When Nancy and her friends ride deep into the Sawniegunk Forest in search of a flying saucer, they find themselves in the middle of more than one mystery. Wildcats, runaway horses, deadly snakes, and a disappearing Indian keep the sleuths tangled in danger and suspense.
The Flying Saucer Mystery (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (AbeBooks) has repeatedly made the annals of the worst Nancy Drew book of the entire series. I didn’t remember much about it beyond gorgeous artwork by Ruth Sanderson in the original Wanderer paperback. Revisiting this book from my childhood was a gas, metaphorically speaking.
I have no idea what the publishers were thinking when they green-lit this book. Perhaps it was an attempt to shake things up with Nancy Drew; I haven’t read the Hardy Boys to know if a similar plot shift happened at the same time. This is only the second book released by the new publisher, and I can’t imagine they were very happy with the results.
Nancy and all the usual suspects (Bess, George, Ned, Burt & Dave) are involved in this case. “Dad received word—secretly of course—that several people in the vicinity of Shawniegunk Mountain had seen a UFO come down and disappear.” Nancy’s dad wants her to check it out, so they start their adventure. They’ve got guides and packhorses that always seem to be running off, it’s ridiculous. After about the third time of part of the gang being sent off to find the horses, I had to laugh. Apparently horses running off was all the ghostwriter could think of with this book.
Anyway, the gang meets an old mountain man named Old Joe who has his own little mystery to solve, of course. Nancy Drew books are nothing if not filled with multiple mysteries that ultimately tie together in the end. Old Joe knows about the flying saucer and provides some intel. “Old Joe smiled. “I think that’s partially true. As for myself, I never could be sure whether it was a real unidentified flying object from outer space or some government experimental aircraft.” “Then you’ve seen it?” Ned asked. The naturalist said indeed he had. “The saucer usually appears at night and has very bright lights. I’ve seen only white lights, but some folks say at times they’re red, other times green, and even yellow.”
They also meet a Native American named Shoso who is every white person’s idea of a stereotypical Indian. He, too, is somewhat of a mystery, but will become of some importance later on. He only speaks his native language, which is revealed to be Shawnee. He’s helpful, yet distant. At one point, he gives Nancy and Ned some greens to chew on after their acid trip in the swamp, which has some medicinal properties.
There’s a place called Dismal Swamp on the mountain, where there’s nasty smelling gas and where the UFO in question likes to land. “The ground in Dismal Swamp was spongy but passable. What almost stopped them, though, was the rank, gaseous odor. They wondered: How much of it was from the swamp and how much emanated from the flying saucer?”
When Ned and Nancy arrive at Dismal Swamp to see the UFO, which has conveniently returned while they’re around, they go on a magic mushroom trip. Almost a whole chapter is devoted to this trippy, gas fume-induced dream that Nancy has, where she and Ned grow wings, have mental telepathy, and travel to other planets on the ship. When Nancy and Ned come to, the ship is gone, and they decide to take a soil sample from beneath the ship for testing, but it burns a hole through their bag and injures the horse that was carrying it. There’s a fear that it is radioactive, so Nancy calls her dad, and he agrees to come out to the mountain with some experts who can conduct all sorts of scientific experiments on Dismal Swamp. Nancy’s dad has another mystery for her to solve, and for once, Nancy turns him down because she’s got her hands full. “Oh, I wish I could help.” Nancy sighed. “Dad, why don’t you suggest she contact our friends the Dana Girls? They’re great at solving mysteries.” To this day, I have only tried to read one Dana Girls, and that was back in grade school. The library had accidentally ordered one of their books instead of a Nancy Drew book and I checked it out but couldn’t get into the mystery because I kept hoping Nancy would show up to help out. 🙂
‘“I was wondering if we should notify the FBI or another top-secret agency about the flying saucer. I have a strong hunch the ship will come back. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the U.S. could capture it?” Mr. Drew stared at his daughter, then grinned. “It’s a great idea but a big order. We don’t know if the saucer is from outer space, or the property of some rival country that’s spying on us. In any case, I’ll ride into town and make some phone calls.” Maybe it was a Chinese balloon? Sorry, too easy, and probably too soon to make jokes about that.
At one point, a chopper flies overhead and needs a place to land, but they’re in the middle of a freakin’ forest, so the chopper lowers down some axes, saws and other implements so the guys can chop down a bunch of trees, clear the stumps, and do it all in record time so the chopper can land. I was laughing so hard at that. That would take days in real life. Another unrealistic thing in this Nancy Drew Mysteries volume.
As for all the experiments, “Dr. Halpern said, “I assume all of you are eager to know what we found. Frankly we have divided opinions. Some of us think the swamp produced the acid. Others feel the UFO left the acid which may have scorched one area of the swamp.” Nancy asked, “Have you decided yet what the chemical is?” Dr. Halpern said that the scientists were still puzzled. “All I can tell you is that we’ve determined it is a strong, nonflammable acid, but very penetrating. One question is, if the flying saucer is responsible, did the acid come from some other planet?”
We find out that Old Joe and Shoso are actually brothers, of course, as all these coincidences are common in a Nancy Drew book. Apparently, Joe’s father was stepping out with a Native American woman, as told in a letter Nancy found in the woods along with a box of treasure. The letter read “your mother was a full-blooded Indian. She belonged to a small tribe of the Shawnee nation that used to live in this mountaintop forest. You had an older brother who looked just like her. He was mysteriously kidnapped, and I am sure he was taken away by the Indians, who did not approve of me.”
The flying saucer returns and crash lands in the swamp. Then, shortly thereafter, another “space ship”, cylindrical-looking and unlike anything Nancy and the gang had ever seen, lands. Out hops the U.S. Air Force, which comes to reclaim the UFO, which is apparently an experimental craft of their own design. It was created ten years prior and flew away on them and mysteriously reappeared in recent months. The mystery of where the craft was for the past ten years is never answered.
In terms of danger, other than the horses running off all the time, leaving the gang stranded, Bess falls down some rocky terrain and hits her head, and George is bitten by a snake when she stupidly reaches into the hollow of a tree. But that’s George for you; sometimes she rushes into things before Nancy’s level-headedness can warn her.
Oh, and apparently George and Burt are mushroom experts. That’s something new. I’ve got family members who go ‘shrooming every May for the very expensive, yet not-to-hard-to-find around here Morel mushrooms. It’s a handy skill to have.
I don’t think The Flying Saucer Mystery is as bad as it has been made out over the years, but that doesn’t mean it’s that good either.
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