Oh my God it’s finally autumn in the Alden universe. It only took 13 books. I can only imagine the length of time that will pass before we see spring again. This is Snowbound Mystery in case you’re keeping track.
In the very first paragraph we learn that their school is closed because there’s been a fire and it’s been partially destroyed. This sounds very mysterious to me, but what do I know, because this crime-solving quartet isn’t piqued in the least by this tidbit.
That’s Gertrude for you, throwing in some interesting news about arson to distract you, then never ever mentioning it again.
Meanwhile, Benny is extolling the features of this marvelous cabin in the woods that he was recently discussing with Grandfather’s good chum down at the Sportsmen’s club.
I’m starting to feel like Grandfather is feeling his age, and has wisely decided to skip over the older, slower ‘jock’ (is he a jock? I can’t think of anything Henry’s good at, that was the nicest term I could come by)—Henry— as his possible heir—going straight to his only semi-intelligent spawn. All signs point to Benny being groomed for a future of finance and schmoozing on the links. Why else is Benny hanging out at the Sportsmen’s Club, unless he’s making shady deals and being bribed by long lunches and cabin getaways? Think of how easy it would be to bribe Benny with a good-sized hamburger.
If that wasn’t enough, it’s also pretty clear who’s now in charge of ‘masterminding’ these little adventures—as usual Benny extolls the virtues of his newest idea with the imagination and style of a mid-sized travel pamphlet. ‘It’s too early to snow,’ and ‘only a 2.5 mile hike from the nearest grocery store’ and ‘there will be new plants and deer!’ and ‘I’m sure it won’t snow’ and ‘we could eat canned food’ and also ‘it won’t snow so that’s good.’
Spoiler alert: it’s going to totally snow. I mean, thanks for keeping the mystery alive, Gertrude, by naming the book Snowbound Mystery. It’s like you want to inhibit children’s slowly developing deductive reasoning skills.
Obviously Gertrude is now working with some sort of Microsoft Office Word template, so in every new book she just has to tweak Benny’s monologue slightly, changing the details about the grocery store, and the amount of canned food they will want to purchase. The paragraph about Watch attending/staying at home is optional.
However, I’m relieved to see they’ve finally moved on past ‘rocks and seashells”—earlier phenomena of nature previously fascinating to the set—and are now learning about multi-celled vertebrates.
I know this is going to be a good adventure because Grandfather declines to participate. The trips without Grandfather are always fraught with the glimmer of possibility that he won’t be coming back for them, and that they’ll slowly starve to death after finishing off all the canned ham and pressing the leaves they’ve collected into books.
Arriving at the cabin, Benny immediately begins to reminisce. Not oddly, (and predictably) back to the ‘good ole boxcar days,’ but instead back to the ‘night we spent in the baker’s shop before we found the boxcar.’ Oh yeah! That night right after our parents’ untimely death when we were on the run from our ‘evil’ Grandfather, when we overheard the baker and his wife planning to sell us into white slavery? God, those were the days, huh everybody?
In Benny’s defense, harking back I’m pretty sure he slept through the bakers’ white slavery discussion, so maybe all he remembers is the free bread. To Benny, lots of carbohydrates really is the ‘good ole days.’
Another perk of the cabin? The cold water of course! And the Visitor’s Book, literally a book that each guest signs during their stay. You wouldn’t think it (haha, yes you would, you know the Aldens) but the Visitor’s Book provides hours of entertainment.
“Oh look, Mr. Robbins signed it. And Mr. Smith. And Mr. Jones. So many last names! Boy this is the best vacation ever!”
After only a few hours (I’m assuming) Henry becomes suspicious of some hapless village family. See, the Nelsons have signed the Visitor’s Book THREE FREAKING TIMES but they own the grocery store a scant 2.5 miles away! WHY WOULD THEY NEED TO VISIT THE CABIN?! They already have their own home in the middle of nowhere. I haven’t seen this level of suspicion and paranoia in Henry since his cousin Joe/John had amnesia and was displaying un-handyman-like tendencies.
Obviously, the Nelsons (and their son named Puggsy–winner of the Best Name for a Supporting Throwaway Character) are Up to No Good. But still, following the cockeyed code of the Alden-verse, even criminals sign the Visitor’s Book–whether it incriminates them or not. It’s just good manners.
There’s nothing left to do but traipse the 2.5 miles down to the grocery store to investigate. Did I mention its 2.5 miles both ways? Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again later. But first, let’s all have sandwiches. But before that, Violet needs to set the table with a tablecloth and an artful centerpiece arrangement. They have bananas for dessert. This is only one time in a long line of instances that the Aldens have fruit for ‘dessert.’
After their 2.5 mile walk, the Aldens reach the Nelson’s Store. Suspiciously, the Nelsons all seem to be young, attractive, upstanding citizens. Everyone is immediately disappointed. Luckily, Puggsy seems to be slow-witted and drops many heavy-handed hints about their probable wrongful activities. During the Alden’s nightly summit they all agree the Nelson’s are visiting the cabin to search for something. And being the Aldens, I’m sure they’ll find it first.
During the night, there arose such a clatter, Henry leaped from his bed to see what was the matter. Nope, not Santa, not a burglar, but worse. SQUIRRELS. Squirrels are really the villains in this story; ruining the Alden’s homemade birdhouse, banging around in the attic, eating all the nuts in the nut trees (oh, have I not mentioned the nut trees. Just wait).
The next morning the Aldens walk BACK to the grocery store to buy supplies to ‘fix the hole in the roof’ that they are assuming exists. I hope they are going to question Mr. Nelson about squirrel behavior as well, being that I have many doubts about their animal husbandry knowledge. For instance, the children are dazzled by the two deer they see in the woods, one of which must be a female, Henry worldly explains, since her ‘horns aren’t as big.’ I don’t know Henry’s ‘college’ major, but I’m guessing it’s not veterinary sciences. The only female deer that have antlers are reindeer. Thanks Gertrude–this is what you’re teaching our children.
Mr. Nelson is a fount of knowledge, helpfully instructing Henry to only patch up the whole after ‘making sure all the squirrels are out of the attic.’ Obviously this guy catches on fast, and knows that this instruction needs to be spelled out. They’re only there for a few moments, but Puggsy manages to mention searching for hidden things in the cabin like 12 times. Then, on the way home, Watch gets his paw caught in a steel trap.
Now, if you’re a normal human being that loves your dog–this would be a big deal. Have you ever seen a steel trap from the 30’s? It looks somewhat like this:
Animals gnaw their own legs off to get out of these things. At the very least this would have broken Watch’s leg, at the most it would have done that as well as stripped all the flesh off of it. Not appropriate for a children’s book in the least. Luckily for Watch Aldenverse isn’t grounded in any sort of reality, and once freed, Watch simply walks it off. However, we can tell how much the Aldens care, as Henry is pretty annoyed about it for at least 10 minutes.
The next day is pretty damn special, as the Aldens go nutting. Yup, nutting. Picking up nuts. Gertrude enjoys working ‘nuts’ into every sentence with wild abandon. It’s almost as much fun as frankfurters. Then the Aldens walk 2.5 miles back to the store for what I can only determine is absolutely no reason at all. I guess the Aldens don’t consider it to be a real vacation unless they spend the majority of it buying food.
After banging on their nuts with rocks (haha) for several hours inside the cabin, the Aldens have made quite a mess. Jessie as you imagine is eager to sweep it up. And then they discover that they have no broom! I call shenanigans. Not a snowball’s chance in hell that Violet and Jessie didn’t look for a broom, dustpan, mop, rubber gloves, and a bottle of bleach the moment they arrived at that cabin. They’ve been there for three days and haven’t cleaned anything? Gertrude has jumped the shark here.
But, salvation! Benny has been in another, different cabin once before that had a broom closet next to the fireplace. Using that ‘logic’ of course this cabin must have a fully stocked broom closet in the same location. Now, you’d think this would be another ridiculous ‘coincidence’ that I’m going to mock, but you’d be wrong. As we know from the yellow house/ brown house ‘coincidence’ in Yellow House Mystery, structures in Aldenverse only come in one of three basic floor plans: cabin, farmhouse, or mansion. So, I’m not fazed in the least when there is a hidden broom closet packed with cleaning supplies just where Benny predicts.
There is also a mysterious code written inside the door. They write it down, but Henry admits straight away that he’s too stupid to even attempt to crack it. They decide to go back to the grocery store again tomorrow. THIS IS THE FOURTH DAY IN A ROW THEY ARE GOING TO THE GROCERY STORE. I just thought I’d point that out. Going back and forth to the store has so far comprised their entire vacation.
Despite all their big talk about grilling the Nelsons with thoughtful, probing questions, all they actually do is buy some more canned meat. Mr. Nelson mentions that the store is doing so poorly he might need to move away and get a better job. Benny kindly tells him he better not move until they go home because some drudge needs to be around to sell him bread and canned ham.
On the way home it begins to snow (after the radio said it wouldn’t! By golly!). And it snows and snows and snows. It’s like the blizzard of ’93, the only time in my childhood that the snow was deep enough to sled. And by sled I mean slide across my backyard on a piece of cardboard. Ahh, the sparkling memories.
The next morning the children are snowed in. Luckily they have Benny’s weather radio. And even luckier, Greenfield only has about 12 citizens, so the weatherman is broadcasting ‘special messages,’ to damnwell every person. “Grandfather Alden sends his love and suggests that his grandchildren wait out the storm in the hunter’s cabin.” And hopefully resort to cannibalism (that part’s implied).
Henry and Benny go outside to clear the snow from around the house. Benny uses this opportunity to completely destroy some personal property while making himself some ‘snowshoes’ from pots and pans. While they’re gone Violet and Jessie make some canned chicken and spaghetti, as well as some jelly and snow concoction they call ‘ice cream.’ What, that sounds disgusting? You crazy.
Surprise! The Nelsons walked 2.5 miles in the snow to come check on the children. They brought some supplies, but they got too heavy to carry so they just abandoned them along the trail. So basically their version of ‘helping’ is ‘eating the orphans’ dwindling food supply.’ Wow, we’re so glad you came.
But unfortunately, Grandfather has decided not to let his heirs lapse into a Donner Party type situation, and sends a freakin’ helicopter to drop off supplies. Predictably, the Aldens are not satisfied with the haul and make a sign demanding more supplies. This could go on forever.
After being trapped in a small cabin filled with Aldens, the Nelsons cave and spill their juicy secret. Mr. Nelson’s father made the best buns in the world! But he died before he could pass on the recipe, only able to whisper one solitary clue before his last breath, “cabin…” leading Mr. Nelson to believe that the secret recipe is hidden right here in the cabin! The Aldens show the family the code they found inside the closet door (let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that this cabin was built by Mr. Nelson’s father, he grew up staying in it on hunting trips, they’ve been searching it for years, and they’ve never found the broom closet?! These people don’t deserve secret bun recipes). The code is the bun recipe (surprise surprise) but it’s still missing the secret ingredient! God, the suspense is killing me here.
Before I move on, what kind of death did old Mr. Nelson succumb to, that was so sudden that he couldn’t pass on his bun recipe, so severe that he could only muster a single word, and yet so drawn out that he had time to go to his cabin in the woods and carve clues into doors and hide recipe cards? Riddle me that readers. My guess is that the secret bun ingredient is uranium.
Fortuitously for our young heroes, they don’t need to do anymore searching. Weighed down by the extra snow, part of the roof collapses, spilled dirty snow, a squirrel family, and magical blue recipe cards everywhere. Proof that only an act of God can help the Aldens solve a mystery. The Nelsons are ecstatic, Grandfather and the national guard come to rescue the children, and they all pile into the McMansion for hot cocoa.
Always the helpful benefactor, Grandfather twists the arm of the local grocer to rent an empty storefront (that Grandfather owns, natch) and employ Mr. Nelson of the Wonder Buns. So Mr. Nelson goes from a semi-successful small business owner to a low level manager, basically. I am curious why Mr. Nelson couldn’t just rent the storefront directly from Grandfather and keep his own business. Obviously some sort of mob activity is involved.
And the Nelson family lives happily ever after. Except for Puggsy, since no one will tell him the secret ingredient because he’s a little snitch.