Apparently a Bunch of Inside Jokes

But None Seemed Amusing to Me

A Review [By Jeff Salter]

of “The Secret of the Grande Chateau” [by Dr. Cecil H.H. Mills]

Ever been in an exchange with a group of people, all of whom seem to share the same inside jokes, but you’re completely in the dark? Well, that’s what reading this book was like. But before I critique it, let me explain how I happened upon it.

Some of you may recall a few of my earlier 4F1H blogs which dealt with venerable “juvenile” series books, like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, etc. I’m especially interested in Mildred Wirt Benson, who fleshed out the first couple dozen ND books… and essentially established the ND character in our cultural consciousness. Likewise for Leslie MacFarlane, who fleshed out the first several HB books.

Anyway, not too long ago, I joined a Facebook group in which admirers of HB, ND, and many other series (like Trixie Beldon, the Dana Girls, etc.) assemble and compare notes on new acquisitions, trivia about the characters or the titles, and other areas of mutual interest. In one of those posts, a member – whose name I’ve forgotten – was all excited about THIS book [the one I’m reviewing here] … basically stating that it was hilarious, and a superb send-off of the HB & ND stories. And with that enthusiastic recommendation, I had to read it. So I bought it.

And here begins my review:

It’s difficult to know where to start. For one thing, I don’t like it when an author intrudes within a story… and certainly not on the back cover blurb. Witness this actual blurb, in which this author seems to be thumbing his nose at not only his own characters, but at the reader:

Listen up, kid. My name is Dr. Cecil H.H. Mills. I’m the author of this book and many other ones that you might not have heard of. This book is about two idiot wannabe detective-types. Their names are J.J. and Valentine Watts, but I’m not sure if they’re actually brothers or not.
They make a friend; her name is Trudi de la Rosa. She’s a wannabe detective-type too, but honestly, she’s less of an idiot than the brothers.
The three of them team up to solve a mystery that takes place in a snowy chateau up in the mountains. It gets more complicated around chapter 11, but now you’ve got the main gist of it. The story’s full of intrigue and adventure and puzzles and light violence and some swear words. It’s really entertaining.
Just buy the book and start reading. You’ll understand everything about the Ghost Hunters Adventure Club very soon.

From this blurb and a few other bits he posted in his preface, I gather the author – whether that’s his real name, I doubt – has some degree of “fame” within the “gamer” community. What’s the gamer community? Well, you’ll have to figure that out for yourself, because I’m not in it — and that’s likely why this author’s attempts at humor fall flat with me.

So not only are most of his humor attempts apparently inside jokes, but he decides to repeat them throughout. Folks, if something’s not funny to me the first time I read it, it won’t be any funnier on the fourth or fifth iteration.

But it also bothers me that the author seems NOT to like his own characters. I was led to expect this novel to be a light-hearted homage to Frank and Joe Hardy… and Nancy Drew. True, this author keeps alive a few of the tropes of the original HB / ND stories — including the local law enforcement boss being a clueless blowhard. But the main characters of this author are almost equally bumbling. Never, in any ND / HB story, were the main characters bumbling! Sure, they occasionally made mistakes of judgement, and they often got themselves deeper into potentially catastrophic situations — but they were always resourceful, level-headed, honorable, etc.

This plot itself is basically on a similar level / design of the original HB / ND series. What I didn’t like was the author’s smug attitude when he wrote sentences like this in his Introduction:

“Hello, dear reader, it’s your old friend, Dr. Cecil H.H. Mills: celebrated wordsmith and oftentimes controversial figurehead in the literary world.” Whether he’s poking fun at himself, or simply poking his readers in the eyes, I don’t care. It’s a flippant pose that’s unappealing to me. I could share many more examples, just from his Introduction, but I’ll spare myself the effort and spare you the “lead balloon” humor.

A book I had hoped would be a genial tweak of some of my favorite fictional characters has turned out, instead, to be a mish-mash of inside jokes… and an author giving us all a literary raspberry.

[JLS # 563]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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9 Responses to Apparently a Bunch of Inside Jokes

  1. Before I purchase a book, I usually read the blurb from the back cover. In this case, I would not have bothered with the book. The blurb is supposed to entice the reader, not turn them off. From what you said in your review, the blurb tells exactly what to expect. 🙂

    My advice: next time read the blurb first, Jeff, and trust your “gut,” as Special Agent, Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS would say. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      excellent point. The blurb did, indeed, turn me off. Had it not been for the enthusiastic recommendation of that acquaintance from the HB /ND collectors’ site, I would have halted right there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. From the blurb alone I wouldn’t pick up this book. The author seems rather full of himself and comes across like he hates his own characters. If he can’t care about them then how could the readers be expected to care for them?
    Sorry that this book was a disappointment for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      That’s pretty much the way I look at it. This author’s whole attitude and “tone” seems to be what I call a “throwaway” — the approach someone takes when they want to be sure the other party knows it doesn’t matter to them.


  3. Good grief! I tell young and other new writers that the one thing you must do is make readers care about your characters, even if they aren’t the most savory people.If the writer doesn’t care, no way is a reader going to.
    I thought that you were going to say that you got into a series and were lost at the ‘inside jokes’, those without background or information from previous volumes. Self-chiding is seldom done well and overdone is annoying as heck. This guy wants to be patted on the back and reassured ALL THE TIME. My analysis? His ego is big, but he has a real, inside inferiority complex, which I want no part of.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I wouldn’t have read the book just because of the blurb if nothing else. How can an author not like his characters? Was this book a bestseller? If so, I need to do a little rewriting on mine, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I’m assuming he deliberately aimed this novel at a niche group — presumably the “gamer” community with which he’s apparently well-known.
      I feel like I was tricked into buying it, by the hearty recommendation of someone I met at that HB / ND group page. Guess I’ll be more careful in the future…


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