Wednesday, February 20, 2013

“Remember when I tried to flush Pudgy down the toilet?” BSC Mystery #26 Dawn Shafer, Undercover Babysitter (1996)

I quit reading BSC books after #73. I was 13 or 14 at the time and, in my head, far too old for them. There were other, bigger books I wanted to read, and it was easier to ask my mom to buy them for me if I wasn't also asking for new BSC books.

But that doesn't mean I quit checking up on the BSC. Every time we went to the bookstore (and these were the days when "going to the bookstore" meant going to the mall, which meant a half-hour car trip) I would head over to the right shelf and nonchalantly check to see what new BSC titles had been released. I left off while Dawn was on her "six months" in California, so I was annoyed when she came back, only to leave again a few books later. Why not just have her stay gone all together? And I was even more irritated that, despite moving away, she still showed up as the main character in the occasional BSC book. Including this one, which I think is the last Dawn book.
This mystery's a doozy, and a little hard to explain. Arthur Livingston passed away and left his estate to his daughters--well, to whichever one solves the puzzle. His daughters fight all the time, and all three are living in the house together for the time being. Each one is given a clue and has to find the treasure in order to inherit.

The three daughters each try to solve the mystery on their own but can't do it. With a little help from the BSC, and the kids, they put their clues together and learn that he wanted them to come together to solve the mystery. They discover the code on some artwork, and also learn that their dead younger brother is still alive. They all agree to have yearly family reunions. Whee!
In the subplot, Dawn is heading back to California in a couple of weeks, and various people want a piece of her time before she goes. She takes a page out of Sharon's book and keeps double booking herself, causing problems. Mary Anne is especially hurt, but eventually she helps Dawn plan Friends Day, so she can see everyone all in one day and have some spare time for family.

Interesting Tidbits
The cover makes Dawn look like a very poor snoop. The kids are all sitting on the floor and she's looking all shifty, right behind them! She's not even trying to hide it! (Sorry, the cover's really blurry.)

Jeff has already gone back to California by the time the book starts, and Dawn's heading back in a few weeks. That makes no sense...most custody arrangements I'm familiar with involve all the kids having the same schedule. Wouldn't it be very inconvenient for Sharon and Jack (Mr. Shafer) to have to go to the airport multiple times across the summer?
I never realized it before, but just in order to tell her backstory, Dawn has to summarize the events of a large number of BSC books, probably more so than any other sitter. In this one, she talks about #4 (where she meets MA and the BSC), #15 (Jeff moves back to Cali), #30 (Sharon and Richard's wedding), #67 (she moves back to Cali) and #88 (permanently moves back to Cali). Compare that to Kristy (who really just has to explain #6, her mom marrying Watson, and maybe #24, when Emily is adopted) or Stacey (#13, moving back to NYC and #28, her parents’ divorce).

"Fun" fact: Dawn says that, until her mother married Richard, she always wore pink underwear, because her mom would inadvertently dye her white undies in the wash. No mention is made of Sharon's panties, but my guess is she probably went commando most of the time.
Dawn's usual case of the italics has been replaced by a case of the quotation marks. In chapter two, she refers to "real" pictures, "real" baseball, "real" dad, "mind camera," and "Livingston House."  (Yes, I realize I just did that in the last tidbit, but I did it before I read it in the book. Feel free to slap me if I keep it up.)

Kristy and Dawn are both given babysitting jobs, for a different number of kids, at the same time, at the Livingston House. When they get there, it's huge and impressive (Dawn compares it to the White House) and has literally every stereotype of wealthy people's furniture. There's also a really awful portrait of the late Arthur Livingston. Even the butler points out how ugly it is.
When Dawn comes out of her sitting job, Richard is talking (gossiping, really) with a neighbor of the Livingston/Keats/Cornell brood, who also happens to be their lawyer. I'm pretty sure that she shouldn't be talking about her clients that way. Isn't it kind of a breach of the lawyer-client confidentiality?

Heh heh heh. The lawyer is talking about Arthur Livingston's will, and she uses finger quotes when describing how her client put the will together. She must have caught the sickness from Dawn. (She's also the one who suggests Dawn snoop, and calls her an undercover babysitter.)
Dawn double booked plans for the evening, and one of her plans was to watch Roman Holiday on the VCR with Mary Anne. She says MA rented it, but because she watches it all the time, I would have thought she'd own that one.

Claudia spelling: offishially, writting, mysterry notbook, solveing, Livegstone, mistery. She also uses hear for here and their for there. (In the beginning of the chapter, Dawn says, "That was Claudia (as if that weren't obvious from the creative spelling.)")
I write these tidbits as I'm reading, so I don't know the solution to the mystery yet. But I bet it has something to do with the butler. Dawn, Claudia and Kristy all comment on how young and cute he is. How many butlers do they know? They're going off a stereotype from the movies that make all butlers look like Lurch from the Addams family. But the second time they mentioned how cute and young the butler (John) was, I started paying attention. Foreshadowing in these books is NOT subtle.

Dawn eats a bowl of Healthios.
We learn the clue of youngest sister Amy (who has no children) first: "The first is the most important." Amy wonders whether it means a first edition book, or if it refers to her oldest sister. Dawn invites Amy to join her, Mallory and the kids for the day, and they dig around in the attic. Dawn notices that while most of it is extremely dusty, there are a few areas that are pretty dust-free, including a wardrobe containing freshly laundered men's clothes.

Dawn says that Mary Anne can sleep through anything. I don't know why, but that seems to not mesh with her character. Maybe it's more to do with her sleeping in late every morning...
Why would Dawn be taking Matt and Haley to the pool? She says it's "one last time" which to me indicates that she's done it several times over the summer. And it's not a sitting job; they're just going for fun.

Dawn likes an imaginary tv show called Great Disasters. She says it's about planes crashing into the Empire State Building and mine collapses and stuff. I can't imagine a show like that, with planes crashing into buildings, airing any more.
Abby learns the second clue from Eliza. She drives Dawn crazy because she has to drag out the whole story before telling her the clue, which is, "The signature tells all." Because of this, Abby and Dawn take the kids on a treasure hunt through the house and copy down all the signatures on anything--even the designer's name on an umbrella.

Dawn is pretty stupid sometimes. She finds a recent check signed A. Livingston and assumes Arthur Livingston is still alive...despite the fact that his youngest daughter is Amy Livingston.
During that same sitting job, she gets a couple more "clues." (Okay, smack me, but seriously. The quotes are necessary.) She comes across Amy arguing with John the butler, which they cover up awkwardly. Then she finds the gossiping lawyer in the main hall, staring at the paintings of Arthur Livingston that are all over the house. She says she wants to drop some papers off, but she'll come back. Dawn notices she didn't have any papers with her.

The kids all discover the "contest" and want to work together on it, so between them and Amy, they convince the two moms to get together. The third clue is, "I didn't do it, I was ___."
Dawn thinks her dream about the creepy Arthur Livingston pictures solves the mystery. I think she should take fewer hallucinogens before bed. Although, she does turn out to be right. The ____ is framed. Each of the pictures is signed and dated, so the earliest one--the awful one from earlier--is the correct answer. I told you the foreshadowing in these books is so not subtle. There's a code on the back of it to be decoded by the lawyer.

Ahhh! The butler turns out to be the not-so-dead youngest Livingston brother, Patrick. He'd fought with the dad, who told everyone Patrick was dead, but he'd stayed in touch with Amy, who brought him to the house as the butler. (He was the one using the clothes in the attic.)
Dawn spelling mistake: she spells feud as fued.

Claire calls Dawn her favorite silly-billy-goo-goo. Compliment or insult?
Another mistake? Dawn says Jamie ate three cupcakes and then asked her to marry him (which is both cute and disturbing.) Later, all the BSC and Dawn's middle school friends get together to continue Friends Day, and Claudia also eats three cupcakes. Dawn says Claudia matched Nicky. But no mention is made of Nicky eating three cupcakes.

Continuity: this story takes place in the same summer as the Hawaii trip, which Kristy didn't go on, because her family is going later in the summer. Kristy's family visit's Dawn's family in Cali on the way back, right after Dawn returns home. The Hawaii trip takes place between books #98 (in which they're fundraising for it) and #99 (in which Stacey and Robert break up). This one takes place before #100 (which starts with Kristy coming back from her Hawaii trip; she leaves just before Friends Day in this one). I can't tell if it's before or after #99; I've never read that one, so I don't know if Dawn and/or Kristy is in it, and no mention is made of Robert, one way or the other, in this one.
Why do all of Dawn's friends give her going away presents? They've probably all given her presents several times at this point. You'd think a party and a hug would be enough. She'll probably be back at Christmas.

Adding to the creepiness of the gift giving: Mary Anne whispers that she'll give Dawn her present later, when they're alone. Sounds dirty. Watch out, Logan.
MA and Dawn spend the day together shopping. It cracks me up when they go into stores in these books, because most aren't real stores and many have bad puns for names: Sew Fine, the sewing store, for example. But the BSC always shops at Merry Go Round, which is/was a real store chain. I don't think it exists anymore, but back when I was reading BSC books, there was one in our mall.

Okay, Dawn did get one present I really liked. In fact, I may have to make one of these for myself. The Livingston family gives her a t-shirt with a replica of the awful picture of Arthur Livingston and the words "I helped solve the mystery."
Kristy: shorts, tshirt
Stacey: tailored khaki shorts, white shirt, brown moccasins (described as "Very Banana Republic," which seems to match late-90's Stacey very well.)
Claudia: yellow overall shorts, multi-colored tie-dyed baby tee, purple jellies, green scrunchie making a "Pebbles 'do" (which is way worse than a side ponytail, agreed?)

New Characters
Eliza, Hallie, and Jeremy Keats (9, 7, 5)--26, 24, 22

Katharine and Tilly Cornell (9, 6)--26, 23
Next week: I think I’ll do #44 Dawn’s Big Sleepover. It’s the British version!

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