Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bob-Whites in the big city

Next in our Trixie adventures is The Mystery of the Blinking Eye (1963).

I should start off by saying that I'm biased - while the book is hardly problem-free, it's one of my favorites in the series, mostly for its portrayal of a bygone era New York. Consider it a lingering effect of doing Guys & Dolls as a high school play (see photo evidence to right).

"A lot of people think of New York City as being full of nothing but taxis, high buildings, and gangsters," says our heroine. Since those three things take up a decent portion of the book, she might have chosen something else as her straw men, but we'll go with it.

(By the way, those taxis the Bob-Whites ride appear to take credit cards - in 1963. Somehow that went away, because the taxi-credit-card thing was a big deal in 2007.)

The Bob-Whites are spending a week at the Wheelers' pied-a-terre, a Central Park West penthouse, in order to play tour guides for their Iowa friends Barbara, Bob, and Ned. They visit the Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History, the United Nations, and all sorts of other landmarks that give the book a bit of a travel-guide feel.

And of course there's a mystery, too, this one involving a message in a purse (one that somehow retains its rhymed couplets when Miss Trask translates it from Spanish) and "three of the cleverest, most ruthless jewel thieves in the world."

Oh, and some choice vocabulary from Mart:
"Why do we always pirouette to her peremptory Pied Piper piping?"
Who meets his match:
"I don't care what it cost. In fact, I find myself curiously nonchalant about the whole fugacious performance," Mart said smugly.

"But not aphonic... rather ebullient," Bob said glibly and grinned mischievously.
But enough with the story; let's get to the atmosphere.

While there's certainly a sense of urban glamour
When they went down into the street after dinner, a fairyland spread around them. Whizzing cars threw their lights ahead in a golden blur. Red, blue, and green neon glowed to outline the names of theaters, restaurants, and even little tobacco and candy shops.
the Bob-Whites are aware of the city's underside, mostly thanks to the experiences of one member:
Dan laughed. "My budget didn't run to cabs when I lived in the city - my budget required making use of my own two feet."

"You must have had a wonderful life, turned loose in New York," Ned sighed with obvious envy.

"It wasn't what you might think. An orphan on the streets is not a person for anyone to envy, no matter who he is... I sure did get in with a bad bunch of kids here in the city. I never want to see any of them again. They're down around the Bowery and the waterfront."
Now, I'm not saying that today's New York is a big playground - check out A Wish After Midnight if you need a reminder of that - but this was the pre-Giuliani city, complete with SROs, Times Square sketchiness, and the results of Robert Moses' urban renewal.

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