This book is really close to when I stopped reading, so I remember feeling like the books were getting increasingly bad/unrealistic. I would say this was just me getting older, although I do think the books were more realistic early on. But I do remember not believing that thirteen-year-olds would be tracking down blackmailers.
I am also pretty sure that this book has yet another scene where a member of the BSC is interviewed by the cops with no parent present. Seriously, what is with the Stoneybrook Police Department?
This one didn’t seem convoluted when I was reading it, but when I was starting to recap it, it did. There are actually two “mysteries” that end up converging at the end.
To start, there is a developer in town, Reginald Fowler, who wants to pave over a park and turn it into an office complex. The girls are all influenced by Dawn, and decide this is an environmental travesty. They all write letters to the newspaper expressing their disappointment about it. The letters get printed, along with an editorial from a reporter about how the “youth” is naïve, but has the right idea. So, then other people write their own letters saying the BSC doesn’t understand anything about economics (which is true) and the office complex would help the town (which is not necessarily true). This whole thing goes on in the background throughout the book. Everyone is waiting for a town hall meeting, where Fowler’s proposal will be voted on by the town council.
Meanwhile, the girls have new clients, Luke and Amalia Martinez, who are the source of the second mystery. The family’s regular sitter (a high school girl named Allie) quit right after there was a minor fire in the Martinez’s garage. So, the BSC is sitting there every day, but are alternating which girl shows up. And you’ll never believe this! The Martinez’s house is right down the street from where Fowler wants to build the office complex. What an amazing coincidence. In fact, Fowler would need to buy their house to implement his plan. However, Mr. Martinez tells Mary Anne they won’t sell their house to Fowler for any price (which would prevent Fowler from moving forward).
Luke Martinez is very suspicious of all his sitters. He insists on following them around everywhere they go. He is also very reluctant to answer questions. Then, Mary Anne, notices that someone scratched the words “don’t tell” into a window next to where Luke was sitting. On one job, Luke runs off and Mary Anne follows him into the woods. She hears glass breaking, then sees (or thinks she sees) Fowler talking to a teenage boy. The boy drops a brick as he is leaving, and Mary Anne goes to pick it up. At this point, the cops show up and end up bringing Mary Anne in for questioning about it. They tell her Fowler was in San Francisco, so she couldn’t have seen him.
So, one “mystery” is that the BSC doesn’t trust Fowler and are trying to take him down. The think he is sabotaging a sawmill at the park, and wonder if he was also involved with the fire at the Martinez’s house (to try and get them to sell). The girls do a bunch of research at the library and read old newspaper articles about Fowler. They notice that his birthplace is different in every interview he gives, but his date of birth is always the same. One of these locations is Stoneybrooke, England, so the girls decide maybe he was born in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. It turns out there were two boys born in Stoneybrook on Fowler’s birthdate – twins named Samuel and John Wolfer. Since this is an anagram of Fowler, the girls decide their Fowler is one of the twins.
The second mystery is about who started the fire at the Martinez’s house and why Luke is so suspicious. The BSC decides that not only did Fowler start the fire, but that Luke knows about this. They conclude that Fowler is threatening Luke to keep quiet. But, this isn’t totally true. Someone was threatening Luke, but it was Allie’s boyfriend, not Fowler. It turns out that Allie had her boyfriend over while she was sitting, and he was smoking cigarettes in the garage. This is what caused the fire, but Allie and the boyfriend didn’t tell anyone. It turns out that she quit because she felt guilty.
Now the boyfriend WAS being blackmailed by Fowler – or at least the person he thought was Fowler. It was actually the twin. The twin, was forcing the boyfriend to damage things in the park and in the houses nearby. The two of them were the people Mary Anne saw in the woods. From what I can tell, the worst thing they did was try to flood a person’s house. His hope was to get Fowler’s plan denied because…well, I’m still not really sure.
The gist of the explanation is that the twins’ mother died, so Fowler wants to destroy Stoneybrook since he has sad memories about it. The twin was sabotaging him because he wanted to preserve the memories. But that isn’t the most realistic motivation. And we never find out why either twin changed their name or why they haven’t spoken in years. The twin gets arrested (I guess for threatening a teenager into minor vandalism)
As for Fowler’s plan, it gets crushed. Luke finds a map in the woods that shows Fowler’s “long-term town plan,” which includes building three shopping malls and a new highway (that would go through Mary Anne’s current backyard). Because all developers make a huge map outlining their long term plans like that…and then leave it laying around where anyone can find it. I guess Fowler is friends with Stoneybrook’s counterfeiting crowd.
Luke shows the map to the town council at the meeting, and they vote against the plan. So, the park is saved, the sawmill in the park gets protected by the historical society, and Fowler is basically run out of town. I know we’re supposed to be glad the park is being preserved, but it’s kind of badly written cause Fowler didn’t even do anything bad.
- Mary Anne refers to when Stacey quit the club, and says she hated when “we were all mad at her.” Because Mary Anne couldn’t have decided on her own to not be mad at Stacey. (Although, being mad at someone because your friends are is probably realistic for 8th grade).
- The girls all sign their letters to the editor with their titles. Like, “Mary Anne Spier, Secretary, Baby-Sitters Club.”
- The day the articles are printed in the paper, most of the kids and teachers had already read them and were talking about them in school. The teachers I can buy, but 8th graders reading the newspaper before going to school? I only did in Middle School if it was a day I had to bring in a current events article for homework.
- This book made me ship Mary Ann and Cary Retlin. He lives across the street from the Martinez’s, and is really nice and helpful to her.
- Mary Anne says that after she is brought in for questioning, the newspaper article about the incident doesn’t mention her name, but mentions she is one of the “youth” who is protesting against Fowler’s plan, so anyone would know it was a BSC member. That doesn’t really seem appropriate for the newspaper to do. And how would the newspaper even know that? Aren’t the cops the ones to not release the name to the press (as opposed to the newspapers not releasing the name to the public)?
- I really don’t get why Fowler changed his name. Or why he lied about his birthplace in newspaper articles. He was doing this way before he came to Stoneybrook, so it is not like he was hiding his Stoneybrook connection from the town.
- I also want to know what kind of interviews Fowler was doing, where every single one listed a birthplace and a birth date. That’s the kind of thing you’d see in teen celebrity magazines, but in articles/interviews about a business developer?
- So, when the cop brings Mary Anne in, it’s her first day at the Martinez house. And when Mr. Martinez gets home and sees the cops, he is all, “Mary Anne could never do such a thing.” This is true, but how would he know that in one day? And considering that he had no idea what his regular sitter had been up to, I’m thinking he’s not the greatest judge of character.
- When the cops bring her in, Mr. Martinez tells Mary Anne, he’ll call her dad. Don’t the cops need to do that?
- Mary Anne sees Sergeant Johnson at the station and he asks to be the one to interview her. Then he tells her dad (who is at the station), that he’ll just interview Mary Anne alone. And Richard agrees! Unbelievable. That is even more inappropriate than a teacher driving a 13-year-old home.
- Kristy’s so insensitive. When the article in the paper about Mary Anne being questioned appears, she’s all, “this is horrible publicity!”
- Does the BSC chip in for Claud’s junk food? There’s some scene where Claudia buys a bag of doughnuts for all the girls going to the library. Combine that with all the food she has at her meetings and it really adds up.
- Don’t the parents ever think it’s weird when three sitters volunteer to go on one job for no additional cost? Or that the girls are volunteering for projects cleaning out a garage?
- Also, I wouldn’t want a bunch of teenagers I barely know to be cleaning my garage and deciding what should be tossed and what should be saved.
- This is so ridiculous. The BSC sets up a plan to trap Fowler and his twin. Then they call Sergeant Johnson and have him come as “backup.” What the hell kind of police officer lets 13-year-olds go on a sting? Would that even be allowed in court?
- Mary Anne finds out that the old sitter was lying about the fire starting because she said the garage door was open when it started – only there were soot marks on the roof of the garage, which couldn’t have happened if the door was open. Are we supposed to believe that Mary Anne found that and the trained members of the fire department didn’t?
- I really do like Cary Retlin. He is sort of a smarter Alan Gray. He sends the BSC a note saying how a section of the park is being re-named “Baby-sitters walk,” and signs it as the head of the Stoneybrook Parks System. They totally fall for it, but Janine points out Stoneybrook doesn’t have a parks system.
- The book ends with Kristy declaring war on Cary Retlin. And judging by the next book preview thing in the back of the book, Mystery # 25 does involve Cary. And weirdly, I can’t remember I’ve read it or not, which is kind of rare for me.
- So Mary Anne calls information a million times asking for people with the last name wolf, wolfer, wolfman, etc. She claims that she uses a different accent everytime, but I can’t picture her doing that. At all.
- At the town meeting, Mr. and Mrs. Martinez show up with Luke, and they let him be the one who raises his hand and presents the map to the council. Would a town council really let some eight-year-old speak at a meeting? Shouldn’t one of his parents at least stand with him when he gets up to talk?
- Now, for the record I do care about the earth and try to be as “green” as the next person. And I agree that it would probably suck for a park to be paved over or for a small town to be turned into a block of highways, shopping malls, and office complexes. But Fowler’s made into such a villain when he really didn’t do anything wrong. He’s a businessman with a plan to make money.