"What?!" I hear you interrobanging, your gleeful childhood memories protesting with aplomb. "These books were the AMAZING AND PERFECT AND I WILL CUT YOU!"
Well, your childhood memories are double wrong with knobs. The characters have the depth of a puddle drying in the Texas sun. The mysteries have plot holes the size of a black hole, one that sucks up all logic and realism. The dialogue is ridiculous, the decisions of the characters, bizarre. Then there's the thinly-veiled snobbish classism-most of the villains are from the lower classes, as evidenced by their over-the-top rudeness to Nancy when they're first introduced.
Not to mention their goofy dialects, and their lack of servants.
Now, I don't have ridiculously high expectations of middle-grade books. Works for children should be understandable- age-appropriate, free of bad words and too much violence. But there are too many excellent children's books out there that manage deep and well-drawn characters, dialogue that isn't clunky, and tight plots. These books, cobbled together by God-only-knows-which ghost writers all posing as Carolyn Keene, are laughably bad. I didn't stop after the first one or two because at that point I was hate-reading. Unstoppable momentum. I carried on.
You're still not believing me, I can tell. So let's take a look-see at some horribleness taken straight out of book four, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, from literally the first and second page. I'll bracket in my hate-reading-thoughts as we go:
"'Are we glad to see you!' remarked [an exclamation isn't a remark, dumb ass] George Fayne, an attractive tomboyish girl with short dark hair. She glanced anxiously around the crowded waiting room in the Phoenix air terminal. 'Let's go where we can talk.' [you're talking right now, dammit]
Nancy looked at the cousins with keen blue eyes. 'What's the matter? Is something wrong?' [no, people just demand to speak with you in private in an airport as soon as you land because they want to talk about the weather UGH WHY ARE YOU SUCH A DIPSHIT]
Bess bit her lip [of course she did], then burst out, 'Oh, Nancy, we can't stay! We all have to go home tomorrow!'
'But why?' asked Nancy, astonished.
'Because there's a mystery at the ranch,' [Just right there on page one, huh? No foreplay whatsoever] George said bluntly, 'and Uncle Ed thinks it's not safe for us to be here [and no one thought to call you and let you know shit was falling apart BEFORE you got on the fucking plane].'
Bess put in, 'But, Nancy, if you could convince Uncle Ed you can solve the case, maybe he'd let us stay [YES THE OPINION OF AN 18 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO JUST ARRIVED AND HAS NO CLUE WHAT IS GOING ON WILL TOTALLY INFLUENCE THE DECISION MAKING OF A RANCHER WHOSE SHIT IS BEING DESTROYED]. However [of FFS], I'm not so sure I want to. It's-it's really pretty frightening.'
'I can't wait to hear what the mystery is,' Nancy said excitedly [because these characters have no common sense]."
I think I've nailed the formula. Here we go:
1. Nancy combs her titian hair and eats a fruit salad.
2. Nancy's friend/cousin/neighbor calls her because she's lost a jewel/person/someone is vandalizing her property.
3. Nancy tells her Dad she's going to investigate a situation that will probably involve hardened criminals, asks him not to call the cops, hugs her housekeeper, locks her room and her car.
4. Nancy's room and car are broken into. Nancy investigates her mystery, in between sunbathing/swimming/dancing/eating/shopping.
5. Someone is rude to Nancy. This is the bad guy.
6. Nancy gets too close. The bad guy tries to kill her. No one thinks to call professionals to catch this person. All the adults involved give Nancy permission to continue tracking down violent criminals who want her dead after little to no persuasion.
7. Nancy gets too close (more, again). The bad guy ties her up and confesses all in order to impress Nancy.
8. Nancy is saved by her father/housekeeper/friend. Cops arrive (who called the cops, no one here is ever calling the cops, WTF is going on), arrest rude criminal.
9. Nancy combs her titian hair, eats another fruit salad.