Old Mansions, Dying Wishes, and Family Secrets
Author: Carolyn Keene
In Nancy’s ninth adventure, a chance encounter at an old inn unveils family secrets that may end Nancy’s friendship with Bess and George. When a storm and downed trees lead the girls to an inn adorned with twisted candles the girls discover Asa Sidney, Bess and George’s wealthy yet reclusive great-granduncle, essentially imprisoned in the turret. As Nancy pursues Asa’s seeming misery, she meets Carol Wipple, the sixteen year old foster daughter of the caretakers who imprison Asa and try to discourage the girls from visiting him so ruthlessly. Impelled by pity to seek answers for Asa and to ease the mistreated Carol’s suffering, Nancy soon begins to realize that the old man has made mistakes in his life that he deeply regrets and has set up a way that in his death he can make recompense. It will only work if Nancy can help though and if she can understand the subtle web of clues left for her.
One of Nancy’s most exciting adventures, The Sign of the Twisted Candles immediately starts with a great setting. Gothic mansion turned inn, filled with carvings and staircases and secret passages and all the hidden intrigue a sleuth could ever desire. To match the place, which is both elegant and more than a little grim, we have the suitably shady caretakers, Frank and Emma Jemmit. The Jemmits are obvious in their villainy (of course, it is young adult fiction) and money grubbing to their core. Poor Asa’s loneliness and the idea of the man, confined to one room and slowly dying there, gives them little pause. Nancy and what she may find out about them, and what they have been doing to slowly profit from Asa, on the other hand, makes them afraid. Compelled by fear, the Jemmits build more schemes to put Nancy in danger.
For the most part, Nancy is alone on this one. Bess and George get drawn into the fracas on the other side of right this time (something that really, Keene could have better exploited for the drama factor). She does team up with Carol, who in traditional heroine fashion is more apt to faint than be actually helpful. This gives us a chance to see Nancy at her most daring and most engaging. There is much for her to thwart as she tries to unravel the mystery. The villains are active and if not especially smart, able and willing to go to extreme and violent measures. This keeps everything interesting and the stakes high. Readers of all ages, including yours truly, will be hooked and excited to watch the action and the mystery escalate.
The ending is predictable and yet satisfying in only the way of a Nancy Drew story. Good wins, evil is suitably shamed and discouraged, the beleaguered characters are given relief, and friendship flourishes again. The only thing that spoils an otherwise perfect and atmospheric adventure is the tiff with Bess and George. It goes against the cousin’s already well established characters, and then is too easily and effortlessly resolved. The novel doesn’t give us the time to build sadness or anger at the loss of Bess and George before they are back in the fold. Nancy, true to her own nature, doesn’t really get upset either, and as readers we’d like to see a little more realism on that point.
Nevertheless, Sign of the Twisted Candles is one of the best Nancy Drew books. I’m eager to continue my trek down nostalgia lane (where I have already, honestly, passed what I read as a child) as I explore the Nancy Drew mystery series.
– Frances Carden
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