The Secret of Red Gate Farm: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, #6 -- Carolyn Keene

Wow.  A cult.  A mysterious "oriental-looking" woman.  Foreign-make cars, secret service agents, an old lady trying to save her farm and a counterfeiting operation.

Certainly doesn't sound like the most boring Nancy Drew book so far, right?

Well, it is.  Book Six is definitely the current low point.  It took Nancy & Co. sixty pages just to GET to Red Gate Farm -- that's a third of the book!  Once they get there, it's back to Nancy-business as usual -- action, adventure and wholesome entertainment -- but it's a slow beginning.

  • The whole thing starts when Bess wants to buy perfume from an "oriental-looking" clerk, who doesn't want to sell it.  Bess insists, the lady finally breaks down, but all of the girls are very suspicious. 
  • My question may seem obvious, but in that case, it should have been obvious to the Bad Guys:  Why put something out for sale if you don't want to sell it to the general public? 

  • As for the "oriental-looking" clerk, she's apparently the only person of Asian descent in the River Heights area -- later, when it seems clear that she is very definitely involved in the mystery (duh), Nancy remarks:  "At least it shouldn't be too hard to find Yvonne Wong."
  • Not much in the way of new Nancy-skills:  Her first-aid skills come in handy again when she helps a fainting girl on the train (Later, George displays an amazingly bad memory when she scoffs "Girls don't faint these days."), she instinctively memorizes license plate numbers, deals with a snakebite, and, with the help of a book, she breaks an "unbreakable code" in two hours. 
  • She also learns how to milk a cow.  That was interesting -- I've never seen her described as "awkward" before.  Granted, the full description was "a bit awkward", but still.  She was really off her game this time around.

  • While we're on the topic of skills...  Nancy has a real talent for car accidents.  She just can't seem to get into her stylish blue convertible without some sort of catastrophe a few pages later.  It's a good thing she has sidekicks to push the car out of the ditch.
  • Though the book is low on Nancy-skills, we are treated to some important Nancy-life-lessons:

    In her active life the attractive, titian-haired young sleuth had learned that being on time was important.

    However, it was Nancy's lively interest in people that was largely responsible for involving her in unusual adventures...

    So, if you're always on time and sensitive to the needs of other people, You, Too, Could Be An Intrepid Girl Sleuth.

  • Carson Drew is a big help, as usual: 

    "I'd really like to help you with this mystery," her father said, "but I'm so tied up with this Clifton case I just can't tackle anything else right now."

  • As for the sidekicks, they come in very handy when Nancy decides to Play Hero and needs someone to carry her bags.  George is also a tad obsessed with the idea of being involved in another mystery:

    "Oh, Nancy," teased George, "there you go again, dreaming up another mystery!" (3)

    "Well, here we go again!  Never a dull moment with Nancy around!"  George laughed gaily.  (25)

    "I've never been with you yet that we didn't run into an adventure or mystery!  Maybe a trip to Red Gate will be exciting!" (42)

  • The Bad Guys are back to being easily identifiable by their cruel faces, "hostile, penetrating eyes", tacky clothes, coarse looks, foreign cars and all-around rudeness.  And don't forget the "distinctive Oriental features" -- always a good tip-off.  Also, Baddies frequently spend time in "dingy-looking" places and are very pushy when trying to buy property from nice little old ladies.
  • And now we move on to the cult.  It's a nature cult, called the Black Snake Colony.  They mostly live in tents and dance around by moonlight.  They seem odd, but pretty harmless.  But our Nancy doesn't think so -- if the townspeople don't like 'em, that's good enough for her.  Give her a pitchfork and a torch to wave and she'd be at the front of the mob.

    But, really. Give her a break -- she did have a Break-Through People Can Be Different Than Me And Still Okay Moment: 

    Nancy took time to scrutinize her companion more carefully than before.  She wore a blue gingham dress which was plain and durable, and certainly did not appear to be a costume.  The woman did not speak or act as Nancy imagined a member of the cult would.  She seemed like any other person.

    Of course, as usual, she's right.  They are Bad Guys.  The one nice lady was forced into it by her somewhat abusive husband.  (Right?  Domestic abuse and a cult in a Nancy Drew book = Wicked Hardcore.)

  • Scooby-Doo Moment:

    "Outwitted--by that snooping kid!" Maurice Hale screamed.

  • Nancy's Loot:  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

  • Nancy's Man:  Karl Abbott, Jr.  A bit of flirting, not much, though he did ultimately Save The Day by bringing in the Secret Service guys.  Not a single mention of Ned.

  • Next Up:  The Clue in the Diary.