In this book, Nancy gets slapped. SLAPPED.
As in The Secret of Red Gate Farm, the story begins with the three girls discussing a mystery:
"I'm worried about that darling Swenson child and her mother[, who we just met at the fair five minutes ago.] I wish we could do something to help them."
"You mean," said Bess, "find Mr. Swenson, or the money his wife told us[, virtual strangers, even though she is an extremely proud woman] he had promised to send?"
"Yes," Nancy answered. "It's very mysterious, since apparently he has been away for some time [and it's impossible that he simply abandoned them, as that sort of thing doesn't happen in the River Heights area]. I wonder if his letters--containing money orders--were stolen. [I'm reminding the two of you about the money orders in case you've forgotten -- we did learn about them a whole five minutes ago.]"
It should be noted that during that conversation, Bess ate at least three sandwiches and a deviled egg.
Not a lot of new skills, other than that Nancy knows a smattering of Swedish and can tell at a glance if something is written by a man or a woman AND whether or not a house can be saved from a fire. She is also participating in the "crippled children's home kiddie show" and comes up with an "ingenious" plan to winnow out mail fraud. And we learn that:
She expressed her opinions firmly, but did not force them on others. Nancy's abilities of leadership were welcome and depended upon in any group.
She also "possessed an intangible appealing quality which people never forget." Maybe that quality has something to do with her willingness to be generous to the poor -- assuming, of course, that they are attractive, polite and neat. Or maybe it's just that she's not a litterbug. (See page three for proof of that.) We also learn that if your car is rear-ended, it's smart to be very polite to the crappy driver behind you because he might be a Very Rich Factory Owner Who Has a Connection to Your Case.
Driving home from the fair, the girls hear an explosion and witness a house burst into flame. Of course, they head straight for the disaster to rescue any inhabitants. Once there, Nancy uses her aforementioned leadership skills and orders her two friends to leave the scene and contact the fire department while she will attempt to enter the burning building alone. Brilliant. (She doesn't make it in, thankfully -- for a very message-heavy series, the suggestion to enter burning buildings seems to be an odd choice.)
Nancy Drew, evidence suppressor. She sees a blond man running away from the scene, calls at him to stop, but he escapes. Though "his actions were those of a guilty person", she decides that his appearance ("tall and gaunt, and poorly dressed") suggests otherwise. When she finds a diary that in all probability belongs to the escapee (it's partially written in Swedish and, after all, he was blond) on the grounds, rather than turn it over to the police, she keeps it, hoping to get it translated.
Nancy is suspicious when a strange -- but handsome -- boy at the fire scene jumps into her car and drives away, but it turns out that he's just trying to save the blue convertible from being scorched by the falling embers. Enter Ned Nickerson.
What's that, you say? Wasn't Nancy knitting Ned a sweater in Book #5, The Secret of Shadow Ranch? Well, yes. Yes she was. But we'll just ignore that. Ah, the dangers of multiple authors and multiple re-writes.
As usual, the blue convertible suffers mightily. Nancy gets rear-ended, resulting in quite a lot of damage, including a dragging bumper. Ned to the rescue! He rips the bumper off with his BARE HANDS and tosses it into the back seat of the car. Wow. Thoughtful and manly.
Later, while slowly (to preserve her springs) traversing a one-lane, rutted dirt road, Nancy and Co. suffer harassment from Crazy Honking Truck Man, who wants to drive faster. Ultimately, he sideswipes them while passing ON A BRIDGE. A creaky, cracking, falling-down wooden bridge. Oddly, that adventure was totally random and had NO BEARING WHATSOEVER on the case.
Nancy Drew, hypocrite. Ned calls her the day after the fire and tells her about a signet ring with a Swedish inscription that he found at the fire site. She doesn't mention the diary she found, and says:
"It may furnish a clue. But shouldn't the ring be turned over to the police?"
Nancy gets teased unmercifully in this one:
"He's handsome, too." Bess giggled. "And what a soulful expression in those big blue eyes of his when he looks at our Nancy!"
"Were they blue? I thought they were--" Nancy broke off as she realized that Bess has deliberately trapped her.
Who would've ever guessed that Bess Marvin had it in her to trick Nancy Drew?
Ned is rather persistent young man -- he calls FIVE TIMES in one day to invite her to history's most wholesome fraternity party. At the party, she just happens to meet the Stanford postmaster's son who gives her a clue (and trusts her with some confidential information).
More coincidences: Carson Drew's latest case? He's representing a man who just happens to be suing the owner of the smoking ruins. The Swenson family... hmmm... Swenson is a SWEDISH name, isn't it? Wasn't it a blond man who dropped the diary while running from the scene of the fire?
Loot: Joe Swenson's mother's signet ring.
Next Up: Nancy's Mysterious Letter.