The Hidden Staircase: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, #2, by Carolyn Keene

the hidden staircase by carolyn keene.jpg

Okay, in The Hidden Staircase, we learn that Nancy gardens, is good with tools, knows how to glean information from footprints in the mud and has read up on hidden passageways and secret doors. She also knows how to deal with a wild owl in the house, of all things. She still loves speeding—what's the point of having a new blue convertible if you don't participate in a few car chases? 

She also has the amazing ability to determine a very detailed judgment of a person's character after a two-minute conversation:

Nancy had taken an instant dislike to Gomber and now it was quadrupled. She judged him to be the kind of person who stays within the boundaries of the law but whose ethics are questionable.

I mean, really.

Carson Drew is supposed to be one of the smartest guys in River Heights, right? I find it interesting that he gets what basically amounts to a death threat, then a few pages later he is almost run over by an "out of control" car, yet makes no connection whatsoever between the two events. He also continues his totally icky flirtation with Nancy:

In a flash, Nancy was out the back door and running to meet her father. "Oh, Dad, I'm so glad to see you!" she exclaimed.

She gave him a tremendous hug and a resounding kiss. He responded affectionately, but gave a little chuckle. "What have I done to rate this extra bit of attention?" he teased. With a wink he added, "I know.  Your date for tonight is off and you want me to substitute."

Dirk Jackson is the date that Carson Drew mentioned above. He's a "red-haired, former high-school tennis champion"—no word on what he does now. He "doesn't like to be kept waiting"—especially, Nancy says, "by any of my mysteries". No wonder no one remembers him. 

Regardless of the fact that the narrator always stresses Hannah Gruen's position as "part of the family", she continues to do all of the work around the house. She also gives Nancy advice—probably whenever the writer felt that the "Nancy decided/exclaimed/deduced" bit was getting a bit repetitive.

Poor Helen Corning. She's around to:

A) Tell Nancy about the case.

B) Ask all of the reader's questions, no matter how obvious. 

C) Get dirty. She's the one who opens the damper in the fireplace and gets all sooty, falls through the hole in the old stable, and gets covered in plaster when the ceiling collapses. (Nancy, romantically, gets knocked out during the ceiling collapse episode. No mention of dust mussing up her titian hair.)

D) Be the boy. When Nancy and Helen dress up in old costumes to entertain the old ladies with an old-fashioned dance, Helen has to be the boy.

Remember the flapping-jaw syndrome I mentioned in The Secret of the Old Clock? Well, apparently, Nancy has it, too. At least everyone is consistently jabbering, I guess. Speaking of, this book features the Wimpiest Henchmen Ever. The police aren't able to get anything out of them, but Nancy bats her eyelashes and they spill almost immediately.

The Hidden Staircase continues the trend of old ladies being portrayed as doddering—but sweet—old bats who can't remember anything.

Book One had lots of descriptions of clothing. This one has lots of food: 

"...the delicious dinner of spring lamb, rice and mushrooms, fresh peas and chocolate angel cake with vanilla ice cream..."

"...steak and French fried potatoes, fresh peas, and yummy floating island for dessert..."

"...cup of steaming chicken bouillon, a thin slice of well-toasted bread, and a saucer of plain gelatin."

Since when do police officers ENCOURAGE young women to continue their amateur sleuthing? The cops in this book rival Abe Carver and the Salem Police Force for the Worst Cops Ever award.

And, I'm happy to say: The unintentional humor continues! This next bit is from a scene where Nancy is trying to track down clues about her missing father at a train station—she just happens to run into a nurse who just happens to have taken the train at the same time her father rode into town and who just happens to have seen him get into a taxi and just happensto overhear Nancy questioning taxi drivers and just happens to recognize Carson Drew from Nancy's description and just happens to realize that one of the taxi drivers is lying (the strange spelling of kidnapped is from the book, not me):

When the man did not reply, Miss Skade said, "Now look, Harry. This girl's afraid that her father has been kidnaped. It's up to you to tell her all you know."

"Kidnaped!" the taximan shouted. "Oh, goodnight! Now I don't know what to do."

Nancy had a sudden thought. "Has somebody been threatening you, Harry?" she asked.

The cab driver's eyes nearly popped from his head. "Well," he said, "since you've guessed it, I'd better tell you everything I know."

With comedy like that, who needs realism?