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Retro Reads #003: The Dark & Deadly Pool by Joan Lowery Nixon

The Dark & Deadly Pool by Joan Lowery Nixon

Release Date: October 1, 1987
Purchase Date: Unsure
Publisher: Delacorte
Pages: 179
Reading level: Young Adult
My Rating:

Mary Elizabeth's summer job at the health club of a ritzy hotel would be just about perfect except for a series of eerie incidents that occur when she is alone by the pool at night. Convinced they are related to a series of robberies plaguing the hotel and its guests, she tries to figure out the link a mission of increasing urgency once she discovers a corpse in the pool. By the end of the story, Mary Elizabeth has exposed a circle of thieves headed by her own boss, a group said to have links to organized crime. This is a moderately suspenseful mystery, rounded out with touches of humor and romance, but not one of Nixon's best. There are too many glitches in the complicated plot for it to be fully convincing. The protagonist's foolhardy ingenuousness strains credibility: she discusses events related to the case freely, even after it seems likely an insider is involved. The relationship between the thefts and the syndicate is never really clear, and the revelation that drug deals are somehow involved which would justify the otherwise inexplicable violence is tacked-on, vague and ultimately unpersuasive.

Now, Joan Lowery Nixon was on my nightstand probably 3 times out of 5 when I was between 12-16. She seemed always write the most interesting and quirky characters and then plunk them into the craziest of situations. I'm sure that was also why I loved Richie Tankersley Cusick, Lois Duncan, RL Stine, Christopher Pike and the whole slew of other authors who were household names in YA fiction back before the Meyers, Rowlings, Collinses, and Clares of this decade. That and they wrote books that could keep me up at night without giving me (too many) nightmares.

This book has stayed on my shelf (along with its sequel) for years because I just adore the story and the characters. In some ways the two books were written with a very Agatha Christie, house mystery* feel in mind. The characters are all colorful, especially the main two.

Mary Elizabeth, who feels awkward and too tall, gets a job that should be easy as pie, not to mention the fascinating cadre of characters she observes and interacts with. It doesn't take her long to end up in the thick of a mystery (and perhaps romance?) with short, oddball Francis. Some of their dialog is pretty giggle worthy and the action, while definitely slower than what modern books deliver, is pretty darn good.

Definitely one of my all time faves even if it is a bit hokey, I've read it probably 10 times since I first bought it.

* To me, the "house mystery" is one of those things Agatha Christie was so good at (think And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile). She'd gather a whole cast of characters, each with their own quirks and secrets, and have a murder in some confined place like a house or a train or a boat. Then the reader would sit back and watch all the people, stuck in a house together because the police won't let them leave or a storm is preventing it, try to figure out who among them may either be the killer or next to die. Love love love those.


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