staff, but Nancy eventually turns her down. And at lunch, Nancy meets with shy girl Connie Watson.
Basically, Chapter Three is where all the characters in the story get introduced.
Nancy decides she needs to investigate the video lab, so she asks Carla for directions. Carla pretends to be nice, but she purposely gives Nancy the wrong directions. Nancy ends up in the boiler room, where she sees Hunk Hogan arguing with another student. 28
Hunk leaves, and Nancy talks a bit with the other boy. His name is Jake Webb, and it turns that he's is the person she overheard earlier, threatening another student. 29-30.
Nancy goes to leave and Daryl Gray shows up. Jake makes fun of Daryl and casually threatens him, then leaves. Daryl is upset for a bit, then he asks Nancy to the dance that weekend. She accepts.
After school, Nancy is about to investigate the video lab, when she runs into Connie Watson. 34-5. Nancy and Connie watch the football practice. It turns out that Carla is the head of the cheerleading squad, and Connie is sad because the cheerleaders don't like her, and...it sort looks like this.
Connie explains that Daryl and Carla have an on-again, off-again relationship, which is a little weird because Carla only cares about money and Daryl's family almost went bankrupt a few months ago. Oh, and Connie has a special antique bracelet.
The next day, in gym class, Carla confronts Nancy. Carla's mad because Daryl and Nancy can't stop flirting with each other. Carla purposely throws Nancy off balance, and Nancy almost gets badly injured, while jumping off a trampoline.
In social studies class, there's a pop quiz, which causes Nancy to learn about Hal Morgan, the school braniac. Hal hasn't been doing so well, ever since he lost the Student Body President election to Daryl Gray. 42-3
Hal steals all the answers from Nancy, even though there's no way she can know any of the answers, because she's a new student and this is her first time in social studies class. So...he copies from the one person who is guaranteed to fail. How is he the smartest person in school again? Anyway, Nancy follows Hal after class, and it turns out that Hal's schoolwork is slipping because Jake Webb is forcing Hal to write all of his essays.
Nancy follows Jake for a while, and when he leaves, she uses a lockpicking kit to break into his locker. Inside, she finds Connie's special antique bracelet. Before Nancy can look around some more, Jake returns and almost catches her going through his things. Nancy goes to Connie and talks to her about her bracelet. 46.
After school, Nancy finally visits the video lab, where she runs into Daryl Gray. The two of them start flirting, and they decide to go out for a Coke. In the school parking lot, Nancy sees Jake briefly before they get in her Mustang and drive out to Bedford Lake. That's when disaster strikes. 49.
The handbrake doesn't work, and neither does switching the car to first gear. Nancy stops the car by purposely crashing into the soft shoulder on the other side of the road. After wobbling a bit, the car lands upright. Nancy goes outside to inspect the damage. 52-3
Daryl manages to remove his seatbelt and escape the car. He and Nancy run away as the car explodes behind them. The two of them cling to each other for a while, and Nancy feels a little guilty for getting so close to a guy who isn't Ned Nickerson. Nancy accuses Jake of sabotaging her car, and Daryl warns her to stay away from him.
The next day, Bess and George drive Nancy to school, because she doesn't have a car anymore. We learn secondhand that Daryl took Nancy home and kissed her that night. Why did they cut this out of the last scene? I have no idea. I mean, one second she's getting close to Daryl, then we skip ahead to the next day, where she has a flashback of the romantic scene they just skipped. It's...weird.
Anyway, our heroes arrive at school, where theree is a huge crowd. One of the nearby students tells Nancy that Jake Webb has just been murdered.
DUN DUN DUN!
Nancy gets information from the gossiping students. Jake Webb was injured in a fight, and his neck snapped when he was thrown headfirst down a flight of stairs. Nancy is given the option of ending her investigation at this point, but she decides to continue.
Nancy doesn't want to get involved with the police, because that would blow her cover. So she decides to break into Jake's locker, before the police can get to it, which I'm pretty sure is illegal.
This time, Jake's locker is filled with all sorts of evidence, which proves that he is the culprit behind all the incidents in school. He's got the wire cutters which cut Nancy's brake line, a battery pack stolen from the video lab, and a copy of the SAT exams, with all the answers filled in. There's also a newspaper article about Hunk Hogan being badly injured in a football game.
Nancy closes the locker and immediately runs into a new character: Brenda Carlton, incompetent reporter. 65-6.
Brenda threatens to expose Nancy, but Nancy makes a deal with her. If Brenda leaves Nancy alone, she'll tell Brenda everything when the investigation is over. Brenda reluctantly agrees.
After school, Nancy breaks into the video lab, only to find that she's too late. The video lab has been trashed, with cables, wires and tapes thrown everywhere. The one part of the lab which hasn't been touched is the shelf containing music videos for rock songs.
Why does the school have a special shelf for music videos? I don't know. Nancy looks at the shelf and finds a tape called "I Spy", placed next to Madonna's "Material Girl". Nancy starts to watch Jake's tape, but she hears a mysterious noise from the supply closet. 72.
Nancy escapes from the culprit, using the clever technique of running away as fast as she can. She jumps into the car with Bess and George, and they all go to Nancy's home to watch Jake's tape. The tape shows Hunk Hogan gearing up for a football game, even though he's badly injured. After this, we see Connie Watson at a sidewalk sale, where she steals an antique bracelet. Finally, we see Hal Morgan go into the unlocked counselor's office. 79.
Okay, hold on a second. Why does the school counselor have the SAT answer booklets? Why do they keep the SAT answers inside an unlocked office, where any student can get to them? And if Hal Morgan is the smartest student in school, why does he walk around with stolen books in public, instead of hiding them in a bag or something? It's almost like he WANTED to get caught by Jake's hidden cameras! 79.
The next day, Nancy's father surprises with a brand new Mustang GT Convertible. Wow, Carson Drew is a really generous and understanding father. If _my_ car got blown up during college, Dad would have grounded me for a year.
Nancy tells Daryl about Jake's blackmail videotape, and he is shocked. Nancy decides to press the three suspects. She talks to Hal about the SATs, but he leaves. She talks to Hunk about his football injury, but he gets angry and yells at her. Since the boys didn't confess, Nancy decides not to hold anything back when accusing Connie Watson. 91.
Jeez, Nancy, way to be extra-harsh with the most timid suspect. Daryl and Nancy go to her house, where they rewatch the tape in hopes of finding more clues. The two of them start making out on Nancy's couch, because apparently, blackmail is a huge turn-on for both of them. The doorbell rings, and Bess and George enter the house. Daryl leaves, just in time for Nancy to get a phone call from Ned. 94-5.
Nancy has a dilemma now. Does she tell Ned about Daryl, or does she keep her indiscretions a secret. Before she can decide, Bess and George tell Nancy that they found something interesting, hidden at the very end of the videotape. It's a scene of Daryl Gray driving along Route 110 and picking up an envelope from a man whose ID tag reads MD. Daryl delivers the envelope to a swanky house.
Nancy and her friends go to investigate, while Bess gushes about her new boyfriend. It turns out that Daryl got the envelope from an Air Force Defense Plant, where they design bombs and missile-detection devices. And the swanky house that Daryl delivered the envelope to? It belongs to the Soviet Union. 103.
Continued in Part Three.
Nancy makes a U-turn, and after she gets past two men with guns, there is a car chase between her and the Soviets. Instead of driving away as quickly as possible, Nancy purposely slows down at an intersection, in order to get the other car stuck at a red light. The plan doesn't work, and Bess has a better idea. 107.
That's right. Our heroes escape from Russian hitmen, by going to a pizza party. As best as I can figure it, Bess got the idea from a popular TV commercial around the time this book was written.
Brenda Carlton is at the pizza place, meeting with Carla Dalton. Our heroes spend some time, wondering what Daryl Gray is doing with military secrets and Soviet hitmen. That's when Carla walks by and purposely bumps into Nancy's table, causing Nancy's Coke to spill.
The spilled Coke gives Nancy a genius idea. She knows how to get the truth out of Daryl! All she needs is a blue wraparound dress, Bess' guitar-playing boyfriend, and George to go on a blind date.
How will those things get a confession out of Daryl? What does that have to do with spilled Coke? And since the book came out in 1986, I have to know--was Nancy drinking Classic Coke or New Coke?
Chapter 14 skips ahead to the school dance, where the girls are fixing up their makeup in the bathroom. Carla purposely bumps into Nancy while she's applying lipstick, and Bess purposely trips Carla. Carla lands in a puddle of water, which basically ruins her dress. 116.
The plan goes into motion, with Bess' boyfriend playing a bunch of intense rock songs for a half-hour. The band is so loud that Nancy and Daryl can't talk to each other. So they leave the dance early and get inside Daryl's Porsche. 119-20.
With absolutely no evidence to back up her claims, Nancy says that Connie, Hunk and Hal are all innocent. She starts talking about Daryl's illegal deals, and he finally snaps when she accuses him of killing Jake. 124-5.
Before anything can happen, George's mystery date shows up. It's Ned Nickerson, Nancy's boyfriend. Ned roughs Daryl up a bit, and Daryl confesses that the murderer is Mitch Dillon. Mitch is the one who's been selling defense work to the Soviets; Daryl was the runner for the operation. Our heroes tell Daryl that there's only one way he can make up for what he's done: he has to help them catch the murderer.
The plan is to set up hidden videocameras at the local park. Daryl will meet with Mitch there and give him a copy of the blackmail tape. Unfortunately, Mitch is suspicious, and he demands that the meeting take place two hours early. That's bad news, because it means our heroes won't have any police backup.
The meeting between Daryl and Mitch is interrupted by Brenda Carlton, who was following Nancy in hopes of getting a big news story. Mitch grabs Brenda and holds a gun to her head. 140-1.
As the showdown continues, Mitch orders Daryl to give him the videotape and Brenda's camera. 142.
Daryl collapses from the bullet wound, and Mitch drops his gun for some reason. Nancy dives at Mitch's legs, and he punches her in the jaw. Mitch runs away. Ned chases after him, along with Bess's boyfriend. Mitch stops running for a moment, in order to readjust the camera strap, which gives the boys enough time to tackle him.
The final chapter has Nancy returning to Mr. Parton's office. They talk about the case and what's going to happen in the future. Hal is going to retake the SATs, Hunk is going to sit out a few football games, and Connie is going to get help for her shoplifting. The spies escaped to Russia, but Mitch has been arrested, and Daryl is probably going to get a reduced sentence for his crimes. Brenda Carlton's article about Mitch's arrest made the front page of the paper, although she conveniently left out the part where she messed everything up and almost got killed.
The book ends with Nancy and Ned, driving away from Bedford High School. 152.
Post Book Followup.
The Nancy Drew Files is the first Nancy Drew spinoff series. Let me read the advertisement for the series.
So how does this book hold up, according to that? Well, they modernized things with a few pop culture references, like Madonna's music videos, but fortunately the references aren't overdone to the point where they become obtrsuive and annoying.
The book promises romance, and it's got plenty of romance. You know, sometimes it feels like there's more romance than mystery here.
The adventure sequences are okay. I didn't care for the sequence in the video lab, and the car chase with the Soviet spies was poorly executed. The best adventure sequence was the one at the end of the book, where they fought the killer. Saving the most intense sequence for the climax of the book is a great.
Some of the characters in this book are not fleshed out. Hunk Hogan and Hal Morgan only talk to Nancy twice, which really detracts from their usefulness as characters. Carla's subplot doesn't go anywhere, and remember Sara Ames? The newspaper girl? I made a picture for her, because I thought she would be an important character, but she completely disappears after Chapter Three. You could easily fix this by getting rid of Hunk or Hal, and making Carla the third suspect instead.
Overall, this is a pretty solid Nancy Drew book. The plot twist of Jake being killed at the end of the first third was well-executed, although I find it a little convenient that Nancy immediately finds evidence to prove Jake is guilty.
It's not a bad effort for a new Nancy Drew series. I give it an eight out of ten.