Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #12: The Message in the Hollow Oak -- Carolyn Keene

Message in the hollow oak 2Headlines from Nancy Drew #12:

Girl enters radio contest on whim, wins tract of land! IN CANADA!

Intrepid young sleuth helps old lady cross street; carries her suitcase!

River Heights overrun by Canadians, some of them crooks!

Girl detective receives answer to message... BEFORE EVEN SENDING IT!

In a sudden burst of activity after eleven books of avoiding physical exertion, Bess Marvin CLIMBS A TREE!

Continuing the trend of Bizarro Sidekick Behavior, George Fayne shrieks in fear!

Posse rides in; posse rides out!

Carson Drew dispatches word... telepathically? Via carrier pigeon? THE WORLD MAY NEVER KNOW!

Teenage girl blows up power-generating dam and floods entire valley, no one takes issue with her!

Opening scene:

  • As you may have gathered from the headlines, Nancy enters a radio contest (for the first time ever) and wins. A tract of land. In Canada. That might be full of gold. Because Nancy.
  • Even though Canada is the SECOND LARGEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, said piece of land JUST SO HAPPENS to be located right next to some land related to her father's current case. Because Carson.
  • Of course, Nancy wants to go and check out her land, but needs an "older person" (<--Carson's words) to go with her. LUCKILY, Carson's client ALSO coincidentally has a friend coming in to town who ALSO has a place in the vicinity of her land and so CAN DO THAT VERY THING.

In River Heights:

  • Five minutes later, Nancy's on her way to see Bess and George to invite them along. Seeing an older lady struggling to haul a heavy suitcase across the road, Nancy does what Nancy does best and TAKES ACTION. She not only carries the suitcase across the street, but offers to wait with it outside the bank while the lady goes in to "get change for a twenty". Because Olden Days.
  • A "dapper man in his late thirties" drives up, claims to be the lady's grandson, takes the suitcase, and drives off!
  • The lady, of course, doesn't have a grandson. Nancy waves down a nearby police officer, and at first he and the old lady seem to suspect HER. Of course, once she pulls the DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM routine, they back off.

A brief moment of non-snark: Message in the hollow oak

Yes, Nancy is ridiculously lucky, beautiful, wealthy, has a hard-to-conceive-of number of skills, and her detecting skills probably wouldn't carry over very well into the real world. But that's not why we love her: We love her because she never gives up, never gives in, never says die. She always puts others before her, and while she has a tendency to judge by appearances, to be fair, she IS almost always right.

Okay, back to River Heights!

  • The old lady recognizes the suitcase thief as Tom Stripe, a "mean and low-down" man who has caused problems for her in the past! Also, she is from Canada! And is now Nancy's friend for life! AND IT JUST SO HAPPENS THAT SHE'S CARSON'S CLIENT'S FRIEND AND ABOUT TO BECOME NANCY'S CHAPERONE! (I bet you TOTALLY didn't see that coming!)
  • It should be noted that Bess has to be talked out of bringing all of her best dresses along on a multi-week camping trip.
  • While Nancy and Carson are having dinner at his client's house, NANCY GETS A PHONE CALL FROM SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO BUY HER LAND. Because that's how business is done: By calling people while they are ATTENDING DINNER PARTIES AT OTHER PEOPLES' HOUSES.

The next day:

  • Nancy is accosted by a young man with a "sophisticated smile" wearing clothes that "cut far too elegant an appearance for River Heights". DANGER ZONE! Surprise, surprise, Raymond Niles wants to buy her land. ALL I WANT TO KNOW IS THIS: WHERE'S NED? HE DOESN'T GET A SINGLE MENTION IN THIS BOOK. Poor old Ned. It can't be easy being that boring.
  • Nancy tells Carson about this Niles character—who, by the way, OUT-AND-OUT THREATENED HER—and this is his response: "It seems to me we ought to let the matter rest for a while. In any event, you will be rid of this fellow in a few days, for soon you'll be on your way to Canada." YES, CARSON. BRILLIANT LOGIC. DUDE THREATENS YOUR DAUGHTER, SO IT'S A GOOD THING THAT SHE'S HEADED OFF TO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE... BECAUSE IT'S NOT AT ALL LIKELY THAT THE GUY KNOWS WHERE THE LAND HE WANTS TO BUY WOULD BE LOCATED, RIGHT?
  • Meanwhile, Hannah Gruen doesn't like the idea of the girls gallivanting off to "foreign places". Because Canada.

Two days later: Message in the hollow oak 3

  • Hannah, who is only suspicious when it suits the plot, lets Raymond Niles into the house and he ALMOST SUCCEEDS in stealing Nancy's property deed.
  • At this point, you'd think that Carson would, like, register the deed or make a copy of it or do whatever lawyer-y thing you do with these things, but no. Because the Drews have a lot of great qualities, but logic isn't one of them.
  • Tom Stripe is out of prison, and it was Raymond Niles who posted his bail! They are, as Nancy puts it, "friends and crooks"!

On the train to Wellington Lake:

  • Remember the radio contest that started this adventure? Well. To win it, Nancy had to name a mystery serial... and on the train, Nancy runs into Ann Chapelle, the author of said mystery serial! 
  • Miss Chapelle has a Secret Sorrow, though for someone with a Secret Sorrow, she's quite open about it. In fact, she was about to spill the beans to Nancy WHEN THE TRAIN CRASHED AT THAT EXACT MOMENT.
  • Nancy bumps her elbow! George is buried under a pile of chairs! Bess goes pale! Random passenger breaks his leg! Tom Stripe and Raymond Niles were spotted shortly before the crash! The train catches on fire! Miss Chapelle and the chaperone are missing!

At a hotel:

  • The girls hole up and wait for news. In the middle of the night, Nancy wakes up and discovers Bess sleepwalking. On the window ledge. So Nancy, being the quick-thinker that she is, GRABS A COIL OF ROPE (because they're generally lying around in hotel hallways), and, just as BESS FALLS OFF OF THE LEDGE, LASSOS HER BEFORE SHE HITS THE GROUND. (Yes, she credits her Shadow Ranch adventure for the ability.)
  • As if that wasn't ENOUGH ACTION FOR THE NIGHT, it turns out that Bess, while sleepwalking, took the deed to Nancy's land and dropped it outside.
  • Sure enough, George pops her head out the window and sees a dude walking off with it. But they don't pursue him because... THAT WOULD MAKE TOO MUCH SENSE?

The next day:

  • They receive word that both the author and the chaperone are at the hospital.
  • Nancy stops by the newspaper to place an ad about her lost deed... and discovers that someone has already left her a letter, instructing her to call at Ranny farm, six miles away.
  • The girls check in with the ladies at the hospital, and Ann Chapelle is A) convinced she's going to die and B) manages to say, "The message—in the hollow oak—" before passing out. So that's helpful.
  • Our Girl Wonders rent a jalopy—it's so decrepit that even Our Nancy needs a lesson in starting the engine—and they head out to the farm, promptly get a flat tire, and then they get lost because they don't know how far they've gone because "the speedometer was broken" even though HELLO, unless Nancy's got Bess and George doing constant Distance = Rate x Time math problems, it's the odometer that matters. 
  • ANYWAY, for whatever reason, they decide to leave the car and hike across a pasture to a nearby farm, but Bess is wearing a red sweater, which enrages the bull (*coughbullsarecolorblindcough*), and it charges them and they almost die but then the farmer opens the fence for them and it turns out he's Farmer Ranny himself. HOW SURPRISING.

I'm going to fast-forward here, because good lord, I'm only up to page, like, 60.

  • SO. Farmer Ranny's wife has a long-standing feud with the chaperone. Because gold. Or land. Or something.
  • The Rannys are ALSO the parents of Norman Ranny, Ann Chapelle's long-lost love, who she used to pass messages with via the Hollow Oak and who she ran away from home to elope with except he never showed up, the jerk.
  • Thinking she's about to die, Ann Chapelle gets Nancy to make a promise to A) find her Grandfather Chap and apologize for running away and B) find Norman Ranny and tell him that she loves him. Or something.

Canada, FINALLY:

  • There's a story in the local paper about A STRANGER almost getting creamed by a falling branch from the OAK tree he was sitting under, because THAT'S NEWSWORTHY IN CANADA. (<--I'm from Maine. That would totally make the paper in my town. Anyway.) 
  • The girls get outfitted in "riding breeches and knee-high shoes" (known as BOOTS in more succinct circles) and HEAD OFF INTO THE WILDERNESS WITH PETE ATKINS, GUIDE EXTRAORDINAIRE.

Fast-forwarding again, because their adventures in the wilderness are ENDLESS:

  • Almost immediately, they run into Tom and Ray, who are terrible at canoeing.
  • Tom and Ray try to strand the girls in the wilderness (...with the best guide in the area, that'll show 'em!), but, after a brief struggle, end up neck-deep in the lake while Nancy & Co. paddle away. Tom Stripe, logical as ever, vows revenge on them even though he was the one who started it.
  • Ray, not unlike that jewel thief in The Facts of Life Down Under, has developed QUITE THE CRUSH ON NANCY.
  • The crooks, miserable and soaking wet and in the middle of nowhere, run into NORMAN RANNY, because of course they do. 
  • Norman, it turns out, thinks that Ann is dead. Because these are the things you should assume to be true without proof.
  • Tom and Ray tie Norman up and throw him into Grandfather Chap's fruit cellar. No, not root cellar, FRUIT CELLAR. Because that's what they call it.
  • Nancy, while exploring a nearby abandoned mill, is "...impelled by some impulse which she could not explain..." to look through a crack in the wall, sees Tom Stripe in the house. Seriously, I don't know how she'd solve mysteries if she was slightly less lucky.
  • Once our heroines take over the house, Bess and George become convinced that it's haunted due to the moans coming from the FRUIT CELLAR.
  • Nancy, brave girl that she is, heads down there and returns... WITH A CAT.
  • The moans continue, causing Bess to FAINT, AND PETE HAS DISAPPEARED, so it's up to Nancy to head down there again... which she does, AND FINDS ANOTHER CAT BUT ALSO, THANKFULLY, NORMAN.
  • Nancy jumps to the conclusion that Pete abandoned them, which seems like a REALLY LOGICAL ASSUMPTION, considering how there are bad guys around who have it in for him.
  • The girls—who have now adopted Norman as the requisite adult male in their party—stay the night with a trapper and his wife, enjoy some banjo music (yes, really), tell said trapper and his wife about the big city (yes, really), and then Pete shows up all beat up because, duh, of course Tom jumped him.
  • I told you it was endless. I'm going to have to read the '70s revision to see if they tightened it up.
  • ANYWAY, panning for gold on Nancy's land, they all get a nugget (except Bess, but Nancy gives her one so she doesn't whine), and Norman strikes a vein in the very first spot that he swings his pickaxe. Because that's how things roll around Nancy Drew.


  • A plane lands, and a bunch of evil miners arrive. Nancy realizes she and her crew are outnumbered, so she PAYS THE PILOT TO TAKE HER AND HER FRIENDS BACK TO CIVILIZATION, LEAVING THE MINERS SEMI-STRANDED. Which, you've got to admit, is both hilarious and badass.
  • In a considerably less badass move, she wires Carson for help. 
  • Buck Sawtice, the owner of the EVIL MINING COMPANY—when they find out it's named Yellow Dawn, George asked, "Is that a company or a disease?" which made me laugh out loud—ALSO cost the Mr. & Mrs. Ranny their life-savings. So, you know: Good to know that he's an equal-opportunity swindler, and not ageist or anything.


  • Carson rounds up some local law enforcement, and they put together a POSSE and go in there ON HORSEBACK:

"Now, Father, don't tell us we can't go," she forestalled him. "With all these men along to protect us, you surely can't say it won't be safe."

"That's just what I did intend to say, you young tease!"


  • Pete gets attacked AGAIN. Poor guy, for a minor character and a good guy, he really takes a beating in this book.
  • Turns out Grandfather Chap buried a treasure under the Hollow Oak and left a message for Ann there, including a confession about switching out the message she left for Norman way back when, which is why he never showed up to marry her. Nancy and Norman dig it up and then BURY IT ELSEWHERE, because they're tricky like that. 
  • But Nancy loses an engraved bracelet, so they have to go back for it, and then they catch Tom (since Norman's there, he does the lassoing this time, presumably because he's got manparts), tie him to a tree, AND THEN THREATEN TO SET HIM ON FIRE UNLESS HE TELLS THEM WHERE GRANDFATHER CHAP IS, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT "THE INDIANS" WOULD DO. I don't even.
  • They bring their info back to the posse, the posse acts on it... but no Grandfather Chap, so they disperse, leaving Nancy, Carson, the girls, and Norman with the Yellow Dawn guys.

I swear we're almost at the end:

  • Nancy offers to sell her land to Buck if Grandfather Chap is returned unharmed, so Buck sends the airplane off for some money.
  • Of course, Buck plans to double-cross her, but she HAPPENS TO BE AT JUST THE RIGHT PLACE AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME TO OVERHEARD ALL OF THE EXPOSITION (IN FRENCH), so she's able to make a counter-plan.
  • Which involves stealing a key right out of Ray's hand WHILE HE'S AWAKE AND AWARE AND EVERYTHING, CLEARLY SHE'S MAGIC, swiping all of the gold out of the cabin the bad guys have been squirreling it away in, getting all of her loved ones (and Norman and Grandfather Camp, who's been being tortured this whole time, YES, TORTURED) out of the way, and then BLOWING UP THE DAM. BECAUSE NANCY DREW, AS I'VE MENTIONED, IS KIND OF BADASS, AND ALSO HAS AN UTTER DISREGARD FOR PUBLIC UTILITIES.
  • Ann and Norman are reunited, Ann and her Grandfather make up, Nancy gets all of her gold melted down into gold coins, and everyone in River Heights is at the train station to meet them when they get home.

And just because it wouldn't be a real Nancy Drew book without one more semi-creepy moment with Carson:

After discussing the events Nancy seated herself upon the arm of her father's chair, and playfully tweaked his ear.

[I'm sparing you the twinkling eyes and smoke rings, ag.]

"Father, if anyone should ever offer me another deed, I'd run a mile!" she said. "After having so many adventures up North, I think I'll agree to your holding title to all the property that comes into the Drew family!"


New skills: 

  • When it comes to chocolate cake, Hannah Gruen believes that "the pupil has gone beyond the master".
  • Nancy knows French.
  • And also all about dynamite.