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The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk (Nancy Drew, Book 17) Hardcover – February 1, 1940
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From the Back Cover
From the moment Nancy Drew boards an ocean liner leaving for New York, she becomes involved in a new and dangerous mystery. A man on the pier gestures to someone on board in the sign language of the deaf. Beware of Nancy Drew and NE, he signals. Who is NE? Can it be Nelda Detweiler, A young South African who shares a cabin with Nancy, Bess, and George? When Nancy learns that Neida has been accused of stealing a diamond bracelet in South Africa, she wonders whether the girl is a thief or the innocent victim of a vicious plot.
About the Author
Carolyn Keene is a pen name used by a variety of authors for the classic Nancy Drew Mystery series. The first author to use the pseudonym was Mildred Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the original 30 books. Other writers who have adapted the "Carolyn Keene" moniker include Leslie McFarlane, James Duncan Lawrence, Walter Karig, and Nancy Axelrod.
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Top Customer Reviews
As I sought to reread the old Nancy Drew books from 1940, I found that the stories in most copies I found from other publishers have been edited and changed substantially over the years from the original books. They changed words that may have seemed dated to the editors such as "chums", but to me were a part of the character of the books. They have even changed her hair color in later editions (post 1959) from the original books. If you want to read the original Nancy Drew the way it was written, you either have to locate the original editions, or the wonderful fascimile editions released in 2001 by Applewood Books. These were an exact replica of the original books in art, dustjacket, font, binding and size. A flashlight is now back to being called an "electric torch", a car is a "roadster", Nancy's hair is back to its original golden bob. Thank you Applewood for bringing us "new" originals, and doing the same for the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and Judy Bolton books!
So recently, while researching for a character in the series of detective stories that I write, I decided that the character had been a Nancy Drew fan as a girl. I wanted to get a better sense of the books, so I headed down to the lower school library at the school where I work and borrowed The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk.
Nancy Drew is credited to Carolyn Keene, a pseudonym for a whole succession of ghostwriters. According to a very comprehesive Wikipedia entry, this particular mystery was plotted and edited by Harriet S. Adams, the daughter of the original creator, Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer plotted the first four books, but died before they were published. The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk was written by Mildred A. Wirt from Ms. Adams' outline.
The Nancy Drew mysteries have been revised and updated starting in the late 1950's, but I was very pleased to find that the edition in my school library was the original 1940 printing. This earlier printing has 25 chapters, as compared with the standard 20 in current editions of Nancy Drew.
The story has Nancy and loyal "chums" (is it just me, or are the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books the only places where this word means something other than shark bait?), Bess Marvin and George Fayne, preparing for a steamship cruise to South America. Awkward, tomboyish George and girly panicky Bess are Nancy's loyal friends and sleuthing-partners throughout the series.
Long before their ship sets sail, the girls find themselves caught up in a series of intriques involving several passengers booked on the ship. There are also recurring problems involving the new brass-hinged steamer trunk that Nancy's father has bought for her. In fact, as it turns out there are two identical trunks, and that is just the beginning of the mistaken identities in this story.
To my surprise and amusement, I discovered that this book is not so much as mystery as a Shakespearean comedy, complete with the requisite matchmaking and even a young woman disguised in male garb. Plot-wise there is plenty of complexity here, both in terms of the mystery elements and the romantic subplots. Several of the secondary characters are fairly interesting.
Nancy herself, of course, comes off as nearly infallible. Any doubts that she has about her own capablities are fleeting, and she takes every setback in stride. Her companions don't show much depth of character, existing mostly by virtue of their contrast with each other.
That being said, I enjoyed the friendship, loyalty, and courage displayed by the main characters.
Readers might find these books sexist when compared to more recent works featuring female characters, and there are certainly some chauvanistic elements (the characters obsess over clothes to the point where the loss of a steamer trunk leaving that character with "Nothing to wear!" is treated as pretty serious peril), but didn't find it to be excessive. When it comes down to it here, these young ladies are portrayed as being competent, independent, and intelligent.
The girls even get a fight scene, one that they initiate! Okay, it's so brief as to barely count (and our heroines get trounced), but it was more than I was expecting. Most of the action, of course, is on the social front, and some of Nancy's most revealing moments come with the social dilemnas she faces.
More disturbing was the emphasis on wealth that permeates the book. Nancy and her friend are rich, and this is presented as the norm. Their world seems to have almost no place for the poor or even the middle class (there is a very brief encounter with some stereotypical street urchins on the streets of Buenos Aires, but it is almost completely glossed over).
The story concludes in a bit of an anticlimactic fashion, as there is no final direct confrontation between Nancy and the villains, and proceeds to the Shakespearian wrapping up of the various identy mix-ups and romantic entanglements.
In general, I found the plot to be stronger than the writing, which is stilted in clumsy on a sentence-to-sentence basis. Considering the wealth of setting and characters presented in the scenario, the descriptions are bland, and the prose overly simple. The writing here is just not all that good.
Still, I enjoyed this more than I expected to. Definitely worth the read for a quick dose of nostalgic fun.