“Nancy, Bess and George visit Emerson for the university’s summer festivities. The girls are guests in a historic mansion on Pine Hill. Upon arriving, their host tells about the phantom haunting the mansion’s library. He also relates his family’s decades old saga of a lost French wedding gown and valuable gifts that went to the bottom of a nearby cove in the sinking of the Lucy Belle. Is there connection between the phantom and the old ship disaster? Nancy and her friends work diligently to solve the mystery of Pine Hill and to find the long-lost wedding treasures. “
You know how some books stick with you forever? Well, The Phantom of Pine Hill (Amazon) was definitely not one of them for me. As a child, I read Nancy Drew books voraciously, one after another, clearly enjoying them. Yet as recently as 2015 when I read through the first 56 Nancy Drew Mysteries, I only marked that I liked the book with reservations but without a reason why.
It’s June, and for some reason Emerson College is still in session, with plenty of events like a party and a parade leading up to finals week. And for some reason, Emerson is mentioned as being in the Ohio Valley near the Ohio River, which makes the mystery of where Nancy Drew lives more baffling. When the series began, the setting was supposed to be Iowa, where ghostwriter Mildred Wirt Benson lived. Then, the story started shifting east to Ohio, where Benson moved, and by the time Harriet Stratemeyer Adams had a firm hold on Nancy, she seemed to live in upstate New York or New Jersey because a trip to Aunt Eloise in New York was a short plane trip. Now, this book shifts back towards Ohio, or at least the Ohio Valley.
In case you’ve ever wondered, because it’s only mentioned in passing in prior books, Ned is studying chemical engineering. His fraternity, Omega Chi Epsilon is for students with that major. He’s such a big deal on campus, he’s voted president of the fraternity for the following year.
While the cover of the book is cringe-worthy in and of itself with Ned dressed as an indigenous person, it’s also baffling when describing the massacre that occurred in settler days. The gang can’t imagine why the Indians would kills the settlers, with which they previously had a good relationship. The supposition that’s given at the book’s end isn’t really a satisfying conclusion and is rather cringe-worthy in its colonialism.
Ned has a professor (“Uncle John”) Rorick who lives on Pine Hill that features a locked library that somehow gets broken into. At first, it was just petty cash that was found missing. Then it was valuable coins. The money in the safe is gone, too. Nancy and the gang can find no way to get into the room, hence the “phantom” who seemingly walks through walls. Adding a second lock doesn’t help, adding a lock with an alarm doesn’t work; Nancy is stymied.
There’s also the mystery of the Lucy Belle, a ship that was carrying gold and a trunk with the Rorick dowry which had a gown and a veil and a fan that came from the Queen of France. Quite frankly, the mystery of the Lucy Belle and the treasure hunt that ensues is far more interesting that the phantom aspect of the novel. The book would have been far better served if the focus was only on one mystery, but as the reader knows, Nancy is often involved in several mysteries at once, which all seem to connect in the end.
In terms of peril, Nancy is knocked unconscious when a secret panel falls on her, when scuba diving she gets stuck in a shipwreck and her oxygen is briefly cut off, Dave falls headfirst into a chimney and gets stuck, and both Nancy and George are incapacitated by a knockout spray gun; who knows what the knockout gas or spray was.
This last incident leaves it to Bess to save the day. Timid Bess, who ends up knocking out the bad guy, calling the police for help, and detaining the accomplice until help arrives. It’s about time Bess is shown as having some courage instead of always being the naysayer in these mysteries.
For my Nancy Drew book reviews, click here.
For more information about my favorite sleuth, check out Jenn Fisher’s Unofficial Nancy Drew website, which has a wealth of information.
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