Sunday, July 17, 2016

“You guys wouldn’t mind if I did a little embezzling, would you?” BSC Mystery# 35: Abby and the Notorious Neighbor (1998) AND BSC Little Sister #111: Karen’s Spy Mystery (1999)

Oh, holy hell. I haven’t read this Abby book, but I have seen it summarized and nitpicked on a couple other blogs. So while I was picking up Little Sister books for my niece a year or so ago, I found this Karen book. And realized, “Hey, wait a minute…isn’t this the exact same plot, only simplified for younger readers?” And it so is. Heck, look at the covers:

Different angles, but almost exactly the same. Karen’s obviously taking notes, while Abby, being Abby…has a box of tissues so she can blow her nose. Oh, and Abby has Anna hair, but that’s another story.
Let’s start the book summary by saying how jealous I am of Abby. I watched America’s Most Wanted for years, wanting to recognize and catch a criminal. Abby’s home with bronchitis, and while watching hours of television, catches a show with wanted fugitives. Later, when she gets super bored, she starts spying on all the neighbors and realizes that one of her neighbors, Mr. Finch, looks exactly like an embezzler she saw on the show. She and Kristy begin spying on him, looking at his mail, and peeking in his windows. They get some proof that he’s actually the embezzler by digging in his trash.
Meanwhile, all the kids are building go-karts for a soap box derby. There’s a few little dramas, like the triplets not wanting to let Nicky be on their team, and a girls team (Vanessa, Charlotte and Becca) and a boys team (the Rodowskys) copying each other. At the last second, the race is won by a ‘secret’ team that Abby learns about by spying.
Interesting Tidbits
Before I get to the books—I will comment on the Karen Krap at the end of this blog entry—let’s talk about Karen’s glasses for a moment. Or rather, the one time in my life I made a Karen-related comment that wasn’t mean, and nobody was around to appreciate it. I was once glasses shopping and, as usual, hated every pair of frames. I finally found a pair I didn’t hate, and considered getting two pairs of that frame. As I was making up my mind, I realized that they had the same pair, in another shade. I ended up with two pairs of glasses, same frames, two different colors. I said, “Just like Karen Brewer! She’s my role model, after all.” And of course, no one got the joke. Maybe that’s why I’ve never bought matching frames like that again….
We first meet Mr. Finch when he’s mowing his lawn. At eight o’clock. On Monday morning. Mrs. Stevenson decides she should go talk to him, because that’s just too early. Two comments to this: a) Someone in Kristy and Abby’s neighborhood actually mows their own lawn?!? b) They should meet my old high school teacher. He lived in the school district, and his neighbors reported that he would mow his lawn at six am on a Saturday.
The title quote is from chapter two. (See, sometimes it pays to read chapter two.) Stacey says there’s enough money in the club treasury for a leather jacket she’s been eyeing. This is even funnier, given the comments about Stacey’s dad in last week’s entry.
As Abby is flipping channels while home sick, she watches a snippet of soap opera: “Oh Jose, I never knew love could be like this—or perhaps I did, before I was kidnapped and developed amnesia…” That’s kinda funny. My favorite moments on soaps have always been the ones where a) they insert random comedy and b) they acknowledge the absurdity of their situation. For the former, there was a scene between a father and son (Luke and Lucky, General Hospital) who are doing the bachelor thing. Lucky doesn’t have a napkin, so he says he’ll wipe his hands on his shirt. (He’s about thirteen.) Luke tells him to wipe his hands on the dog instead. For the latter, there was a wedding on As the World Turns years ago. A woman was sitting in the pews and muttered, “I’m the sister of the groom and the mother of the bride.” And she was completely accurate, yet no laws had been broken! Ahh, soaps.
Abby calls her mother Ma at one point. That actually sounds pretty New England. My dad called his mother Ma, and so do a lot of my cousins in Rhode Island.
Apparently, three different buses drop off elementary school kids in Abby’s neighborhood. And they conveniently all arrive at the same time…. Abby already has binoculars out, for some innocent bird watching, so she starts watching the kids instead. She doesn’t want to call it spying, but that’s just semantics. Even if she calls it looking or watching, it’s still spying. I mean, she’s observed the fact that Scott Hsu’s underwear is sticking out of his pants, for crying out loud. If that’s not snooping, I don’t know what is.
Heh. When Mal and Stacey are supervising two teams of go-kart builders, the girls—Vanessa, Charlotte, and Becca—stop for a candy break. Becca squeals and Mallory’s first response is…to ask if she needs the Heimlich maneuver. Abby says the BSC all know how to respond to choking. But if that’s true, shouldn’t they know you never do the Heimlich on anyone who can make noises, like Becca was doing? I think the funniest part about that is that, to me, that was more of a Mary Anne, worry-wart type of response.
The BSC doesn’t believe that Abby actually spotted a wanted criminal, but Kristy is especially dubious. Later, Abby is ‘watching’ Mr. Finch again, and becomes convinced she was right about him. She calls Kristy, who is so ridiculously sarcastic about the whole thing (and I can’t blame her). She suggests Abby saw him holding a machine gun, and then after finding out he was just eating dinner, says, “Oh my lord! How suspicious can you get?”
Abby calls the Mystery Trackers hotline to ask some questions about the two men she saw, trying to sort out details she was only half watching in a feverish haze. She talks to a summer intern, who is completely clueless and says something like, “Oh, cool, you spotted one of our criminals? Should I call the authorities?” I never called America’s Most Wanted, but I imagine that they have a script they would have to follow, and it never includes saying how cool the information is.
Ooh, Mary Anne goes to talk to Sgt. Johnson. He gives her a ‘Look’ when he suggests that there’s no harm in checking into Mr. Finch as long as he doesn’t know about it. Not only does that sound so wrong—like he’s giving the BSC permission to spy—but I totally read that Look as a sexy Look rather than a ‘don’t go spying’ Look. Now we know why Sgt. Johnson takes the BSC so seriously: it’s not because they’re good detectives, but he and Mary Anne have a little thing on the side. (Later, Abby says that he’s good looking.)
Claudia and Stacey do some cyber-sleuthing for information about Mr. Finch and the two criminals he might be. Janine helps them use the computer. Not only is it so far too modern for the BSC, but it’s also hilarious now. First, there’s the squeal of dial-up. And then when they search the criminals, they decide to print out some pictures of them to compare to Mr. Finch. And only ten minutes later, they have their pictures! It’s so technological!
Abby finally convinces Kristy she’s right about Mr. Finch, and they discuss the fact that Arthur Maguire—the embezzler they think is Finch—abandoned his kids, who were ‘about six and eight.’ Kristy says that all six year olds draw houses with smoke coming out of the chimneys, and all eight year old girls draw horses, while all eight year old boys draw rocket ships. First off…the hell? Really? That is the most ridiculous generalization ever. Let’s assume for a second that it might be true. Even if all eight year old boys do draw rocket ships, they probably also draw aliens, robots, cartoon characters, and all kinds of other objects. We all know, of course, that not all six year olds draw houses. I’ve never drawn a horse in my life, for example. At age eight, I was more into ‘fashion’ design.
I love that they actually built a ‘don’t try this at home’ into the plot, right before Abby and Kristy do something stupid. I have no idea what, as I haven’t read it yet. But the BSC are always doing things in these mysteries that are supremely bad ideas. When they’re not chasing counterfeiters down the street, they’re chasing dogs into suspect’s houses…
Kristy goes and peeks in Mr. Finch’s window, looking for proof that he really is Arthur Maguire, and almost gets caught. First Kristy called and made up a story to get him out of the house. I misread the part when he comes back, and thought he’d used *69 to call back whoever had pranked him. Instead, Abby actually hit redial to force him into the house, and it worked!
Claudia spelling! There was actually a brief moment of it earlier in the book, when she wrote serfing and awsome. This time, we get waching and curiose. She also uses sped for speed, there for their and herd for heard.
Okay. Now that we’ve learned all there is to learn about Abby spying, let’s talk about Karen. In Karen’s Spy Mystery, the Dawes family, who live across the street, go on a business trip to Seattle. A family friend, Bill Barnett, is going to be housesitting, and Karen is supposed to give the family kitten eye drops in the middle of the day and watch the house while Bill is at work. Karen starts spying on the house because she doesn’t like Bill. (He finds her annoying and slams the door in her face, and that’s all it takes for her.) She sees some mildly suspicious behavior and jumps to the conclusion that Bill is trying to rob the Daweses. Hannie tries to talk her out of it, but Karen follows him around and even puts a tape recorder in the Dawes house to try to catch him doing something bad. She records him admitting that he stole money from Nancy’s father’s bank, and the police take him away.
Let’s compare here. Each story features a young female who becomes convinced that a neighbor is doing something illegal. They both have a friend they can’t convince of that fact, until they do some serious spying and get a small amount of evidence. The two friends then do something unethical and probably illegal to get enough proof for the police. Not only do the police accept the tip solely on the basis of hunch and illegal evidence, but each girl gets reward money for her bad behavior.
So what did we—and the preteen girls who read these books—learn? Always trust your instincts when it comes to your neighbors? I think the message is more like “Spy on your neighbors and you will reap in moola.” I’m suddenly glad we didn’t own a pair of binoculars when I was a kid, and that the houses in my neighborhood were far enough apart to not be able to look in windows.

Next: #120

1 comment:

  1. "Finch" and "bird-watching." Couldn't resist that pun, eh Martin?

    Oh, and a martin is a kind of bird too.