From the publisher: “Nancy Drew races against time to unravel the clues in a dead man’s letters. If she succeeds, Philip March and his little granddaughter can be saved from financial ruin. Following obscure clues, Nancy undertakes a search for some unpublished musical manuscripts which she believes are hidden in the dark, cluttered attic of the rundown March mansion. But someone else wants them enough to put many frightening obstacles in Nancy’s way. Will she outwit a trio of ruthless thieves and solves the Marches’ problems?”
The Secret in the Old Attic (Nancy Drew Mysteries #21) Original Text (Amazon) (AbeBooks) and Revised Text (Amazon) (AbeBooks) involves a packet of love letters that has been dropped off at Carson Drew’s office and he brings them home, but doesn’t want to look through them because they’re personal. The man that left them, Mr. March, wants Carson to look through them for clues to missing unpublished music his son wrote and hid, without telling anyone where the scores were kept. Nancy offers to take a look at the letters but can find no clues at first glance.
Mr. March stops by and collapses from undernourishment (in the Revised Text, he’s standing outside and someone throws a rock at him and hits him in the head for no apparent reason, other than to let Nancy know there’s someone else looking for the missing music) so he stays with the Drew’s overnight. He must return to his home soon because his granddaughter, Susan, will be returning. If he can not find Fipp’s music, he will not be able to afford to take care of her.
While Mr. March convalesces, Nancy puts her radio in his room and soon after Mr. March starts yelling.. He says that the song he just heard was one he recognized as his son’s work:
“That song has been stolen!” He cries out. “You must find the thief!”
Nancy goes with Mr. March to his home and finds it a rundown mansion with slave quarters in the back. (In the revised text, they are called “servants quarters”.) Indeed, when Bess and George visit, Bess finds the slave quarters quite quaint, imagining “mammies crooning, little pickaninnies dancing.” Of course, this was taken out of the RT, but I don’t see why the publishers had to excise the word “slave”. The house is pretty bare, but there might be some stuff in the attic, Mr. March says.
Okay, here’s what I don’t understand. Nancy and the gang know their best shot at finding the music is in the attic or the slave quarters because Mr. March hasn’t done much looking there, but they don’t spend all day working at it. They go up there, candle or flashlight in hand (no electricity up there and just one small window for light), find a few things for Mr. March to sell to Mr. Faber, the antique dealer Nancy met in The Clue of the Jewel Box (read my review here). Then they bring the stuff downstairs and they’re done for the day. Then, after some time passes, Nancy wants to search again and the process is repeated. They always seem to want to search at night, when there’s no natural light, and they don’t do a thorough job. I say start after breakfast and work all day, and this mystery would have been solved much faster!
The OT and the RT are basically the same with a few changes. The OT has some parts where Nancy is not involved in the action, and there are scenes being described with other characters to help further the plot. I found that a weird plot device that hadn’t been used before. I’ve seen it lots of times in adult books, but rarely in a Nancy Drew.
The OT also has a subplot about Ned Nickerson ignoring Nancy for most of the book and an annoying Emerson senior begging her over and over to take her to the dance. There’s also a mean girl, Diane Dight, who may have stolen Ned’s attention because Nancy sees a letter from Ned in Diane’s hand. Dight’s father runs a fabric-making factory that Carson Drew wants investigated so he sends Nancy in there, so in truth, as in most Nancy Drew books, she’s got two mysteries to solve now.
When Susan is set to return, the woman who was taking care of her admits that she can’t find the little girl and waited a day to tell Mr. March. WTH? And all she can offer up is “It’s not my fault.” Of course, somehow this 6-year old knew how to get to her grandfather’s house and is found in an outbuilding on the estate, sick with fever. In the RT, Susan is never missing, but she’s returned to Mr. March with a fever and the caretaker still says it’s not her fault. Weird.
As in typical Nancy Drew fashion, Carson Drew’s mystery and Nancy’s mystery have the same villain. She knows who the bad guy is, and he is finally caught, but there’s so much that Nancy didn’t know. In both versions, there was so much explaining of what the bad guy confessed to after being caught, it took up most of the chapter, and Nancy didn’t know most of the information going in. It’s nice how the police just let Nancy go in and interrogate criminals she’s caught!
Overall, I liked the hunting around in the attic and the treasures found, but got frustrated every time Nancy stopped investigating it. And to be honest, I just skimmed the RT to find out what parts had been excised to make the book shorter. This mystery was just okay for me, but I know a lot of people like it. I do have to say, though, that the original cover art by Russell Tandy is a favorite of mine. Really, volumes 18-22 with the Tandy art are my favorites.
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