The Spider Sapphire Mystery (Nancy Drew #45) by Carolyn Keene

Oh yes, I’m still reading Nancy Drew novels. As an adult with far too much literary criticism classes, reading them is a very different experience for me than it was as a kid. Then, reading these books was like watching action blockbusters – sure, in the back of my mind I knew they were silly and outlandish and there were better things I could be doing, but dammit I was having fun. Nowadays, the experience is a little different. Reading Nancy Drew now is like watching a Mystery Science Theater short – one of those 1950’s informational ones on personal grooming or careers for ladies. Now the outlandish, outdated absurdity is brought forward into the harsh light of day, and I am suddenly aware of how stupid these books really are. But I still read them, because they’re still fun. The casual sexism and racism is just a bonus.

That’s why I think Spider Sapphire Mystery is the ideal introductory book for initiating the innocent into the world of Nancy Drew. There’s jewel thieves and rich people and lots of attempts to kill Nancy and her friends (Ned even gets kidnapped and then anything that may have remained of his masculinity is destroyed when Nancy rescues him). And the majority of the story takes place in Africa (Nancy and the gang get to go on a safari, yay!), so there’s lots of great vintage racism. And at the same time, everything is just so goddamn wholesome it makes your teeth hurt:

“Before long, the chattering, laughing Emerson group hurried aboard the chartered plane. When they were airborne, small groups began singing songs, some of them college numbers, others from musical comedy hits. Once in a while someone would call out a wisecrack and set everyone laughing.”

Doesn’t that just sound swell? Safaris! Nice, grinning natives! Chartered planes! Musical comedy singalongs! WISECRACKING!

Someone in this group needs to figure out that it’s the 60’s, and fast. Shrooms and rock music and premarital necking for everyone!

Verdict: three out of five stars

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