I’m at the half-way point of the original Grosset & Dunlap Nancy Drew Mysteries, which are the first 56 books in the series. The Clue of the Black Keys was published in 1951 and revised in 1968. I read the Original Text for this review.
From the publisher: “During an archaeological expedition in Mexico, two professors, the senior Dr. Joshua Pitt and young Terry Scott find a clue to buried treasure. The clue was a cipher carved on a stone tablet. Before the older professor had time to translate it, he and the tablet disappeared! Terry tells Nancy of his suspicions of a Mexican couple, posing as scientists, who vanished the same night as Dr. Pitt. Nancy follows a tangled trail of clues that lead to Florida and Mexico and a secret of antiquity that can only be unlocked by three black keys.”
I found this book okay, but not great. I looked at my rating from 5 years ago when I read the series last and rated The Clue of the Black Keys (Amazon) two stars. And now I remember why after revisiting the tale. For much of the book, not a lot happens. Sure, Terry Scott also gets kidnapped and Nancy has to track him down, and Nancy loses consciousness when one of the bad guys takes down a road construction sign and she crashes into a ditch. But that’s just another day in Nancy Drew’s world. I felt like the first half of the book was just filler, until Nancy gets to go to Florida with a college group. In order to go with the group, Nancy must pass a college exam, and is able to after cramming for much of one day. Not bad, Nancy, so why aren’t you in college?
A group of professors are seeking an ancient treasure in the shape of a silver frog. But beware treasure hunters, it may also bring “the destruction of mankind”?! The bad guys have the three black obsidian keys that will unlock a treasure chest. Much of the book had Nancy holding one half of one of the keys despite many attempts to steal it. Finally, the crooks get ahold of it while they are in Florida, and they charter a plane to Mexico where the treasure is located. But Nancy and her helpers (sorry, Bess and George, who complain about not being able to afford a trip to Florida and aren’t with Nancy this time) have summoned the police and catch the bad guys.
The police and Nancy and the professors (who have all been found) make the bad guys dig for the treasure. When they find it, the chest opens with the black keys, and it’s full of little silver frogs, one of which contains a powder that is either a deadly powder or a restorative herb depending on which professor you ask. The professors decide to bring the frog and the substance to a university laboratory where it can be determined what it really is. And then the book just ENDS! There’s no follow-up and we’ll never know the results because Nancy is already looking forward to her next case.
I’m not quite sure what the ghost writer was doing with the Terry Scott character because he’s described as young and very attractive and Bess teases Nancy about him. The fact that Ned doesn’t feel threatened by Nancy’s sudden closeness with the professor isn’t surprising, either. Nancy uses and abuses Ned throughout the series and he puts up with it because he realizes that Nancy’s real love is for mysteries, not another man.
As with many of the Nancy Drew books written in the first half of the last century, there is an issue with stereotyping people, and this book is no exception, this time with the Hispanic bad guy, who is described as “dark and swarthy.” The revision really didn’t get rid of the language, either. It’s not as bad as the first few books of the series, but it still makes me cringe.
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