“Nancy goes to the Excello Flying School in the Midwest to take lessons, while her friends Bess and George perfect their horseback riding. At once the young sleuth is confronted with the mystery of a hijacked plane and a missing pilot. Then the rancher’s prize pony, Major, is stolen. Nancy becomes a detective in a plane and on horseback to track down the elusive sky phantom and the horse thief. A lucky find – a medal with a message to be deciphered on it – furnishes a worthwhile clue. Romance is added to mystery when Bess becomes interested in a handsome cowboy. Readers will spur Nancy on as she investigates a strange magnetic cloud, hunts for the horse thief, and finally arrives at a surprising solution.”
One of the Nancy Drew Mysteries TV show starring Pamela Sue Martin in the late 1970’s opened with Nancy flying a glider plane. It was the first episode I saw, so naturally, when I picked up The Sky Phantom (Amazon) (AbeBooks) for the first time, I thought the episode was based upon the book. Wrong! But it goes without saying that of course Nancy would take flying lessons because she can do anything.
Nancy, Bess and George are vacationing at a ranch in the Midwest where there are also tall mountains. I guess it depends upon what one considers the Midwest, but the girls are definitely not in Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota. Nancy is also taking flying lessons while on vacation.
At the ranch, Pop’s prize palomino goes missing, there’s an abandoned plane with a missing pilot, and a strange cloud hovers between the mountains. There doesn’t seem to be any urgency in finding the missing pilot, which is weird. In fact, there’s not much mystery despite the missing man and pony. The book sort of meanders around until the last chapter, when some random dude who had never been mentioned before turns out to be the bad guy. And of course, it goes without saying that Ned, Burt and Dave are able to find time to visit, and for Ned to reveal he’s been taking flying lessons, too. Can’t have Nancy one up you, Ned, can you?
Bess is having an emotional crisis because she’s become attached to a cowboy named Chuck, who asks her to marry him. She has no idea what to do since she is also fond of Dave, and while Nancy is normally more empathetic to people in trouble, she hardly does anything to help Bess. It’s very un-Nancy like. For once, George does not hammer away at Bess about her weight; it’s one of the only redeeming things about the book.
Then there’s this storm cloud, which acts like the Bermuda Triangle and messes with a plane’s instruments, but that doesn’t stop Nancy from flying in there to check it out. She and her instructor see what looks like an animal, then a man (as depicted on the cover.)
In what has to be some sort of FAA violation, there’s a plane chase at the end which has seven planes circling around the bad guy. And they can all land in basically the same place. This isn’t as surprising as one would think. I’m 50 miles away from one of the largest experimental aircraft conventions in the world, and hundreds of planes of all sizes converge on a large field every summer for ten days. Small airplanes like the one Nancy is piloting can land on short runways.
In what can only be seen as shocking for a Nancy Drew book, a horse is shot in the leg and has to be put down in front of the girls. I didn’t remember this as I re-read the book, so apparently it wasn’t so shocking to me as a child. And taking a page from Nancy Drew #5. The Secret of/at Shadow Ranch, a bur is put under the saddle of a horse to make it buck its rider.
For no reason whatsoever, Nancy is exploring a cave when a ton of crude oil comes raining down through the cracks, which also sends scads of mice scrambling. Nancy slips and slides her way to the entrance of her cave.
In terms of peril, burlap sacks are put over Nancy and Ned’s heads and they have to gnaw their way out.
As for the mystery cloud, it turns out it’s seeded with experimental magnetic dust that can be manipulated by remote control. ??!! Don’t even get me started with the fact that this is the first book that I can recall where the “current events” of the cold war and an attempted coming revolution (another ??!!) come in to play. This book is all over the place. Definitely one of the weaker entries in the series.
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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