I'm probably being a little harsh with the rating here, as this, like 'The Bungalow Mystery' had no objectionable content like other unrevised volumes. Well, unobjectionable as long as you're OK with Nancy and company heading off into the mountains with a gun they claim not to know how to use. It's a part of the adventure! There's a bit of jaw-dropping ending, too, but we'll get to that.
This is really more of a wilderness adventure novel than a mystery story, which is fine. Nancy is encouraged to travel to the run-down but scenic Shadow Ranch with cousins Elizabeth "Bess" Marvin and George (never short for Georgia) Fayne with an aunt and another, younger cousin Alice Regor.
Unlike the 1961 revision there is no ghostly happenings or buried treasure, instead the girls spend their time enjoying the outdoors, learning to ride and exploring the Arizona countryside which is wild and wooded in this part of the state. Time is spent on the learning process and readers are told the girls went many places with a guide before being allowed to roam alone. Casual remarks are made about bears stealing lunch baskets and Nancy has to shoot rattlesnakes and lynx's all over the place.
Interestingly, this is also the first time in the original books we see Nancy at a dance or other social occasion with young men, and she's too distracted by a mystery man to pay attention to the handsome young doctor she's dancing with! Bess, on the other hand, and George as well if she's being honest, are disappointed there are no young cowboys employed at the remote ranch.
There are two mysteries. The first is that Alice's father vanished eight years ago. The world assumes he abandoned his family, but there were no debts or suspicions of any reason why. There's no reason for a man who vanished heading to Philadelphia to end up in Arizona, but...well. The other mystery is a sullen old woman who keeps a child in rags in a cottage neighboring the ranch. Nancy sees the beautiful child and knows Lucy Brown is "better" than "squatter's stock" and is sure something is going on.
The conclusions of the mysteries were a little far-fetched and absurd for me, especially when Nancy declares she doesn't want to press charges and lets the villains go. It's merciful and all, but it baffles me.
As I said, the mysteries come second to the experiences in the wild, rounding up cattle, and developing the characters of George and Bess who are clearly NOT Helen Cornish or any other friend-of-the-week that Nancy has had before this. I really enjoyed those parts and this is another worth putting into the hands of a young reader.
Nancy Drew Mysteries
Next: 'Secret of Red Gate Farm'
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