The Secret in the Old Lace (Nancy Drew Mysteries #59) by Carolyn Keene #NancyDrew #BookReview

While in Belgium investigating a 100-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Flemish nobleman, a pair of lace cuffs, and a priceless antique cross, Nancy, Bess and George learn that the girl detective’s entry in a short story contest may somehow be involved.

The Secret in the Old Lace (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (AbeBooks) brings back fond memories for me as this was the Nancy Drew I grew up with, bridging the hardcover and paperback world to get my Nancy fix. This was one of my first Nancy Drew book purchases, and I had a special interest in Nancy’s trip to Belgium since I have Belgian ancestry and live very near the largest concentration of Belgian immigrants to the United States.

Nancy’s got a mystery to solve on the other side of the pond. “It starts in Brussels, Belgium, in the nineteenth century. A handsome young man whose name was François Lefèvre received a pair of mysterious lace cuffs which he wore with a red velvet dress jacket… François disappeared suddenly with a rather sizable fortune. Neither his family nor friends ever heard from him again.” Nancy found out about the mystery in a magazine that asked for submissions to finish the story, and whomever wrote the best selection would win a prize.

Meanwhile, Bess gets and invite from a Madame Chambray to come to visit Belgium and solve a mystery of an antique cross. How coincidental! In the case of a Nancy Drew book, that’s hardly true. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two mysteries had something to do with each other. Oops, have I said too much? Even as a child, I could connect those sorts of clues rather easily, so it should be no surprise to adults, either.

A guy named Matey Johnson tries to break into the Drew home. He’s allegedly already stolen Mrs. Marvin’s letter all about Madame Chambray’s mystery, and now Nancy suspects he’s about to steal a manuscript she was working on for the magazine contest. Not too much later Nancy and Ned are carjacked by a group of teens. “We’re going to take your car apart, wise guy!” one of the boys replied. He ran to the trunk of his own car and got out a box of tools. “Here,” he said to one of his companions, “you disconnect the radio. I’ll get the hubcaps.” The third boy, who was the smallest and looked about fifteen years old, stood guard over Ned.” It turns out that Matey Johnson’s brother put the boys up to it.

Nancy has a heck of a time submitting her manuscript to the magazine, and when it arrives, another entry with the same details has been submitted prior to hers. Nancy is accused of plagiarizing! She promises the magazine publisher she’ll get to the bottom of the mystery, but until then, neither entry will be allowed in to the contest.

When Nancy, Bess & George arrives in Belgium, a tall, thin man steals her suitcase but authorities don’t seem too concerned because he went through an employee entrance. Nancy provides details about the case and it later arrives where the girls are staying.

Madame Chambray’s house is lovely, but being that she hasn’t lived there long, she hasn’t uncovered all of it’s secrets. Naturally, Nancy and crew start to investigate when Bess, in the rear of the group, disappears. “There, under the staircase, was a door made of heavy wood and painted the color of the stonework… George grasped the bolt firmly and yanked it back. The door swung open, revealing a small closet. Inside was Bess, a gag stuffed across her mouth, her wrists and ankles bound tightly. She sat on the floor, leaning against the cold stone wall, where spiders had fastened their cobwebs.”

As with many later Nancy Drew mysteries, there’s a bit of an info dump since this is a travelogue story. “Did you know that the original town of Brugge was on the seacoast? The name of our ancient town means city of bridges. Long ago it was a thriving port. But storms were so devastating, even the dikes could not save it. The merchants moved inland—to the spot where we are today—and dug a canal to connect the town with the ocean.” “That was quite an engineering feat,” Madame Chambray commented. “It’s about ten miles from here to the coast.”

Later on, Nancy tells Madame Chambray about her other real-life Belgian mystery and her manuscript mix-up. “What is it, Madame Chambray?” Nancy asked anxiously. “Is that name familiar to you?” “Mais oui—yes, indeed,” the woman cried out. “It is one of the names mentioned in the document I found. It was written by one Friedrich Vonderlicht, also known as François Lefèvre!” “I don’t believe it!” George blurted out. “You mean, François once owned this house?” “Apparently he did!” Of course he did!

It wouldn’t be a trip to Belgium unless there was a discussion about lace. “There were two types of lace, Hilda (A Belgian teen) explained: bobbin lace which originated in Belgium and needlepoint lace which developed at the same time in France.” If you’d like to know more about Belgian lace-making, try the Chloe Ellefson mystery book Set in Green Bay: The Lacemaker’s Secret by Kathleen Ernst which explains the art a little more, and you’ll get to know the area in which I live, too, with the Belgian Settlement just a few miles away.

The girls head to a museum, where they see a work of art that catches their eye. “The Belgian girl said she was not familiar with this particular painting. “I’ve been here many times but I don’t recall ever seeing it.” Aloud she read the small gold plate underneath the picture. “Le Cavalier et le Spectre Noir. Translated that means The Cavalier and the Black Ghost. It must be a rather recent acquisition.” “The man in this picture was an admirer of Gelder, and so was François Lefèvre! I’ll bet they’re one and the same person!” “If so,” Bess added, “perhaps there’s a hidden clue in the artwork that would help unravel the secret in the lace cuffs!” Nancy nodded eagerly. She opened her hand-hag, took out her magnifying glass, and trained it on the lace cuffs. “There’s a clue in one of these cuffs!” she exclaimed.

I had no idea until I read this book that eel was a delicacy in Belgium. A lot of Belgian food has made it’s way over the ocean like Belgian pies and trippe, but eel? No thanks. Poor Bess. “Bess, however, stopped giggling abruptly when the Permekes’ housemaid placed a plate of eels in green sauce in front of her. The girl lifted her eyes from the dish and turned to her cousin. George was smirking. “I dare you to try them!” George whispered in Bess’s ear. Bess poked her fork into the slippery meat, cutting off a small portion and popping it into her mouth. “It’s delicious,” she announced with a gulp.”

Sometime along the way, it turns out that one of the editors of the magazine Nancy was dealing with was in cahoots with the other person who submitted a similar story ending for the Belgian mystery. A diary is found and Nancy translates from French to English, and it turns out that Nancy’s story ending for her manuscript isn’t too far off from the truth.

I enjoyed this mystery despite the fact that there’s a few too many characters in it, and quite frankly, Nancy’s submission for the contest just adds to the convoluted solution. I’m sure kids wouldn’t mind, but as an adult going back to read the story, it’s a bit much. Otherwise, a thumbs up for me as I always enjoy when writers slip in some factoids into a children’s story.

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