An Amanda Arkebauer Production

December 2005/January 2006 Whispered Watchword

Does Nancy Drew have the Midas Touch?

It seems that every situation Nancy Drew tackles is improved for the better. She sees a problem, solves the mystery and leaves everyone smiling. This is exactly what we expect from a Nancy Drew mystery. The reason we love Nancy so much is her ability to solve everyone's problems. I am taking a look at two Nancy Drew mysteries from the 1990's, Number 138, The Legend of the Lost Gold (1997) and Number 149, The Clue of the Gold Doubloons (1999).

In the Legend of the Lost Gold, Nancy, Bess and George visit a Spa in Big Sur, California. Hannah Gruen suggests the resort for a week vacation for the girls. Once they arrive at the Opa Tourist Lodge, they find that the owner is in dire straits. It seems that someone is trying to run her out of business with rumors and vandalism. The very first night while at a BBQ, Nancy's cabin is ransacked. Didi Koulakis, the owner, is convinced that her nemesis is Marco Arias, the owner of the big Dude Ranch on the property next door. Marco Arias does have a motive. He wants access to prime beachfront property. His Dude Ranch is inland and the Opa Resort controls all the beachfront access.

At this point in the story, I was beginning to wonder what Lost Gold had to do with anything. Now we get the secondary mystery in the book. Pico Cielo is a mountain peak on the Opa Resort property. A 49er Goldminer on his deathbed said he was on Pico Cielo and found an amazing prehistoric cave system. It is legend that he hid his stash of gold in these caves. Nancy discovers her cabin that was vandalized was originally the goldminer's cottage. The miner was also a master carpenter and built many of the cupboards and furnishings in the cottage. He also worked for many years on the construction of a mansion in Big Sur called Cloud Palace. Cloud Palace seems to be modeled after Hearst Castle on the coast of California. Nancy finds evidence of a hidden compartment in the cabinetry from the vandalized cottage.

Nancy Drew overhears Didi's uncle plotting to get the Opa Property for himself. She has her father check up on him and finds that he has a gambling problem and is in debt way over his head. Nancy finds trouble in the Opa Resort financial files and everything seems to point at Didi's uncle as the villain of the piece. Then the maintenance man and his brother are discovered to be relatives of the original gold miner. They grew up listening to the legend of lost gold and are charged with the vandalism of the cabin. Didi thinks all her troubles are over, Marcos Arias must have hired these thugs and now that they are in custody she thinks all is well. She does not want to hear about Nancy's suspicions of her uncle.

The Opa Resort puts on a huge Greek Festival. Nancy watches as they make Saganaki, "flaming cheese". Later the Saganaki booth blows up! It's arson and it is clear that Didi's worries are not over! Nancy, Bess, and George visit Cloud Palace on a tour and sneak into it after closing. They check out the carpentry in the house and find a secret compartment with a letter from the Gold Miner detailing where the Lost Gold is located in the Pico Cielo Caves. They follow the instructions in the letter and find the cave. The Opa Resort Handy Man turns out to be a disgraced Paleontologist who needs to find the prehistoric caves to reclaim his reputation. He was behind the sabotage to force Didi out of business and buy the property in bankruptcy court! An earthquake hits while the girls and the Handy Man are in the cave. A stalactite falls and kills the Handy Man. The girls, of course, find the gold and even though the earthquake blocked the cave entrance, they dig themselves out! Earthquake damage at the Resort is minimal, Didi's uncle will be going to Gamblers Anonymous and Mr. Arias and Didi come to an agreement, she'll provide him with beach access and he'll provide her with access to stables and horses. Nancy has done it again!

The only thing that bothered me in this mystery was when Nancy and the girls go with Didi to pick wildflowers for the decorations for the Greek Festival. I realize that the Opa Resort is probably private property, but it is really not proper to pick wildflowers. There are many ecological reasons not to pick the wildflowers:

  1. Flowers are more than beautiful structures that appeal to humans: they exist so the plant can reproduce itself. Many of the most spectacular blossoms are specially designed to attract certain pollinating animals. The number of flowers pollinated combined with their arrangement on the stem can make a difference between reproductive success or failure for the entire year.
  2. Removing wildflowers from annuals, plants that bloom for only one year and then die, means the seeds the plant would have made will not be there for next year's wildflower season.
  3. Many species of wildflowers have already suffered great reductions in num6ers over the last 1 00 years because of increasing alterations of their habitat.
  4. It is often difficult to distinguish between common and rare and endangered species of wildflowers. Species that are in danger of extinction may look abundant to the casual observer who is possibly looking at only one of a few remaining areas where the plant is located.

This is only one questionable thing of many that Nancy does on her visit to the Opa Resort. She misrepresents herself to Mr. Arias in order to gain access to his dude ranch and she trespasses at the Cloud Palace after closing hours. But her motives are noble and everything works out in the end.

Next up is The Clue of the Gold Doubloons. In this book, Nancy and George go to Baltimore, MD to work on a documentary film set. This book is somewhat unique in that Bess is not around. This is explained by Bess having taken a part-time job in River Heights and she could not get away for the trip. This is also an example of Nancy being able to do anything! It seems that she and George took a summer school workshop on filmmaking and they are now helping to make a documentary about Pirates. The filming is taking place on a tall ship in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. George is acting the part of a famous female pirate, Anne Bonny. A famous actress, Selena, is playing the part of female pirate, Mary Read. Nancy will be the Assistant Director on the film set. The author does a great job of conveying the chaotic nature of a film set. Also the long hours involved in filming are accurately portrayed.

Right away, Nancy saves someone from drowning and scares off someone who is snooping around the cargo hold of the ship. The Gold Doubloons of the title are only fake replicas for the film shoot. Nancy and George return to their hotel for dinner. They have Maryland Crabcakes, Grilled Salmon and Shrimp Cocktail. This is nice, because it reflects the local cuisine. They also flirt with the waiter. That night the hotel is burglarized and a gold coin like those used on the pirate movie set is found in one of the rooms. Everyone working on the pirate documentary is a suspect. The local police are leery of Nancy and she tells them to contact Chief McGinnis of the River Heights Police Force. He'll vouch for her! A newspaper reporter sneaks onto the ship and Nancy confronts him. Then a Television crew is invited to the movie set. Could the burglaries be elaborate publicity schemes? George is even arrested because of incriminating evidence. But she is released and not charged when fingerprints are found at the scene of the crime. The fingerprints implicate a famous cat burglar, a master of disguise, who has been eluding the police for some time.

The police ask Nancy to get fingerprints from people on the movie set. Nancy and George visit the Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and there are allusions to the fact that they have been there before on a detective case. I could not find a previous Nancy Drew book where they visit the Aquarium at the Inner Harbor. In #132, the Foxhunt Mystery, they visit the Inner Harbor, but just eat lunch in a restaurant. In the Clue in the Broken Locket, they are in the Maryland and Baltimore area, but the Aquarium is never mentioned. Perhaps in a Nancy Drew Case Files they visit the Aquarium. An unknown person at the Aquarium threatens Nancy. And a threatening note is left on the mirror of their hotel room. I would have thought that after the threatening note, they would have at least changed hotel rooms, if not hotels! But they remain where they are. A real gun is substituted for a prop gun on the movie set and Nancy is almost shot. Because everyone on the movie set is a suspect, Nancy gets fingerprints from most of the men. Slowly they are eliminated as suspects. Nancy seems to suspect everyone just as the police do. At the end of the book, the villain confronts her. The mystery is solved, not by Nancy's superior reasoning ability, but by the villain trying to eliminate Nancy before she stumbles onto the truth! Nancy, of course, escapes from the criminals and the police arrive just in time to hear everything. The documentary is successfully finished with Nancy Drew taking on a major role!

I was a bit disappointed in this book because the story was wrapped up so neatly at the end and Nancy really had little to do with it. It was more a case of the criminals giving her too much credit and being afraid she would figure out who they were! Nancy was distracted by red herrings the entire time. Of the two books, I enjoyed the setting of the Gold Doubloons more, but the mystery in Lost Gold was more interesting. And of course, the Opa Resort and the Pirate Documentary are both successful thanks to Nancy Drew!

-Amanda Arkebauer