Luckily, Crime of Any Type Can Be Taken Care of in 186 Pages … or, Canby Hall #4, Keeping Secrets


My copy of this one has the old-school cover, and man, I can see why Scholastic put out the call for a new graphic designer.


That’s better.

As Tolkien and Baby Howie would say, this book was a steaming turd. Where to begin? All right, so there’s a rash of thefts at Baker House, because for some reason no one locks their doors, and the girls all suspect a very aloof dormmate named Mary Beth. MB is rude and standoffish to everyone, so she has no friends. Meanwhile, another dormmate named Millie, whom we have never met before and I’m going to guess we will never hear from again, starts turning up in every scene. She’s kind of the school dunce, always getting the answer wrong in class or falling down stairs or throwing up in biology lab or breaking things. Spoiler alert: these Canby girls can’t be too smart. The whole time they’re suspecting Mary Beth, this Millie moron is everywhere.

Eventually Dana walks in on Mary Beth crying, and after a year of not getting close to anyone she suddenly decides to put her full trust in Dana and … wait for it … tell the secret she’s been keeping. Ah, as per the title! Brilliant! Well, it seems MB’s dad is in prison for having embezzled from his company, and she’s afraid people will find out. But lest we the readers recoil at his being a convicted felon, we are quickly told that MB’s dad didn’t want anything for himself. He only wanted to buy the best for MB and her mom! Even his boss understood! What a saint! What coldhearted snake even put this guy in jail in the first place?

MB is immediately taken under the collective wing of the girls of 407 and her whole world is bright now that she suddenly has them for friends. She loooves studying French with Shelley and being part of their perfect lives. It’s so great that she’s happy now! “What’s really great,” she murmurs, “is that I have you three.” Gag me! But then a Boston paper does a “Year in Review” column and mentions that a year ago one Melvin Grover was convicted of embezzlement. MB nearly goes back into her loner shell at this, worried that the whole school will shun her, but when the girls of 407 help spread the “truth” — that MB’s dad is really a good guy! His heart was in the right place! — the other girls accept MB and all her problems are solved. As idiotic as this premise is, my question is, would an entire school figure out from one line in a newspaper that some random person was Mary Beth’s father? It’s not like Grover is a totally unique name.

Meanwhile, Faith has a love interest at last. Naturally, he’s African-American, (I’m sorry, “black”) because so is Faith and, well, this is the 1980s. Our new boyfriend Johnny is a great guy, but he has one flaw: he plans to be a police officer. This understandably bothers Faith, since her father was a policeman who was killed in the line of duty. Luckily for Johnny, however, their local ice cream parlour is held up while he and Faith are in it, all the customers are taken hostage, and Johnny’s calm, police-officer-like, high-school-aged head saves the day. Afterwards, Faith totally changes her mind and Johnny’s career plans are A-OK with her! Geez, the child lost her father, she’s not allowed to have any reservations that aren’t neatly cleaned up at the end of the book?

And by the way, that whole hold-up was hilarious. Is the tiny town of Greenleaf, Massachusetts some sort of criminal haven? Between these ice-cream store robbers, Shelley’s kidnappers, and Mary Beth’s dad, it’s starting to look a lot like the Sopranos’ New Jersey. The police burst in to save the hostages and the robbers are so surprised they drop their guns. Instead of, you know, firing them. A policeman gives a long artificial explanation of how they got there (sample sentence: “Without Mrs. Leeds knowing it, we followed her to the Tutti-Frutti, crept towards the windows in a crouched position, waited for her to enter, and quietly watched the proceedings.”) The police knew these criminals were serious, because they demanded “the big bucks” — fifty thousand dollars. It reminds me of Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. Was the owner of a dinky ice cream store really the guy with the deepest pockets in town? You’re telling me Ms. Allardyce doesn’t make serious money on the stock market with all those girls’ private school tuitions?

After this, the ghostwriter realizes she only has a few more pages in which to tie up all the loose ends, and there’s still that pesky thief running around, so while Faith is developing pictures in a darkroom she overhears … SPOILER ALERT, DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU … Millie confessing that she was the thief all along. “Because everybody’s better than I am, and I wanted to do something special.” Uh, OK. She was about to get away with the whole thing, and she suddenly decided to confess and face the school administration? Makes perfect sense. Everyone except the reader is shocked. Shocked, I tell you. But they all feel bad that they were never all that nice to her, and she gets sent to counseling and is reformed. Presto!

Miscellaneous observations:

a) Faith wants to buy her sister a birthday present, so she gets her a country record, her favourite. Because D.C. is a real hotbed of college-aged country music fans.

b) Shelley is known for having a small-town Midwest sense of style, as evidenced by an outfit she wears consisting of chartreuse pants and an orange plaid shirt. I don’t think that’s small-town Midwestern, that’s colour-blind. Or preschooler.

c) The entire dorm, during a midnight birthday party, holds off on singing “Happy Birthday” until one of the girls can run to her room and get her violin. To accompany them. Yeah, I can’t count the number of teenage parties I attended that included violin-playing.

d) This book, the fourth in the series, was the most obviously cheesy so far. The ghostwriter’s name on the copyright page is Patricia Aks. In my effort to track down the person unembarrassed to be responsible for this inanity, I discovered that she doesn’t have a Wiki page, but she apparently authored a bunch of other ’80s teen fiction which is no doubt as stellar as this production.

e) I checked. The next book is not written by her. This project can go on.


11 responses »

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  10. I actually thought that this was a plot that could have worked with some tweaking. It makes sense that Mary Beth would be so terrified that her Canby Hall schoolmates would find out her father was in jail that it would make her afraid to make friends. It’s realistic that Millie, a girl whom everyone thinks is a moron, might turn to petty theft to get her own back, and that Mary Beth would be afraid that she might be accused of the thefts because of her father’s crimes. But it should have been handled better. The news about Mary Beth’s father should have become public knowledge in a more organic way and Millie should probably have been caught in the act. And then there was that lame attempt to bait the thief with Shelley’s purple feather earrings which only resulted in Alison’s cat Doby sauntering into 407. Doby, like Mary Beth, is hardly mentioned again in the series, but then he probably spends his time hiding from the lameness. Cats are not known for their patience with human nonsense.

    Regarding the lack of locks on the dorm room doors, I think that was realistic for the time. I knew someone who went to a boarding school in the mid to late eighties and he once told me he did not have a lock on his dorm room door and so was unable to safeguard himself from some of his schoolmates repeatedly bursting into his room late at night, pulling him out of his bed, and beating him up. (There are worse aspects to boarding school life than having one’s tacky bangle bracelets or feather earrings stolen, SHELLEY.)

    I do like Johnny except for his one track “I’m going to be a cop did I mention that I’m going to be a cop” mind. The ice cream story robbery and its denouement really was absurd, although I did like Faith and Johnny’s meet-cute, which involved Johnny accidentally mushing his ice cream cone into Faith’s shoulder and her first thought being how perfectly the colour of the strawberry ice cream went with her mauve top. (Mauve and pink, like Shelley’s chartreuse and orange plaid ensemble, was the kind of 1980s era colourway that makes me wonder if we were all colour blind back then, as well as inexplicably enamoured of baggy clothes.)

    • Oh my goodness, that is horrifying about your friend’s boarding school. I’m never letting my kids out of my sight. (They’ll love that, I’m sure.)

      I wasn’t choosing my own clothes until the ’90s, but man, I have nostalgia for ’80s colours! Actually, I have nostalgia for ’80s everything. Earlier this summer I visited my suburban Toronto hometown, a place I miss very much, and found that it wasn’t fully the vibe I had been longing for. Then I realized that what I miss is, specifically, my hometown IN THE EIGHTIES (also, nineties.) The era is in my blood. So bring on the chartreuse, I say!

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