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Sweet Valley Twins #64: The Charm School Mystery

22
Oct 2018
Sweet Valley Twins 64: The Charm School Mystery by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins 64: The Charm School Mystery by Jamie Suzanne

Title: The Charm School Mystery

Tagline: Elizabeth, Amy and Maria try to catch a thief!

Summary: When a charm school opens in Sweet Valley, Jessica Wakefield can’t wait to attend. What could be better than going to classes about clothes, makeup, and parties?

Jessica’s twin sister, Elizabeth, has no interest in the school at all—until she uncovers some suspicious things about its owners. Elizabeth convinces her friends, Amy and Maria, to sign up for lessons and do some detective work. But the girls soon realize that charm school isn’t as easy as they thought it would be. What’s more, Amy and Maria are worried that Elizabeth’s sleuthing may put them in real danger. It looks as if the girls may be in over their heads—in class and in their investigation!

Initial Thoughts:

Charm School? What the hell?

Are these actually a thing, anywhere, at all? Even in the Eighties? Even in SWEET VALLEY?

As for the cover… dece. Elizabeth and Maria being impressively sleuthy. We know it’s Elizabeth as she’s carrying a notebook. A notebook that’s not purple, and not full of hearts and scribbles of ‘Mrs Jessica Buck’ on every page.

Maria also has a flashlight. Or a Fleshlight. Either way, we’re in for a treat.

[Dove: I know it’s not the book’s fault, but something about the main orange cover is such a turnoff. I always assume I’ll hate any book that colour, even though I don’t. The last one was Mandy Miller Fights Back.]

Recap:

As we begin, Amy shoots my Initial thoughts in the nuts.

“Charm school!” Amy Sutton rolled her eyes. “Give me a break. Didn’t those things go out of style somewhere around the turn of the century?”

Elizabeth Wakefield giggled. “I guess not.”

Well, toodley-fuck, Amy. Go twirl your baton up your arse, you lank-haired spunkwaffle.

Immediately, we’re into the action. Apparently, the sign from which Amy is reading announces Charm Classes conducted my Monique Beaumont of Switzerland, and is housed in the window of the newly-named Beaumont Gallery. Some posh woman breezes out of the building, and begins rattling on about the gallery not being open until the following evening. We learn it’s a first floor art gallery, second floor Charm School. Third floor? No clue. Helipad? [Dove: Wow, this book literally picks up the very second Poor Lila! ended.]

Intros are made, and Mrs Beaumont declares she and her husband are looking forward to their dual business enterprises. She also quizzes the girls on their school arrangements. Once she learns that the girls are from Sweet Valley Middle School, she opines that their parents may soon receive an invitation to the gallery reception.

A man in a white van pulls up.  In the books I usually read, such an event would lead into sentences that include the word “bundled.”

The man is not Mr Beaumont. It’s Richard. He works for the Beaumonts. He’s French, or Swiss, or French-Swiss, or Swiss-French; he and Mrs Beaumont can’t seem to decide which. Either way, Richard is a dick.

On their way to the Dairi Burger, Elizabeth is already suspicious. Good work, girl! Amy, of course, is more concerned about ice cream. Bless her. So easily distracted by colours, shapes and sounds.

At the Dairi Burger, the girls bump into the Unicorns, who – as you’d expect – are fucking AGOG at the prospect of a Charm School in Sweet Valley. Kimberley Haver is the only Unicorn going against type – she thinks the whole thing is ridiculous. Naturally, the Unicorns that actually count all believe the Charm School will be amazing.

While harping on about the Charm School, we learn another thing about the Richard of No Fixed Abode. Despite claiming to be raised in Switzerland to Elizabeth earlier, it seems that he’s told Caroline Pearce that he grew up in Grenoble. Which is in France. Curiouser and curiouser!

Amy and Liz make their excuses and leave. As they do, a book falls out of Elizabeth’s backpack. It’s an Amanda Howard mystery, her favourite writer and creator of the teenage sleuth Christine Davenport. Liz gushes and banters about how great she is.

“I can’t help it,” Elizabeth said. “I’m a mystery addict. I think Amanda Howard’s hero, Christine Davenport, is great. She isn’t that much older than we are, and she’s already solved dozens of mysteries.”

“Of course. She’s got time. Christine Davenport is a fictional character who never has any homework.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Well, I still think she’s wonderful. Although I must admit, she does make me feel a little inadequate. I mean, I can’t even solve the case of the missing blue sweater.”

“If you mean your blue sweater with the white collar, I can solve that mystery for you right now,” Amy offered. “I saw Jessica wearing it in here yesterday afternoon.”

Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed with annoyance. “I can’t believe her. I asked her this morning if she’d seen it and she said she hadn’t.”

“Maybe that’s because when I saw her wearing it, she was also wearing half of her strawberry shake,” Amy said with a wry grin.

Aside:

So what have we learned thus far?

It seems the Beaumonts are not on the level. And that no one but Elizabeth realises this.

Standard.

It’ll be up to our plucky little heroine to unveil the long con and to catch the crooks!

Meh.

Still, the writing is crisp, and the banter between all the girls is good. The last few books have sparkled in this regard. Here’s hoping this one does the same.

[Dove: We’ve also learned that Christine Davenport is a teen. From her name, I always assumed she was some pearl-wearing soccer-mom type. No idea why that image came to mind. So, she’s actually a Nancy Drew avatar. Cool beans.]

End aside.

Back at home, after some usually twinny bullshit, the Wakefields receive a hand-delivered invite to the Gallery / Charm School. There is discussion, during which Alice declares that she’s interested in the Gallery opening in a professional capacity as a part-time interior designer. Psheah, right, Alice. We all know you’re secretly shagging Daddy Fowler and using your “job” as a cover. [Dove: Not quite. All of the High readers are sniggering at this.] [Raven: I am agog with anticipation.]

Jessica wangles a promise from the Elders that she can attend Charm School. Liz thinks it’s bollocky-bum-juice, and declines.

Next, we see the twins dressing for the Gallery reception. Well, we see JESSICA dressing, which must be wonderful news for Steven. Elizaberth declares at dinner that she’s not going, as Amy is coming for a sleepover.

“Why, wasn’t Amy invited to the reception?” Steven teased. “Is she already charming? Or just a hopeless case?”

“She was invited. She just doesn’t want to go,” Elizabeth said. She turned to her parents. “But some girls weren’t invited. Melissa McCormick wasn’t, and neither was Sophia Rizzo. And Jessica says that Mandy Miller wasn’t, either.”

“That’s odd,” Mrs. Wakefield commented. “I would have thought they’d invite all the girls.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Me, too. It’s kind of weird.”

So, more oddness from the Beaumonts. Let’s work it through.

Amy invited? Her folks are presumably somewhat wealthy, as her mother is a TV News Anchor.

Melissa McCormick? Her folks are poor.

Sophia Rizzo? Also poor.

Mandy Miller? Yup, poor.

Looks like, at the very least, the Beaumonts are massively classist. It’s definitely more sinister, naturally, but face value etc.

Aside:

Pretty sure the Beaumonts are going to burgle all the houses in Sweet Valley. How very Tony Rizzo.

End aside.

After dinner, the Elders and Jessica dash off to the Gallery, and Steven heads out to play basketball. Liz reads her Amanda Howard book until Amy arrives. Through some lovely dialogue, the girls decide to spend the evening Beehiving their hair, to surprise Alice (who mentioned the hairstyle over dinner).

For those who don’t know, this is a beehive hairstyle:

Bee-Hee-Hive. When the crowd says Bo, Selector!

Adding volume to Amy’s limp straw? Doubtful. Although, to the Ghostie’s credit, that is actually signposted, so yay.

Amy raised her eyebrows doubtfully and fingered a strand of her limp blond hair. “I don’t know, Elizabeth….”

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Elizabeth coaxed. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

Aside:

At this point, I have to point out one thing. It’s a thing that underpins my entire enjoyment of this book.

Elizabeth.

Is having fun.

That’s right… Elizabeth. Is. Having. Fun.

What does that mean? And how does Elizabeth Having Fun act as the spine that holds up the entire debacle?

More on this later. For now, just take Elizabeth’s Beehive Hair as the first step in the journey.

End aside.

While researching the Beehive Haircut in Alice’s school yearbook – hell, it’s still ELIZABETH – we discover that Mrs Beaumont could possibly be one Margaret Rudenthaler, an old classmate of Mama Wakefield, as Mrs B looks a bit like Maggie R. Of course, it will be revealed that Monique Beaumont actually IS Margaret Rudenthaler at the book’s denouement, but that’s for the final few pages.

Cutting to the Gallery Reception, we see Jessica flinging herself at Mrs Beaumont in an attempt to curry favour and gain entry to the Charm School. She asks about royalty, and eventually mentions the Unicorns.

“Unicorn?” Mrs. Beaumont repeated, looking curious.

Jessica told her about the Unicorns, making sure to mention that they were the prettiest and most popular girls in Sweet Valley Middle School.

Mrs. Beaumont looked very interested. “That is good,” she said. “If one aspires to move in the first circles, it is important to be discriminating in the matter of one’s friends.”

Get fucked, Margeret.

Of course, the Beaumonts and Richard have a long con on the go, and in an attempt to gain more information on their town of marks, Mrs B tries to pump Jessica for details.

Mrs. Beaumont looked around the room. “On the other hand,” she said, “we don’t want to exclude any girl who might be… well… eligible.” She pulled a typed list of names from her pocket. “I wonder if you would be good enough to look this over. These are the names of the girls we have invited. Perhaps there are girls we didn’t know about. Girls whose parents are…” Mrs. Beaumont broke off. “Girls of good background,” she finished.

After a small pang of conscience, Jessica folds like a bad poker hand and spills the beans on Brooke Dennis and Sarah Thomas, from two local rich families. Mrs B is pleased with the information, and promises Jessica that she’ll make the cut for Charm School Membership.

To be honest, this is perfect Jessica. She has a slim understanding that what’s being asked of her isn’t entirely on the level, but successfully rationales the problem away in order to preserve her bubble and keep her thought processes intact. That’s how dogs get abandoned, but that’s also how adventures are made.

Once the fam return to the Compound, we have a brief pause for “what-the-fuck-have-you-done-to-your-hair” shenanigans before Liz asks her likely-ratarsed mother if she knows a Margeret Rudenthaler.

Mrs. Wakefield was already busy looking through a pile of mail on the kitchen table. “No,” she replied absently. “Do I know her?”

Elizabeth handed her mother the old yearbook. “That’s her there,” she said, pointing to the picture.

Mrs. Wakefield examined the picture. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I vaguely remember her. I don’t think she stayed long—maybe a semester.”

That’s sounds like a win, Elizabeth. To be frank, after a bottle and a half of Gordons, I’m surprised she recognises the fucking twins. Or, as she calls them when she’s pissed, the Quads. [Dove: Well, they look exactly like her. That must make things easier. Of course, she might think they’re just mirrors, so that’s a bit confusing. Who knows how Alice functions?]

Next, it’s Monday, and Liz discussed the Charm School with her Gal Pals Amy and Maria. Amy and Maria share Elizabeth’s opinion that the Charm School is a waste of time, although neither share her opinion that there’s something fishy going on. After Maria mentions that her sister spoke French with Mrs Beaumont at the Gallery Reception, Elizabeth is nonplussed.

Elizabeth glanced at Amy. “So Mrs. Beaumont really speaks French?” she asked Maria.

Maria gave Elizabeth a puzzled look. “Sure she really speaks French. Why wouldn’t she?”

Elizabeth leaned forward. “Because I think she may not be French.”

Maria leaned forward, too. “You’re right,” she whispered, trying to keep a straight face. “She’s Swiss.” Then she turned to Amy. “What is she talking about?”

“She thinks she’s stumbled onto a mystery,” Amy replied dryly. “Let’s ignore it and hope it goes away.”

Maria laughed. “Well, Nina did say that Mrs. Beaumont’s accent was odd.”

“Ah-hah,” Elizabeth said, slapping her palm on the table. “I knew it!”

See, I love this. It’s nice to see Elizabeth’s friends being sassy, for once. And Elizabeth does come across as, well, a little driven in her belief that the Beaumonts are Nefarious. I mean, they are as shady as a black golfing umbrella, but even so, Elizabeth is going after them without much proof.

“Hmm,” Maria said. “It’s not much to go on, is it?”

Elizabeth tapped her nose. “But something smells a little funny.”

“Right again, Inspector,” Amy said with a giggle. She pointed to the remains of Elizabeth’s lunch. “But I’m afraid it’s just your corned beef and cabbage.”

Hah! Love it. It’s not often the Sixers get to crack jokes. [Dove: I never noticed this before you mentioned it. Usually Amy’s jokes are terrible and they have to be followed with “everyone laughed” to make sure we recognised it as a joke. This Jamie deserves so many cookies. I wish I knew their real/pen name so I could track down anything else they wrote.] [Raven: Agreed.]

Corned beef and cabbage for lunch? Fucking hell, this school. Seriously, someone should call OFSTED.

That evening, Elizabeth sits reading her mystery novel while her father reads the paper. And he’s making too much noise.

“Ahem. Ahem.”

Mr. Wakefield cleared his throat and turned the page of his newspaper. The pages rattled loudly, and Elizabeth couldn’t help wishing he’d quiet down or go into the den to read.

“Ahem! Ahem!”

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.

Elizabeth sighed. It was impossible to concentrate with all this racket. She glanced at her father and debated whether or not to move up to her room.

Erm… what the fuck?

This tetchiness isn’t like Elizabeth. This is a JESSICA trait through and through. Why the hell isn’t Liz, I dunno, washing her father’s feet of some other such saintly bullshit?

Aside:

I love it. Why?

I’ll tell you later.

Remember it.

End aside.

Elizabeth’s eyes fall on her father’s newspaper. The headline? Apparently, there are con artists afoot, flooding the market with fake antiques.

Re-he-he-heEALLyyyy?

Without thinking, Elizabeth reached over and snatched the paper out of her father’s hands. “Hey!” he cried in surprise.

More Jessica antics?! Is this whole book just one long scene of Twin Magic?

Caught in the moment, Liz declares that the Beaumonts are likely to be con artists. Daddy Wakefield rolls his eyes and gives out some fatherly – and lawyerly – advice.

“Listen, Detective Wakefield, the Beaumonts are ordinary businesspeople. You could get yourself into a lot of trouble spreading rumors like that about them. So as your lawyer—and your father—I’m telling you not to let your imagination run away with you.”

Wise words from Sweet Valley’s very own Saul Goodman.

Back with her pals, Elizabeth is determined to be proved right. Okay, so THAT’S the Elizabeth we know and lo(athe)ve. Maria and Amy are sceptical, but Liz will not be denied. She vows to go undercover to search for proof and reveal the truth. She must join the Charm School along with her friends.

“My mom was considering trying to talk me into charm school, but then she decided it was too expensive,” Amy said. “And Maria’s mom thinks it’s pretentious. And Elizabeth, you’ve gone on record as saying you wouldn’t be caught dead in charm school. If you change your tune now, your parents will wonder what’s going on. So how are we going to convince our parents to let us sign up?”

Elizabeth frowned, thinking hard. Then she broke into a wide grin. “I’ve got an idea.”

That idea is played out in a glorious fashion across the next chapter.

First, Amy convinces her family that her natural clumsiness has become life-threatening. She stumbles and fumbles and mumbles through her day, narrowly avoiding the destruction of heirlooms or the breaking of bones. Eventually, the Elder Suttons tell her she needs to attend Charm School before she falls off a fucking cliff.

Next, Maria Slater – famous child actor – acts up a belching and farting shitstorm at a dinner with her mother and Very Important Guest. Mouthfuls of food, appalling manners, general idiocy. Eventually, Mrs Slater vows that her daughter joins Charm School to knock the edges right off her personality. [Dove: Massive high point? When she leans over the guest to get the salt, Mama Slater yells Maria’s name, she apologises and then salts the guest’s food. When it’s announced the guest doesn’t like salt, she blows on his food. Major grossness. She gave that role her all.]

Finally, Elizabeth pulls a masterstroke of reverse psychology over dinner. Claiming she believes the whole idea is ridiculous, she allows Jessica to “legitimately” change her mind on the whole process, and eventually apologizes to her sister for her arrogance, admitting that she was wrong about the Charm School and getting the buy-in of her parents.

The three sections? ALL GREAT!

Aside:

So.

Here’s why I like this book…

Because ELIZABETH is actually portrayed as JESSICA’S TWIN.

For the FIRST TIME IN THE SERIES, I’m reading about these two girls that are apparently so alike yet so different, and I ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT.

Yeah yeah, we always get the whole “four minutes older, identical dimples” blah blah blah. And we get the “so very alike, but so very different” spiel. Previous Ghosties have played up the differences. THIS Ghostie, in this book at least, is revelling in the similarities.

This Elizabeth? She’s a schemer. Just like Jessica. Sure, it’s for a “good cause”, but it’s still scheming.

This Elizabeth? She’s driven. Just like Jessica. Sure, it’s not her belief that the Unicorns are destined for greatness that’s driving her, but she’s still being driven.

This Elizabeth? She’s won’t be convinced she’s wrong. Just like Jessica. Sure, it’s not over her belief that Dogs with be Okay if Tied to Fences Alone, but it’s conviction nonetheless.

This Elizabeth has sass, and verve, and a little hint of anarchy about her. Just like Jessica.

Sweet Valley TWINS.

Yin and Yang. Two sides of the same coin.

It’s glorious.

End aside.

On Wednesday, we hit the Charm School. We learn it’s a short course, followed by a Formal Graduation Ceremony. This Ceremony includes a seated dinner for families of the graduates, and the presentation of the Mademoiselle Manners Award.

Mrs. Beaumont walked over to a battered old desk in the corner and produced a glittering tiara from one of the drawers. “The winner of the award will be crowned our Queen of Charm. Since I hope you all will meet many kings and queens someday, we will learn how to behave in the presence of royalty. On the night of our dinner, you all will curtsy to the Queen of Charm, showing your parents that if you ever are invited to tea at Buckingham Palace, you will know what to do.”

WE HAVE A B PLOT, FOLKS! [Dove: Jessica should have jumped to her feet and yells, “FUCK YOU ALL, LIZ AND I WERE A PRINCE’S DATES AT THE SANTA DORAN EMBASSY.”] [Raven: I’d forgotten about Prince Albert! He definitely should have been referenced in this book.] [Dove: Raven accidentally prophesises the twins’ dog in Sweet Valley High when he forgets Prince Arthur’s name.]

Jessica vows that she will win the award, and tells Lila so. Janet, seated behind them, overhears and takes up the challenge. A wager is proffered. The loser must curtsy to the winner every time they meet, for a week.

Sounds fun!

Mrs Beaumont draws the class back into the now, and explains the contents of the Charm School course. Amongst the usual crap, there’s a module called “Cultural Appreciation.”

“Cultural appreciation is perhaps the most important aspect of gracious living. I am giving you an assignment to demonstrate to you that this is so. I want each of you to make a list of the fine and beautiful things you have in your homes. Ask your parents to explain to you what they are and what makes them valuable. I know you all live with beautiful things, which you probably take for granted. I want you to learn to appreciate them. Please bring your lists to the next class.”

Hah. So the town will be robbed while the parents attend the Formal Graduation Ceremony, with the best houses hit first once the Cultural Appreciation Inventories reveal the best houses and antiques. Nice!

The class then moves onto posture, which involves the girls walking across the room with a book on their head. Someone called Patty is apparently amazing at it, but she’s also a grumpy pelican, so she can fuck off. This was sufficiently random until I realised the next book is called Patty’s Last Dance. Foreshadowing.

Jessica and Janet have a great interchange of trips and quips, in which each of them tries to out-walk and out-charm the other under the gimlet gaze of Mrs Beaumont. Then Liz has a go, and is wonderfully shit at it.

“It looks as though I have a lot to learn,” Elizabeth said.

Mrs. Beaumont smiled her polite smile. “Well, that is why you are here, yes?”

“That’s right,” Elizabeth answered, giving Mrs. Beaumont a level stare.

I’ve got my eye on you!

We cut to Saturday, with Jessica and Lila practicing their posture at the Fowler Mansion. Lila moans that her “homework” for Cultural Appreciation was too much for a Little Rich Girl such as herself.

Lila pulled several sheets of paper from her notebook. “I’ve already filled three pages and those are just the artworks. I haven’t even started on the furniture,” she complained.

Never change, Lila. Glad to see all that time spent with Melissa didn’t blunt your fabulous edge.

Jessica is bored and irritated by her best friend’s ludicrous brags. Happily, the doorbell rings. It’s Richard, the French Swiss Beaumont-Workman dude, with a painting from the Beaumont Gallery that had been purchased by Daddy Fowler.

As Swiss Richard hangs the “very valuable” painting, Lila is called to the phone by Mrs Pervis the housekeeper. Apparently, Daddy Fowler wants a word. Parenting by proxy, that’s the modern way! This leaves Jessica all alone with the creepy Dick (not to be confused with the creepy Nydick, who’s a whole new kettle of paeds).

Once the picture is hung (hanged?), Richard casts an appreciative eye around the fine furnishings of Chez Fowler. Jessica finds herself wishing her own family home was filled with antiques and valuables, instead of Alice’s empty gin bottles and Steven’s discarded wank-socks.

In an attempt to one-up her best friend, Jessica makes up some quality lies about the contents of the Wakefield Compound.

“Oh, this is nothing,” Jessica said casually. “I mean, the Fowlers have a cute little place here and all, but you should see our house.”

“Oh, really? And who is your family?” Richard asked, looking very interested.

Jessica lifted her head a little higher. “The Wakefields. And we have lots and lots of antiques and art and things like that. Most of it came from Europe.”

Swiss Richard laps it up, a cat burglar who’s got the cream. I believe we’re setting up for a nocturnal visit to the Compound by a band of cutpurses and thieves. Can’t wait! Maybe Steven will get coshed.

Jessica blathers on about the great stuff at home. One of these paintings, two of these cabinets, three of these vases, and so on. Eventually, Lila returns with a message from her father: he’s looking forward to receiving the provenance for the painting. For the cheap seats (which can count me in their number), the provenance is the documentation that proves an antique’s authenticity.

Richard leaves, the girls banter, fade to grey.

Back in the Charm Class on Monday, and the girls are practicing their makeup application. Jessica’s fucking LOVING IT. The Unicorns, as is to be expected, are smashing this assignment.

Elizabeth, Amy and Maria, on the other hand? Proper tossing it off. Clown lips, blackened cheeks, general slapdashery. Jessica is fumo. Which is a bit rich, considering in this class and situation, Liz is basically Jess and Jess is basically Liz. [Dove: No, this is great. If there’s one thing this series has taught me: Jessica hates being Elizabeth in any situation. And there will be plenty.]

Mrs Beaumont interrupts Jessica’s silent seething to enquire about Jess’s Cultural Appreciation list. Apparently, her list (and by Extension Elizabeth’s list) is/are at odds with the information received about the Wakefield Compound from Richard. Y’know, the lies that Jess told while Lila was on the phone.

Mrs Beaumont asks if the Wakefields have an alarm system, or a safe or similar. She’s casing the joint for sure, but Jessica isn’t on her sister’s wavelength in this regard. She tells Mrs Beaumont that the valuables are kept in a sock in an old tennis shoe – apparently, Jess gets her valuable-hiding skills from her mother. She also creates a bunch of extemporaneous lies to explain away the Richard / List discrepancy.

Their discussion is interrupted by giggling from the Sixers table. Mrs Beaumont hypothesizes that Elizabeth is nothing like her twin, to which Jessica drops her sister into a massive pile of shit: she puts Liz’s scepticism firmly in the sights of the rogues involved.

There was more laughter from Elizabeth and Amy. Jessica pursed her lips in annoyance. “You’re right. I don’t even know why she signed up. I guess she and her friends are just trying to make fun of me and the Unicorns. They think this is dumb and that you and Mr. Beaumont are a couple of phonies.”

In a fit of pique, Mrs Beaumont singles out Elizabeth for an impromptu posture demonstration. When Liz trips and fails, the phony Swiss Madam gives the hapless twin both barrels. Elizabeth should be beheaded, apparently.

“I have been in countries far, far away where your head would be cut off if you tripped and fell in front of their queen. Be grateful, mademoiselle, that we have not yet crowned a queen who could order your execution after such a poor performance.”

Elizabeth’s lip trembled. Then she burst into tears, buried her face in her hands, and ran sobbing from the room.

Bit much, Liz. Don’t get soft, now.

As soon as she emerged into the empty hallway, Elizabeth broke into a broad grin. This was the perfect opportunity to do a little snooping.

BOOM!

Great work, Liz. Great work, Ghostie. [Dove: Also, it works. Liz has never failed before. I can imagine the whole room really enjoyed that, and thought it was believable that she would cry the first time she wasn’t instinctively brilliant at something.]

Elizabeth, now firmly on the case, tracks to the Beaumonts’ office. Inside, she rifles through a cabinet of files. The files are named: Fowler, Riteman, Howell, and so on. They contain details of furniture sales, from the Gallery to the families indicated.

As she pores over the Fowler painting bill of sale, she hears footsteps approaching! Quick as a whip, she hides in a rack / stack of raincoats, and in doing so, the reader gets to “overhear” a phone conversation that all but confirms our plucky heroine’s wild suspicions.

“Hello, Hans? It’s me, Beaumont… yeah, yeah… That’s right. Fowler bought the painting…. No, he’s not suspicious. Nobody is…. Why should they be? Margaret’s taking care of everything. We’ll continue as planned. Goodbye.”

So we learn that Mrs Beaumont is, in fact, called Margaret. And that there’s something suspicious about the Fowler’s new painting. Clues ahoy, captain!

Elizabeth manages to escape as the desk conveniently faces away from her route to freedom. Before she returns to class, however, she realises her entire “crying in the bathroom” routine would be rendered unbelievable without an application of some water / fake tears. As she makes to enter the bathroom, however, she is confronted by Mrs Beaumont (nee Rudenthaler) herself!

Happily, despite Maggie’s suspicions, Liz manages to vamp her way through the tricky questions and assuage any concerns over her behaviour.

On the way home from Charm School, Elizabeth fills in her friends Amy and Maria with all the shocking details. At first, Amy is disbelieving – Elizabeth has been on a mystery book kick of late. Liz is adamant that she heard what she heard, and Amy is convinced. Maria follows suit. [Dove: I know you’re loving this, but why has nobody brought up the last time Liz was on an Amanda Howard kick and thought Aunt Helen was being blackmailed/threatened/something about a crime?] [Raven: That didn’t affect her friends though, right?]

Without sufficient proof to take this to the police, who would likely listen to the story and then shoot Maria because she’s black, the Sleuthy Sixers decide to break the case themselves. At least, Elizabeth decides so mote it be, and her friends follow suit.

The Unicorns approach, and there is banter regarding the Mademoiselle Manners Award. Amy throws Elizabeth’s hat into the ring, but Jessica and Janet soon take centre stage, They bicker about who will win, and ask Lila for her opinion. Poor Lila! Forced to choose between her best friend and her cousin / Glorious Leader of the Unicorn Master Race, she does the only thing possible: makes like the UK’s EU position, and leaves.

Wednesday, after the Charm School Class, the Sleuthing Sixers make good their plan. They secrete themselves in a toilet cubicle and wait until everyone has left the floor (presumably, there’s someone in the Gallery of an evening). Once they are alone, they tiptoe into the Beaumonts’ office for a bit for ransacking and clue-finding.

When Elizabeth checks the files in the cabinet, there’s a new entry… Wakefield.

Apparently, Alice has purchased a piece of furniture for one of her Interior design clients. While the provenance is there with the rest of the paperwork, Elizabeth worries that her mother’s career will be over if she’s found to be dealing in phony merchandise. The ante has been significantly upped. She also discovers a boilerplate excuse letter to the Fowler Mansion, apologising for the delay in sending the provenance.

Suddenly, there are footsteps approaching! The girls freeze in terror, before Amy and Maria make good their escape. They beckon their friend to escape with them, as the footsteps grow louder.

“Just a minute,” Elizabeth protested. “Just give me a few more seconds. I know the proof is here somewhere.”

Reckless Elizabeth. That’s so Jessica. Twins! Loving it.

Amy and Maria exit in time, but Elizabeth is a touch too slow. As she makes to leave, she runs into the footstep-maker himself… Mr Beaumont!

Understandably irate, Mr Beaumont demands to know why Liz has been prowling around his office. Stammering, it looks as if Elizabeth has been rumbled good and proper… but Amy and Maria save the day!

Mr. Beaumont started. Elizabeth looked up and saw Amy and Maria stepping out of the ladies’ room. Amy held up her backpack. “I found your backpack,” she called out with a giggle.

“I—I was looking for my backpack,” Elizabeth stammered to Mr. Beaumont, silently congratulating Amy on her quick thinking.

Nice skills there! Amy, you are likely my favourite lank-haired spunkwaffle in the entire series.

Placated, at least temporarily, Mr Beaumont has no choice but to believe the story and let our intrepid trio be on their merry way. Amy and Maria call the whole affair a close shave, and question their business going forward… after all, it seems that there’s no real proof to be found, and the whole encounter was unsettling enough to rattle their resolve.

Elizabeth, it seems is made of sterner, and more reckless, stuff.

“I’m right,” Elizabeth said firmly. “I just know I’m right.” She shook her head. “And it’s more important than ever that we get to the bottom of it. My mom’s career may be at stake.”

Way to go, Liz! This is ENTIRELY what Jessica would do! Fly in the face of all available evidence! Bend the narrative to your own design! Frogmarch the plot-path in the desired direction by sheer force of will! It’s the Wakefield Way!

That evening, back in the safety of the Compound, Elizabeth decides to do the Elizabeth thing, and report her suspicions to her mum. Why she didn’t choose her lawyer father over her gin-addled mess of a mother is quite beyond me.

But even though she’d doing the Elizabeth thing, she still channels Jessica for the details: she omits the parts about sneaking, and eavesdropping, and file-rummaging.

Alice, naturally, calls bullshit.

Bullshit!

“But I know I’m right,” Elizabeth insisted. “The Beaumonts are up to no good.”

Jessica came into the kitchen just in time to hear Elizabeth’s last sentence. “She’s just trying to get out of going back to charm school,” Jessica said. “She and her friends have been goofing around and acting silly and Mrs. Beaumont really let her have it today.”

JESSICA! What the fuck are you doing, you idiotic little tattle-tale?!

This is Opposites Day, isn’t it? Elizabeth is Jessica, Jessica is Elizabeth, Alice is Ned, Steven is Whiskers and the readers are confused.

Sleeping on her next step, Elizabeth awakes refreshed, and with a firm goal in mind. Getting to school early, she pays a visit to Mr Sweeney, the totally ineffectual art teacher.

“Mr. Sweeney?” Elizabeth said.

Mr. Sweeney looked up and gave her a pleased smile. “Elizabeth! What are you doing here so early?”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “You told the class you had a friend who was a curator at the museum,” she said. “Would he know how to authenticate a painting?”

And the chapter ends on an exciting note!

Great stuff.

The next chapter begins with a book that sweetly highlights Elizabeth’s newfound guns-blazing, no-fucks-given approach.

“Have I ever been wrong?” Elizabeth asked.

[Dove: How about that time she assumed Jessica was jealous of her dancing ability? Or the time she went along with the triplet prank? The time she pretended she owned Lila’s horse? When she didn’t report the man abusing his dog to the police? Or when she assumed that she and Jessica started their periods at the exact same time because they’re identical? What about when she went overboard with the model student thing? How about that cartoon of Booster Winston she published in the Sixers that really upset him? Or, as I mentioned before, the time she thought that Aunt Helen was in danger?] [Raven: Damn, I’ve been #FactSlapped.]

The Sleuthy Sixers are debating their next move over a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Amy and Maria have reservations about continuing, which is understandable after the Beaumont Office Brouhaha, but Elizabeth will truck no quitters. She has a plan, and the girls agree to do it.

The plan?

STRAIGHT out of the Jessica Wakefield playbook.

  • Maria (child actor, remember?) calls the Beaumont Gallery, and pretends to be Alice Wakefield. She arranges to meet Mr Beaumont at the Fowler Mansion on Saturday afternoon, under the premise that she’s employed to redesign the Fowler Living Room and news some Gallery goodies to complete the job.
  • Maria, again as Alice Wakefield, then calls Mr Fowler and asks if she can pop in on Saturday afternoon, to “research some antiques or some shit.” DIRECT QUOTE, Y0.
  • That evening Maria AGAIN calls Alice, while pretending to be Mrs Beaumont, and asks her to meet at the Fowler Mansion on Saturday afternoon for some design advice.

First up… SICK PLAN, ladies! Elizabeth, your machinations would do your sister proud.

Next… WAY TO GO, Maria! You knock it out of the park. Good job!

Finally… What the FUCK is the point of Amy? She’s got nothing to do in this plan. She’s Xander, she’s the Tin Dog. She’s a lank-haired spunkwaffle supreme.

(Actually, Amy did the business at the Beaumont Offices, and her quick thinking helps the girls escape, so yay. Nice work, Amy!).

Saturday afternoon rolls around, and the Sleuthy Sixers hide in a bush on the Flower Estate, in preparation for their pre-planned showdown of Fowler, Beaumont and Wakefield. As the final piece of the puzzle enters the building, Liz and Pals pounce! They dash into the Mansion, to see Mr Fowler, Alice and Mr Beaumont talking in confusion, as Lila and Jessica look on. As the confusion reaches a crescendo, Elizabeth steps in.

“Excuse me!” Elizabeth said loudly. “I think I may be able to clear up the confusion.”

Spoken like a true detective, Liz! Nicely handled, very much in the Agatha Christie vein.

There are a few “what is the meaning of this”-es, and “this is an outrage”-es, as Elizabeth reveals that they are waiting for one more surprise guest…

“When he gets here,” she said again, “I intend to prove that that man”—she pointed to Mr. Beaumont—“is a crook. And that painting”—she pointed to the painting over the desk—“is a fake!”

THIS IS TOTALLY JESSICA! Seriously, the conceit of this book, that the two twins are ACTUALLY ALIKE, is worked wonderfully. All long-time fans of the series should get a huge kick out of it.

The doorbell rings! It’s Elizabeth’s mystery guest…

Mrs. Pervis showed in a neatly dressed man with a short brown beard. “How do you do?” the man said politely. “I’m John Kolker from the Sweet Valley Museum. Mrs. Wakefield invited me here to authenticate a painting.”

Mrs. Wakefield shot a threatening look in Elizabeth’s direction. “I’m Mrs. Wakefield,” she said. “But I’m afraid you were brought here under false—”

Mom!” Elizabeth interrupted. “Please! I know what I’m doing.”

*blinks*

Jesus Liz, wind your neck in a bit.

Seriously? This is pitch-perfect.

Mr Kolker is tasked with authenticating Mr Fowler’s new painting, or unmasking it as a fraud. The crowd hush with anticipation, as the museum curator examines the purported Holtzinger.

Mr. Kolker removed his glasses and polished them with his handkerchief. He cleared his throat and turned to face the group. Elizabeth held her breath. “There’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Kolker said. “This painting is a genuine Holtzinger.”

The room was so quiet that Elizabeth would swear she could hear the blood rush to her face. She had never felt so embarrassed in her whole life

Boom.

Headshot.

Crumple.

Teabagged.

Wonderful stuff! I mean, I was sure that Kolker wouldn’t unmask it as fake, because there’s just under half of the book left to read, but even so… well paced, nicely written, and mortifying for Elizabeth. [Dove: God this was satisfying!]

Jessica and Lila howl with laughter. Mr Fowler looks amused. Mr Beaumont looks angry, elated and vindicated. Alice Wakefield is livid. Apologies abound, and scene.

In the car, an hour later, Mama Wakefield doles out her brickbats. She’d already told Maria and Amy’s folks all about their daughters’ transgressions, and the non-Wakefield thirds of the Sleuthy Sixers were promised stern corrective measures aplenty.

Elizabeth’s punishment?

“I want you to send a written apology to every single person involved—tonight!” Mrs. Wakefield said. “And you’re grounded. No phone calls, no TV, no horseback riding, no trips to the mall. The only place you’re going is to school… oh yes, and charm class.”

And that’s not all…

“Oh, and one more thing—no more Amanda Howard mysteries for a year!

That’s perfect. Right where it hurts, in Elizabeth’s literary nutsack.

At school the next day, we find that the Gossip Wagon has trundled through the school, and Elizabeth is the butt of everyone’s jokes.

“Hey, Detective Wakefield!” a voice shouted from the other end of the hall. “I can’t find my algebra book. Think you can figure out who stole it?” Laughter broke out all around.

Elizabeth struggles to take it on the chin, something I’m sure that Jessica will be expert at by the time she leaves High School, and her Sleuthy Sixers friends threaten to cut bitches if they don’t back the fuck off.

At lunch, Liz sits with her burly protectors Amy and Maria, but they are none to impressed with how things went down. Both Amy and Maria have been grounded, forever, in a move known as the Full Butters. Then again, so has Elizabeth, so there’s that. The streets are safe from the Sleuthy Sixers, for now at least.

Liz is still mortified by the whole thing. She apologises for the trouble she’s foisted upon her friends, but like the proverbial bulldog with the cock between its teeth, she clamps down harder and doubles down on the mayhem.

She knows what she heard, people. The Beaumonts are VAGABOND SUPREMES.

Amy and Maria relent a little under Elizabeth’s burgeoning tears, but they do not give ground completely.

Amy tried to keep a stern expression on her face. But when she saw the tears welling up in Elizabeth’s eyes, she relented. She put her arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders and gave her a smile. “Look, it’s OK. Suspect whomever you want of whatever you want. Just promise us that from now on, you’ll leave us out of it, and we’ll all be friends again. Right, Maria?”

Wow. That’s new. Elizabeth without her support network. This book is legit full of surprises.

Monday arrives, and Elizabeth is being tested by Mrs Beaumont. The class concentrates on Cultural Appreciation, and Liz has to identify paintings on various slides. Of course, the final slide is of the misidentified Holtzinger, proving that fake Swiss art thieves can be fake Swiss trolls too.

Later in class, as the charmees practice Mrs Beaumont thanks the three Sleuthy Sixers for their lovely letter of apology, which only causes Elizabeth’s blood to boil further. Maybe into vapour.

We cut to the Unicorns, with Janet and Jessica  at loggerheads. Jessica is defensive for her sister, as the Unicorns are roundly mocking Liz for the kerfuffle at the Fowler Mansion. Jessica knows that only SHE is allowed to rib her twin for things like that. Using their charming retorts as a weapon, she and Janet throw metaphorical daggers at each other while maintaining the veneer of decorum. Mrs Beaumont watches on appreciatively. She eventually talks of their last charm class, that coming Wednesday.

Wow, that was a quick course. The Beaumonts don’t fuck around.

“I just wanted to remind all of you about the arrangements for Wednesday,” she announced. “As you know, it’s our last class. We will learn how to behave when we are introduced to royalty, and then you will be dismissed early so that you can go home and change for the party that evening. Invitations have been sent, and I have spent all morning on the phone with your families. I’m happy to report that almost all of your parents and brothers and sisters will be attending.”

Everyone laps it up, although the astute reader amongst us have spotted it’s basically a ruse to get the folk of Sweet Valley out of their homes so they can be burgularized with impunity. This tactic is alternately known as a Tony Rizzo, or a Wet Bandit Assault.

Jessica and Janet continue their war of words, which eventually turns into faux fisticuffs, purple handbags at fifty paces. Mrs Beaumont admonishes them, and both girls prime the charm cannon once more. It’s all sweetness for show, bird-flips for dough, and it’s good fun. [Dove: I really loved these exchanges where the Unicorns were trying to out-charm and out-apologise each other, while you could really feel the venom. A+ Jamie Suzanne.]

Suddenly, a wild Wednesday appears! It’s super effective.

In their final Charm class, Mrs Beaumont is pretending to be a queen while the classmates are presented to her. This class is SO MUCH BULLSHIT. Really, who the fuck cares? My life is not Gossip Girl. As this is happening, we learn that Elizabeth is still seething, and still working on a way to bring these fuckers down.

The class is dismissed early, so the space can be prepped for the dinner that evening. Mrs Beaumont goes over the agenda for the meal. The Queen of Charm will be crowned before the meal. After dinner but before dessert, the Queen of Charm will deliver a short speech, about makeup and proper silverware placement and other shite. Then the rest of the class will, one by one, curtsy to the Queen before everyone can fuck off home, back to their ransacked houses.

As they exit after the class, the Sleuthy Sixers pass by the Gallery, to discover that it’s empty. That’s all sorts of weird, or at least it’s weird to our wonderfully obsessed twin.

“Well, you’ve got to admit it’s kind of suspicious,” Elizabeth said eagerly.

Amy rolled her eyes. “Oh, no you don’t. I thought your mother took all your Amanda Howard books away from you.”

“She did.” Elizabeth grinned. “But I got one out of the school library today.”

EAGERLY! So good. Also, Elizabeth directly defying her mother, and grinning about it! She’s Jessica, I tell you. ACTUAL TWINS.

Aside:

Yeah, I know. Broken fucking record at this point.

Get fucked, this book is awesome.

[Dove: You’re so cute when you’re enthused about these books.] [Raven: You can get fucked too.]

End aside.

In her eagerness to show Amy and Maria the illicit library mystery book, Liz discovers that she’s dropped it in the Charm School. Convenient. Of course, she runs back, alone, to retrieve it.

In doing so, she spots the Beaumont Office door is open… and there are voices from inside! OF COURSE she goes to eavesdrop.

It was Mr Beaumont, and an unknown woman… who is revealed to be Mrs Beaumont without a Swiss accent!

“We’re all set,” Mrs Beaumont was saying. “Our guests arrive at six-thirty. Richard will meet you with the van at six-forty-five.” She laughed. “You can clear them out while they’re enjoying the second course.”

Surprise!

ELIZABETH IS RIGHT! ELIZABETH IS RIGHT!

FUCK YOU, HATERS!

*ahem*

As Elizabeth listens in horror, Mr Beaumont congratulates his wife on her Charm School plan, and hands her a list of the best houses to hit for the prime antique haul. They both single out one house for special treatment… if there’s no other house to hit, this one house is the place to be.

The only pube in the party popper? Elizabeth fucking Wakefield. But Mrs Beaumont has a plan to quell that uppity quim: she’ll be crowned the Queen of Charm, which should keep her busy enough to silence the voices in her head.

Elizabeth, listening in horror, decides that SOMETHING. MUST. BE. DONE.

She silently speeds back to her friends, and tells them all about it.

“Well?” Elizabeth cried. “What are we going to do?”

Maria and Amy exchanged glances.

“I’d better get going,” Maria said softly.

“Me, too,” Amy said. “My mom’s expecting me home.”

Despite Elizabeth’s protestations, Amy and Maria climb on their bikes and ride into the sunset.

*Golf Clap* Nice work, Ghostie. You’ve been building to this, and it’s hit home. Elizabeth will have to catch the crooks without her Sleuthy Sixer pals. Lovely!

As she cycles home, the seedlings of a plan begins to sprout in the herb garden of her mind. The gardener to help cultivate this? Jessica goddamn Wakefield.

Back at home, Liz tells her sister all about the Beaumont’s scheme. And of course, Jessica doesn’t believe a word of it. She does her best to deflect her sister’s insistence, and belittles her apparently asinine rantings.

In a stroke of simple genius, Liz delivers the killer argument to convince her doubting double.

Elizabeth tossed the purple dress on Jessica’s bed. “Look,” she said. “It’s pretty unlikely that I would win the Mademoiselle Manners Award, right?”

“I’d say it was downright impossible,” Jessica said, picking up the dress and starting to pull it on.

“So if I did win it, you’d have to believe me, right?” Elizabeth demanded.

“I guess so,” Jessica said.

“Great,” Elizabeth said with a smile of relief. “Then if I do win, here’s what we’ll do…”

So now we have a super-schemey, super-driver Elizabeth Wakefield, powered by the TRUE CONVICTION THAT SHE IS RIGHT, alongside the series’ standout sociopath Jessica Wakefield, ready to support her sister or revel in her utter failure. The scene is set, and I am genuinely excited!

That evening, the Wakefield family set off for the Charm School Dinner. Steven. Being Steven, feigns an illness, and convinces the Elders she should stay at home for a Wankathon. (A Wankathon is like a big wank, only you donate to charity afterwards.)

Setting off twenty minutes late, Liz maganges to deflect some interesting questions from her mother regarding her choice of handbag for the event (a rucksack). When they arrive, the Elders head into the studio while the twins head for the Beaumont Office (with Liz secreting her rucksack / change of clothes in the ladies’ room).

The rest of the Charm School Classmates are waiting in the office. As Elizabeth enters, so does Mrs Beaumont. Maggie admonishes the twins for their tardiness, before moving onto the matter at hand… the winner of the Mademoiselle Manners Award. Jessica and Janet mug for the cheap seats to remind us of the B Plot, before the meant and potatoes are served.

“The winner of the Mademoiselle Manners Award, and tonight’s Queen of Charm, is…” Mrs. Beaumont smiled and looked at each girl, prolonging the suspense. “Mademoiselle Elizabeth Wakefield!” she announced.

Everyone gapes, like slapped arses. Jessica, overcome with emotion and the sheer injustice of it all, bursts into tears and dashes to the ladies’ room.

The newly-crowned Queen of Charm politely excuses herself to attend to her mewling sister. Rattled but rallying, Mrs Beaumont allows it.

Jessica was already undressed when Elizabeth rushed into the ladies’ room.

Elizabeth grinned at her twin. “You were great,” she said, peeling off her pink party dress and handing it to Jessica. “I almost believed you were really upset.”

Jessica stepped into the pink dress while Elizabeth fished her backpack out from behind the trash can and pulled out a sweater and a pair of jeans.

“I am upset,” Jessica said. “I can’t believe I actually knocked myself out trying to win that stupid award, when the whole thing was fixed! Do you know how many hours I spent walking around with a dictionary on my head?”

THE GAME IS AFOOT!

Gotta love this book. So much fun!

Jessica, as Elizabeth, heads back to the Beaumonts’ office, and placates a worried and agitated Mrs Beaumont. “Jessica”, she says, is upset and wants them to go on without her.

As Mrs Beaumont counts heads, Jessica spills the beans to a sceptical Amy and Maria. Elizabeth, she tells them, is on a stakeout, and needs the help of her Sleuthy Sixer friends. One of them has to be at the school payphone every twenty minutes… and if Elizabeth DOESN’T call, she’s in big trouble.

Elizabeth, after memorising the school payphone’s number, heads off through the darkness, biking to the Fowler Mansion. After all, that’d be Prime Burgle Target Special Time Go-Go Love Panda 17, right?

Hiding in a bush, she waits for the approaching white van that would belong to the would-be robbers.

I’ve got to catch them in the act, she thought. As soon as I see them break into the house, I’ll call the police. Then they’ll race over here and catch Mr. Beaumont and Richard red-handed.

Simples, right?

Suddenly, a light goes on in the Fowler Mansion. Mrs Pervis, the Fowler’s housekeeper, is there!

The white van turns a corner, and approaches the Fowler Mansion… before driving straight past. The Fowlers, it seems are not the target tonight. Perhaps they are scared away by the staff in the house.

Elizabeth deduces the next on their list would be the Howell Residence. She bikes over.

Back at the Charm School Dinner, Maria makes excuses to make her twenty-minute deadline for the phone. Elizabeth calls in, so all is well. Jessica, in the meantime, changes from her Elizabeth clothes into her Jessica clothes, in order to keep the Twin Magic pretence popping.

At the Howell Residence, which is a few blocks from the Steven-guarded Wakefield Compound, she watches the white van drive right past. She checks in on the phone with Amy – seriously, this story would be SO MUCH EASIER after the invention of the mobile phone, although it is fun watching Liz jump through metaphorical hoops in the search for payphones. If this was set in any UK city, the payphones would all be smashed in and stinking of piss.

Jessica, being a total star, now changes back into her Elizabeth costume, ready to give her big Queen of Charm speech. Loving it!

Back on the case, Elizabeth tries the Riteman residence. Then the Havers. Neither home had a telltale white van anywhere near it. And it was time toc heck in with the Sleuthy Sixers once more.

Why didn’t I say every thirty minutes? she thought in frustration. I’ll go home and call. It’s closer than the pay phone. And if I sneak in the back door, Steven won’t even know I’m there.

She heads off home, and arrives to see an extremely-NOT-ill Steven leaving the house with a friend called Bob. Steven admits that he’s faking illness to avoid the “dumb Charm School Banquet,” and they head off into the night (for an hour, tops).

As Elizabeth hides in the bushes, the white van trundles down their street. Steven and Bob remark on it, with Steven commenting that it had circled the block at least four times, to his knowledge. Uh-oh… it seems the Beaumonts are targeting the Wakefield Compound!

Elizabeth dashes inside to call her friends. She leaves the lights off, so not to alarm Steven.

Back at the Dinner, Maria makes some further strained excuses, and dashes to the payphone just as Elizabeth dials. In a tetchy exchange, the hammer finally drops.

“Elizabeth, my mom is ready to kill me,” Maria said. “How much longer do we have to keep this up?”

Elizabeth ignored the question. “I’m going to the Ritemans’,” she told Maria. “I’ll call you when—oh! Oh no!” Elizabeth’s voice broke off abruptly.

“Elizabeth?” Maria said. “Are you there? Elizabeth? Is something wrong?”

There was a click. And then Maria heard a dial tone.

In the Wakefield Compound, Elizabeth was finally in Mr Beaumont’s clutches. He and Richard shove her into the broom closet, and if this isn’t Bleak fucking Valley I don’t know WHAT is.

As Elizabeth listens in horror and fear, she discovers that the would-be robbers have indentified the Wakefield Compound as the best place to burgle in all of Sweet Valley. After waiting for “the boy” to leave, one of the twins turning up was nothing but a blip in their plan. They could take her, as insurance, across the Mexican border, where they can pull the whole sweet scam again.

Richard laughed. “I just hope we have enough room in the van for all the Wakefield valuables.”

Wakefield valuables? Elizabeth thought. She would have laughed if she hadn’t been so frightened. If they think Mom’s antique jewelry is going to set them up for life, they’re going to be very disappointed. She felt around on the closet floor until she located the old tennis shoe where Mrs. Wakefield’s heirlooms were hidden, and clutched it to her chest.

Bless Elizabeth, holding onto the actual Wakefield valuables! [Dove: Don’t forget the antique carved rose from Europe that Alice keeps in a box in the garage!]

Back at the Charm School Dinner, Amy and Maria tell Jessica what’s happening. In a panic, she demands they call the police immediately. Then, in the guise of Elizabeth, she is called to the podium to give her speech as the Queen of Charm.

She stepped up to the podium and looked out over the sea of faces. What could she say?

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mrs. Beaumont moving surreptitiously toward the door. Jessica took a deep breath. “Stop her!” she shouted into the microphone. She pointed to Mrs. Beaumont. “She’s a crook and a phony. And her creepy husband has done something to my sister!”

There’s a gasp, and then laughter. Ned leaps to his feet, furious with “Elizabeth”.

Jessica looked over and saw that Janet was laughing so hard, she could barely stand. Jessica grabbed the microphone again. “And for your information, Janet Howell, it’s me, Jessica. Not Elizabeth!”

The laugh froze on Janet’s face. Mr. Wakefield took Jessica by the arm.

“I told you I’d wind up as the Queen of Charm,” Jessica shouted at Janet.

She just managed to stick her tongue out at Janet before her father yanked her off the podium.

Absolutely wonderful Literally choking with laughter here. SO SO SO SO Jessica!

We cut back to the broom closet. Elizabeth, still terrified, overhears her captors discussing their antique “haul”… or their lack of it. The house, it seems, should be packed with art and antiques.

Jessica’s lies! The boasting in the Fowler Mansion! Brilliant! Sure, we knew it was coming, but still!

It seems Jess had unknowingly steered the thieves in the patently wrong but dramatically correct direction. Great plotting, Ghostie!

Suddenly the closet door was yanked open and Mr. Beaumont and Richard loomed over Elizabeth.

“OK,” Mr. Beaumont said. “Where’s the stuff?”

“What stuff?” Elizabeth asked.

“You know what stuff. The valuable stuff your parents have hidden.”

Wordlessly, Elizabeth offered them the old tennis shoe.

Perfect!

Suddenly, sirens! Police! Denouement!

The final chapter sees the Elder Wakefields both proud of Elizabeth’s tenacity, and rightfully furious that their daughter would put herself in such a dangerous situation. We also get the following delightful payoff…

The twins and their parents were standing in their front yard. Mr. Beaumont and Richard had been handcuffed and were now being loaded into the back of a police car. Several other squad cars were parked nearby, their lights flashing. The Wakefields’ van was still in the middle of the front yard, where Mr. Wakefield had driven in his haste. Many of the neighbors had come out of their houses to see what was going on.

At that moment a solitary figure came walking down the street and then froze. “Holy cow!”

They all looked up and saw Steven, who was staring at the bizarre scene with his mouth wide open.

“Steven!” Mr. Wakefield exclaimed.

Steven gulped. “I was only gone for an hour. You didn’t have to call the police!”

The twins looked at each other and grinned.

Excellent joke, well made.

At school the next day, the Sleuthy Sixers are heroes. They are front-page news in the actual paper, and the whole Beaumont scheme is revealed. Apparently, they are internationally renowned criminals, and they have been finally captured thanks to Elizabeth and chums.

We wrap up with some more guff about Patty Gilbert, who promises her Last Dance in the next book. Whatevs.

I loved this book.

Final Thoughts:

A few book ago, I proclaimed a New Favourite: Jessica the Nerd. I now have a NEW New Favourite: The Charm School Mystery.

This book was funny, engaging, ridiculous, well plotted, and full of great characters, situations and dialogue. What more can you ask from a Sweet Valley Twins book?

I wish more books had this twin dynamic. I loved both the twins in this book. They finally seemed related, and both totally relatable. Elizabeth wasn’t a sanctimonious know-it-all, and Jessica wasn’t a completely amoral narcissist. They worked well together, and the book was glorious because of it.

Also, I’m enjoying the more ludicrous situations proffered from the current run of book. International art thieves? Why the fuck not?!

The next one’s gonna be shit, isn’t it…?

[Dove: Well, the next one is The Magic Christmas, which is the John Cena of the Twins run, so… YMMV. As for this book, I wish I loved it. I can see why Raven does, and his enthusiasm is truly awesome, but for some reason this isn’t my cup of tea. Then again, I’ve never been a “plucky girl detectives” kind of reader. I agree with Raven about all the points he made, it’s well-written, the dialogue is sassy, the twin thing – which I hadn’t noticed until Raven mentioned it – is great, and I’d love to see it again. But this story wasn’t my thing. Or maybe I’m still on a come-down from Poor Lila!]

Looking back at things I've enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.

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