Returning home from a carnival with George and Bess, Nancy only has time to briefly admire a house they pass before it bursts into flames. The girls are the first people on the scene, but the heat of the fire is so intense there's no question of getting inside to discover if there are people trapped inside.
Going around to the back of the house Nancy spots a man fleeing into the woods and finds a diary. From the crowd that gathers around the building Nancy learns that the property belongs to wealthy owners who are out of town, and there is little sympathy for the couple.
In the crush of cars leaving, Nancy meets a helpful young man named Ned Nickerson who is directing traffic away from the fire. It's bizarre to see Nancy, so indifferent to boys before, go head over heels so quickly over Ned. He's briefly a suspect, but not for long, even though some of his behavior is a little suspicious.This must have been the result of editorial interference as this is still the work of the original ghostwriter - though Mildred Wirt Benson would take a hiatus from the series for a few volumes after this.
The writing is still more vivid then the revised versions I remember from when I was a kid, but my complaint is still the reliance on coincidence. I'd like to see Nancy do a little more sleuthing, please. I actually liked the doting attention on Honey Swenson, the daughter of the main suspect in the arson case and who COINCIDENTALLY Nancy and co. ran into at the carnival before the fire started. It's that pushy, do-gooding side of Nancy that makes her a little more human.
The revised version of the book, done in 1962, has most of the same plot elements. I don't remember, and the internet isn't helping, but I can't believe Nancy's speeding away from the cops was left in the revised version, either. Othereise, Nancy doesn't swoon for Ned in the beginning of their friendship and there was dance subtracted and a mail fraud plot added in - which is really weird because mail fraud is the heart of the plot of the next book - 'Nancy's Mysterious Letter'.
Next: 'Nancy's Mysterious Letter'
Previous: 'The Secret of Red Gate Farm'