Found-Again Friday: Nancy Drew # 59, The Secret in the Old Lace

Today we return to the bookshelf for a look at Nancy Drew.

Why Found-Again? Before I got my hands on The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook or met up with Jupiter Jones and his friends (who I hope will feature in a later Found-Again Friday), this was my favorite mystery book even among my Nancy Drews, competing hotly with The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.

The Premise: With a cache of long-lost jewels at stake, Nancy and her friends travel to Belgium to solve mysteries past and present that involve secret messages, spies, and a cowboy. Yes, in Belgium.

Rereading a childhood classic can have its problems, and The Secret in the Old Lace is no exception: when I think about this book, I remember the European locale, secret messages and lacemaking. I don’t think about the stuff that happens to launch the mystery—Nancy spends time with her dull boyfriend Ned (who kind of beats up a suspect, but somehow still remains boring)! Nancy is waylaid by street toughs!  Nancy is menaced by a guy named, I kid you not, Matey Johnson!

However,  since there was always a certain class of adult telling child-me that she should stop reading trash, things I learned when I read this book as a kid:

  • The existence of Belgium
  • How lace is made
  • A small amount of European history
  • French pronunciation (from asking my mom how on earth you say “François Lefèvre,” anyway)
  • And applicable to all Nancy Drew books generally, who the hell Titian was and why he was really attached to red

The Verdict: It was a lot of fun reading this book again, especially once it becomes a treasure hunt with attached love story. On the other hand, I think I’m about 25 years to old to read anything G-rated involving a “Matey Johnson”; I have difficulty viewing that character as anything more than a sailor on the S.S. Innuendo.

Might go well with : Chocolate, Remington Steele reruns.


Next time: The Highlander vs. the cops.


Found-Again Friday: Dynasty

Come with me to another dimension; a dimension not of sight and sound, but of shoulder pads and sweeping hairdos. You are now entering…the Dynasty zone.

The Premise: Oilman Blake Carrington marries his secretary Krystle, who soon finds out that pretty much every rich person in Denver, and especially in the Carrington mansion, is batshit crazy.

Why Found-Again? I am now most of the way into the fourth season, so far down the rabbit hole of rewatching Dynasty that I can’t even remember what inspired me to re-view it. I was seven years old when the show first came on, and all I really remembered about it was that I loved Claudia and Kirby and hated Adam Carrington and Dex Dexter, and that Alexis was always making trouble.

I really have no idea what it says about me that every single one of those things is still true—or that as recently as a week ago I was screaming “Kill him!” at my TV, and for once not at any of the characters in Highlander or Robin of Sherwood, but at Jeff friggin’ Colby. Every single character on this show is his or her own worst enemy most of the time, but it’s absurdly easy to get sucked in and hard to stop caring, even when the show does all the completely inane things we remember from the era of ’80s soap excess: the catfights, the amnesia, the hysterical paralysis.

And then there’s Steven Carrington, who was among the first openly gay characters on television. He is referred to by some of the other characters in terms that will make your jaw drop in the early seasons, but the show never stops portraying him as a real and valuable human being, and it’s interesting to watch the way he develops as part of the show.

There are also things I didn’t remember at all from childhood, some of which are completely nuts—like this from James Farentino’s season 2 turn as psychiatrist Dr. Nick Toscanni, which has to be seen to be believed. It’s his first appearance on the show; Claudia has lost her daughter and attempted suicide, and this is Dr. Nick’s/Dynasty‘s idea of heroic measures (relevant part starts at 3:40 and goes till 6:55; and yes, he drives a DeLorean that looks like an extremely advanced tin can):

I was originally going to try transcribing that. I…don’t think I can.

The Verdict: Hard to tell. It’s very silly, and one gets the impression that Denver is maybe half a mile wide on each side, but I’m definitely hooked.

Next time: Arms and the woman.




Found-Again Friday: Bloodlist—Vampire Files #1

Remember when vampires weren’t polarizing?

That isn’t quite accurate: they were, but in a horror-nerd-versus-mundane-person kind of way. There were no sparkling vamps outside of Anne Rice’s novels, no one had any overwhelming interest in Dracula as a media property, and the renaissance of the horrific, Nosferatu-style demon-faced predator everyone knows from Buffy and the like was slow.

This was the world I grew up in, fascinated by the fanged few from the moment I saw the Count on Sesame Street. But when you’re a squeamish horror fan, you have to choose your hobbies carefully, and it was with trepidation I picked up the first little paperback with what looked like a Dashiell Hammett vampire on the front. The book was Bloodlist, the first in P.N. Elrod’s series about 1930s reporter-turned-vampire detective Jack Fleming.

How much did I love these books? I went on about them at length in my college interview, to the point that it was mentioned in a speech about the diverse interests of the incoming freshman class, that’s how much.
I wonder if that lady from admissions ever picked up the books?

Why Found-Again? You’d think that after all that, these books would be on my yearly reread list, but I always forget. There are probably a lot of factors playing into that: it’s hard not to feel saturated on the whole vampire idea at this point, and there have even been a few vamp detectives since Bloodlist came out in 1990  (*shakes fist at Forever Knight, but somehow not at Lacroix*—it seems especially fitting that Vampire Files author Elrod went on to collaborate with actor Nigel Bennett, given that he portrayed the only character on that show who didn’t make me want to throw garlic at my television).

The Premise: Former reporter Jack Fleming awakes in Chicago with a newly developed taste for blood, but no memory of the murder that put him among the ranks of the undead. When mortal detective Charles Escott discovers Jack’s secret, they join forces to solve the crime—no mean feat when it turns out to be mob-related.

It’s always interesting when reading a vampire book to figure out what kind of a vampire you’re dealing with, and Jack could perhaps be described as a modified Dracula type: yes to stakes, home soil and turning into mist, no to garlic, crosses and holy water.

The Verdict: A thousand times yes! It’s got action, humor, vampire lore, lounge singers, a fun noir sensibility, and a detective named (presumably*) after one of Sherlock Holmes’s pseudonyms.


Might go well with: Torch songs, The Thin Man, Bloody Marys



*I haven’t read the later book where we find out more about Escott’s past. Pleasepleaseplease let that be his name for a reason.


Next time: Leaving the scene of the crime, immortal-style.



Found-Again Friday: The Moon-Spinners

Settle in, children—here, near the fire. (Not that near, little Timmy—whoops, there he goes.) I’m going to tell you all the story of what it was like to have the Disney Channel as a premium channel in the mid-1980s, in the days before ubiquitous original programming. Would someone please pour some water on Timmy?

I suppose that characterization is a little off, both because I have yet to roast a small child and because, in addition to things like their aerobics show Mousercise, technically EVERYTHING on Disney at the time was original programming in the sense of being Disney. It’s just that it was original programming of old Disney movies and even older cartoons, many in heavy rotation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Ichabod and Mr. Toad more than I have seen The Thin Man, one of my favorite movies ever.

And so one summer I came into near-constant contact with The Moon-Spinners, the caper film with a nearly grown-up Hayley Mills and Peter McEnery, who seems to have been told “Just do your best Connery Bond swagger: it’ll be fine.” (And it is.)

Why Found-Again? The simple answer is that I took a few decades off between viewings of The Moon-Spinners until tracking down the DVD a few years ago. The honest answer is that, between Blue Labyrinth coming out this week and my local library’s complete dearth of books I may well hate rereading (though seriously, who checked out ‘Salem’s Lot?), none of us are quite getting the F-AF post we deserve.

The Premise: Nikky Ferris (Mills) is a young English girl traveling Greece with her musicologist aunt. While on Crete, she meets a nice young man named Mark who’s being stalked by their innkeeper’s crooked brother (Eli Wallach, who in an unintentional bit of hilarity resembles nothing so much as an evil Walt Disney). Mark is eventually shot, and Nikky’s attempts to help eventually start the caper in motion: can she find out what’s going on and get them both out of this alive?

In case it wasn’t clear from my post on Hart to Hart, I grew up so steeped in the mystery genre that my 10-year-old self watched The Moon-Spinners—the romantic setting, the danger, the bronzed young Englishman—and essentially decided this was a suitable life plan. (If that didn’t work out, late in the movie Pola Negri appears as a fabulously wealthy woman with a yacht and a pet cheetah, which to this day seems like a decent fallback position.) When I rewatched it, I fully expected to be cynical about all those things, but in my opinion The Moon-Spinners still holds up, even now that I can recognize all the unflattering English-tourist-abroad stereotypes.

The movie is based on Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novel of the same name, and as always, I marvel at the instinct Disney movies of this era had for adaptation. Clearly some of the things in the novel—a dead child, a religious conflict—weren’t likely to stay in the script for a Hayley Mills vehicle, but it would never occur to me to move the pieces around the way Disney did and still come up with a coherent heist movie.

The Verdict: Even now, from the moment the weary travelers open the shutters and the sparkling water stretches before us, I am a goner for The Moon-Spinners.

Might go well with: Greek food, early Bond films…and possibly earplugs, because that song is going to be stuck in your brain for a while.

Next time: Hack (of some definition) and slash.

Found-Again Friday: Altered States

This week’s Found-Again Friday, like last week’s, is a cheat—though in the case of Altered States, the joke is on me. Twenty minutes into rewatch, I turned to my companion and said with dawning horror, “There’s no point in revisiting this! It’s a Ken Russell movie!”

Why Found-Again? Let me clarify: I have a strange affection for the movies of the late Ken Russell, a man who seemed to share a lot of my offbeat interests—poetry, Pre-Raphaelites, folklore, ballads—but who had a truly funhouse-mirror way of looking at all those things. In his case, I’m pretty sure “batshit” is the clinical term, and if you don’t believe me, revisit the dream sequences in Lair of the White Worm until you do. “Like” or “dislike” doesn’t really enter into it, so giving Altered States a second chance ends up being moot.

Nonetheless, rewatch it I did.

Premise: Academic who believes himself the center of the universe gets temporary endorsement from said universe.

William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, who defies character-naming conventions by being a scientist rather than a Western henchman. He meets a fellow academic, marries, and has a family, all while chasing the ultimate nature of human consciousness. Will a series of sensory-deprivation experiments reveal what he’s looking for, or will they threaten to destroy his life while giving Ken Russell a chance to crank his Symbol-o-Matic up to 11?

I stand by my belief that there’s no point in judging Russell films by normal standards, but Altered States has always drawn my particular ire for having such a rich premise and then Not Living Up To Its Full Potential in a welter of psychedelic hooha. It’s a perfect role for William Hurt, and Blair Brown is excellent as his occasionally estranged wife. In short…

The Verdict? …it’s a perfect example of why the failure of a movie that could, should go right is a hundred times worse than that of one that just goes wrong.

Might go well with: Gothic, Jurassic Park, intoxicating beverages.


Next time: More Highlander. Yeah.

Found-Again Friday: Cast A Deadly Spell

Found-Again Friday is a feature for rediscovering things and, in many cases, giving another chance to movies/television/books I disliked the first time around. ‘Tis the season, however, so I’ll cheat a little and write about the 1991 HBO movie Cast A Deadly Spell, which I  hadn’t watched since my VHS tape stopped having a place to play.

Why Found-Again? It’s available on YouTube, the place I constantly forget to check for entire films. In that respect, it’s the media equivalent of the back seat of my car, which is the storing-things equivalent of Narnia.

Premise: Even living in an alternate universe where magic and the Necronomicon are real can’t stop the residents of 1948 Los Angeles from noiring up the place.

One of the problems with this movie is convincing other people to watch it, in part because the chief difference between fans and detractors talking about Cast A Deadly Spell is tone of voice. For example, try reading the following in tones of either joy or disgust:

“Fred Ward plays a detective named Lovecraft.”

“There’s an oatmeal demon!”

“And on a night when the stars are aligning…”

In other words, if you already love this movie, your best bet for convincing others to watch lies in heavy use of the phrase “early role for Julianne Moore.”


And I really do love this movie, which takes a number of things I like—noir, the Elder Gods, David Warner chewing scenery, torch songs, egregious literary riffs, villains played by Clancy Brown—and combines them into an interesting stew. I’ve spent the past year listening to a lot of old-time radio mystery podcasts, and hearing the source material has only given me more respect for Cast A Deadly Spell’s handling of noir tropes. (It also had me persistently hearing Ward’s lines in the voice of Pat Novak-era Jack Webb, but even that isn’t the deterrent you’d imagine.)

The Verdict? As I said, I’m cheating with this one. I’ve always loved this movie, though you do need a high tolerance for silliness. There will be gremlins.

Might go well with: The Haunted Palace; The Maltese Falcon; the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio or Mean Streets OTR podcasts.


Next Time: Down and dirty with a weirdly classic movie?