“Excitement is high when Nancy delves into the theft of a fabulous sapphire formed by nature millions of years ago. Her father’s client is Mr. Ramsey, a designer of beautiful and unusual synthetic gems. He is accused of stealing the magnificent spider sapphire and exhibiting it as his own creation. In River Heights and while on a safari with a group of college students, Nancy has several thrilling experiences. In Africa, she uncovers a nefarious scheme directed at Mr. Ramsey and locates a missing jungle guide.”
What could be boring about an African safari and a couple of mysteries to solve while on the continent? You’d be surprised. In The Spider Sapphire Mystery (Amazon), there’s this sapphire with a spider embedded in it in Africa that goes missing. It just so happens that a guy in River Heights who creates synthetic gems replicates the spider sapphire. Nancy encounters a couple of dark-skinned gentlemen and assumes they are Indian, not sure why, there are lots of darker-complexioned people who aren’t Indian, but whatever, this is a Nancy Drew story.
Even for 1968, when this book was published, there’s a lot of weird stuff in this book, like the fact that the group sees an African woman perform at Emerson college and she asks Nancy to find her missing brother, not even knowing where in Africa they are going. In fact, throughout the whole book, Africa is treated more like a country and not a continent. When a city is mentioned, I said to myself “Oh, they’re going to Kenya,” you know, an actual country? It’s as if the continent is only a medium-sized country.
Of course, the trip is organized by Emerson College and students can bring along a friend if they pay the student rate, so of course Nancy and the gang are all going. Before they can even leave River Heights, Ned is kidnapped, and the crew must track him down. Clues lead them to a pear orchard. “Before anyone had a chance to get out of the car, a sedan suddenly roared up behind them. Two revolvers poked from the windows and shots were fired at the tires of Nancy’s convertible. The next moment four masked men leaped from the sedan and surrounded her car. One of the men ordered in a gruff voice, “Get out and follow us!”” Holy crap, shots fired in a Nancy Drew mystery! That hasn’t happened in a long time. I vaguely remember her packing heat in one of the first couple of books published in the 1930’s, but guns rarely go off in a Nancy Drew book.
“The two police officers looked at her admiringly. “You know, Miss Drew,” said Riggi, “you ought to be a secret agent.” “I’d love that,” Nancy said quickly.” I just thought that was funny because normally Nancy is so demure when it comes to praise or suggestion she become a detective or police officer.
The gang finally makes their way to Kenya about 35% of the way into the book and on the flight is a super hyper, overly dressed and made up young lady with an obvious blonde wig. She absolutely goes ape when the pilot asks everyone to take their seats and buckle up because of turbulence. “A few moments later the plane began to roll sharply to left and right. The craft sank again as if it had suddenly lost all of its lift. This time the plane seemed to be going completely out of control.” Can’t Nancy every have an uneventful flight. It seems the only time that happens is when she’s visiting her Aunt Eloise in New York.
Besides that peril, there are a few other things that happen. “Nancy’s thoughts were suddenly blotted out when a sack was pulled down over her head and quickly tied around her neck. ” The sack was lined with plastic, but luckily help came quickly. Also, there’s a scene where a large baboon grabs George from the Treetop House and runs off into the forest with her. Of course, it turns out to be a man in disguise, and George manages to free herself. Yay, George!
I know it’s a sign of the times that this book was written, but the following passage really upset me, even as a kid. “…commercial area where ivory auctions took place twice a year. Buyers came from all over the world. The warehouse manager showed the girls around. Tusks of elephant and rhino ivory lay on the floor.” Even as a child of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I knew that harvesting ivory was barbaric. My mom & dad let me join a few wildlife organizations because of this book as well as some lessons at school about hunting animals in the wild.
“He is a black and like so many of those people is a very fine wood carver.” Yeah, there’s just a lot of problematic issues with the way blacks are described. They’re always described as “a black” or “African black” as if a kid would forget that the book takes place there.
Ned does a fantastic Scooby Doo recap of all the bad guys had done to thwart Nancy: ““You nearly smothered Nancy with a plastic-lined sack and stuck a warning note in her hand. And you burned all the clothes and suitcases of Miss Drew and two other girls. You even stole their jewelry. After you kidnapped me, you sabotaged Miss Drew’s car and tried to keep her from flying to Africa by phoning her father’s office that I wasn’t coming. And you put acid on the handle of her suitcase to delay her work. It might have scarred her for life!””
I clearly have a lot of issues with the way the book was written, and quite frankly, even shoving that aside, the mystery was lackluster. While I’ve always enjoyed the colorful cover of the book, this is a volume of the Nancy Drew Mysteries that I won’t revisit anytime soon.
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