Jul 29, 2008

Bonnie and the Haunted Farm, or Why Dogs and Stepsisters are Evil

Bonnie and the Haunted Farm
by Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1974

If you're wondering to yourself if this book was published in October right in time for the holidays, then you would be completely correct. Yeah, it seems rather silly, but I'm not kidding. October 1974. I guess someone at Signet thought horse crazy girls everywhere would finish up their trick or treating and then read this book by flashlight in their darkened room because this book has it all: insane asylums, ghosts, murder...even implied incest! Yes, truly this was the Halloween book to buy in 1974.

Accidents, or evil?

When young trainer Monty Everett presented Julie with a new stallion, Cache, Julie's happiness seemed complete. Bonnie, her champion racer, was soon to be a mother, and now she had a second horse to call her own. Between training Cache, worrying over Bonnie, and befriending handsome Dirk Markham and his sister Alexis, the new owners of Croydon Farm, Julie found her days filled with excitement.

And then accidents started happening at Croydon: Julie was hurt in an inexplicable fall, Cache was injured, and Julie had to spend a terror-filled evening at Croydon, with only the ghost of its tragic past for company. Coincidence or campaign of terror? Was someone trying to scare Julie away from the Markhams and Croydon Farm? Julie could not know the danger her quest for answers would bring to her and her prized Sunbonnet....
This blurb is in the past tense, which for some reason really annoys me. It's like someone decided to treat it like a book report instead of a summary intended to sell copies of this book. Plus, Dirk Markham? What is this, Harlequin Romance all of a sudden? Julie gives Ashleigh Griffen herself a run for her money in regards to acting completely and irritatingly innocent, and we're going to throw a DIRK in her direction? This just seems extremely wrong to me.

Well, whatever. Dirk or no Dirk, Julie's nineteen now and she's going to have to learn about the wonders of sex somehow. If Monty doesn't get around to it eventually, Dirk is ready and willing. However, I'm getting ahead of myself. We haven't even met Dirk yet. Dirk. God, what the hell? For sanity's sake, I wandered over to www.babynames.com and discovered it's a German form of Derek meaning Famous Ruler, and that still doesn't help.

This book opens up with Julie going all crazy about this girl called Lisa Marsden. Apparently Deepwater or Fieldstone Farm (I am pretty sure this book takes place at Fieldstone Farm, Deepwater's breeding farm, but I can never be sure who's supposed to be where and why...it is very confusing) broke her horse for her because her horse is persnickety when it comes to bridles. Julie is all excited because Lisa is going to ride this horse in a show and yay, oh yay, let's all go and see this horse. Leon Pitt agrees, but not before Julie sees his newspaper and discovers that Croydon Farm has been sold. Croydon Farm is the neighboring farm that's been uninhabited for something like a decade because all these horrible things happened and Leon immediately delves into it because it's important to set the scene. Leon tells Julie that this young couple bought the farm and their kid managed to drown in a pond on the property. If this wasn't bad enough, the couple decides to adopt this orphan who winds up taking an ax to their heads when he's a teenager. Everyone is appropriately stunned and so the kid confesses to his best friend and is pronounced quite crazy and shuffled off into some state hospital where he's destined for shock therapy and padded walls.

Therefore Croydon Farm is evil. Moving on to the show. Julie meets up with Lisa, who's only purpose seems to be discussing why Monty and Julie aren't having sex. Only this is 1974, so she's asking why they aren't married already. Julie is embarrassed and tries to hide the fact that she's blushing and not thinking about having sex with Monty because oh my God she is 19 and he is 23 and what is the world coming to? Well, whatever, because she gets home from the show and there's Monty, complete with a new horse just for her. So she loses it and kisses him (which might be their first kiss, but then it might not be because the book is playing around with this relationship to the point of absurdity and Barbara van Tuyl is apparently extremely coy) and Monty is all pleased. The horse is a gray stallion...yeah, it's Cache. With a ch and not an sh, but Julie does not care so for all we know she spells it Cash.

Anyway, while Monty is home from the track we have to take advantage of this situation. The new neighbors arrive and Leon or Stash or someone tells Julie to bring a welcome basket over. Because that there's a woman's work. Julie drags Monty along with her because she's scared of the place and doesn't know what to expect. Apparently she wasn't expecting Paul Newman to answer the door, but believe me when I say that Monty is really annoyed about it. Dirk Markham is just a dream boat, who actually is described as a "young Paul Newman." How can we resist such a temptation? He's all, yay visitors! And Monty is all oh no. Julie is all, tell me all about your horses and your animals while I completely ignore the fact that you are staring at me while Monty glares at you! And then there's Dirk's sister, Alexis, who is basically the ice queen. Dirk wants them to all stay and visit for a while and Monty's trying his hardest to get Julie out of the house because he's the jealous type, and Alexis is thrilled to see them leave because she's also the jealous type and can we see the plot developing here? Okay, just checking.

Then we all begin the wait for Bonnie to give birth. While this happens, Julie's new dog, Pushy, a St. Bernard, injures himself and she has to take him off for some stitches while Stash and Leon (doing their best Dr. Holmes and Mr. Watson impression) go to Julie's cottage to find out why. Well, it doesn't take a lot of guessing. There's broken glass all over the kitchen floor, and they pick it all up and take it to the barn to reconstruct whatever it was that broke. This...must have been extremely time consuming. However, they manage to put it back together because there's this red paint on the glass (not blood, we are helpfully informed, because someone has read their Dostoyevsky and remembered that blood turns brown when dry). So, what's the broken object? It's a glass ax! But oh my gosh, this clearly is a sign because the Croydon murders were committed with an ax! Let's not tell Julie what's going on because, you know, that would just freak her out and ruin a giant plot point we can save for later. So Julie comes back and Bonnie has her twins (Deerstalker and Highland Tam), only the filly is all weak and the vet wants to kill her on sight because that's what people did in novels by Barbara van Tuyl and K.M. Peyton. Julie saves the filly, again doing her best Ashleigh Griffen impression, and Tam grows up all healthy but small and therefore will probably be no good at anything.

This is when Dirk makes his appearance again, causing chaos between Leon and Stash as Stash ruthlessly roots for Monty and Leon doesn't appear to really care either way. Dirk invites Julie to come see his crazy off track thoroughbred he's renamed Soul-searching. I hate horse names involving hyphens. I can't explain it. But that's besides the point. Julie starts coming over to Croydon all the time because Dirk wants to help her out with retraining Cache to jump. Or do something vaguely event oriented with. I don't know. There was so much technical jump/hunter/blah blah blah talk in this book I zoned out a lot when something evil wasn't happening. So then Dirk falls in love with her. He tells her so. Julie's response?
"I'm quite certain, Mr. Markham, that we'd better not mention the subject again until I've thought it out some."
Damn, I should have taken some pointers from Julie when I was her age. Anyway, determined to wait her out, Dirk then asks her a neighborly favor of feeding the horses and dogs (he's got a kennel of hounds for his drag hunting purposes) tomorrow while he's away. Julie agrees and thus he goes away. She comes over the next day, drags her own dogs with her (remember back to Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year, when I said you can make any plot work by giving your main character a dog? Well, keep that in mind) takes care of everything, and winds up with all 20 hounds running loose on the property. She keeps putting them in the kennel and they keep getting out and eventually she discovers there's a second door that's open and so once that's solved she sticks them all in the kennel and then her dog runs away. Seriously, Julie, put the dog on a leash. Nana looks responsible, but she's annoying as all hell.

Thus she winds up in the house, with her car dead, and somehow falls asleep in the den. When she wakes up there's a raging storm outside and she discovers that there's a giant bloodstain on the floor. So this would be the room where the ax murder happened back when, although Julie is not at all scared. She's all, well, great, I'll just leave now. But then the wind or something slams the door shut and she's stuck because the door is all warped and won't work. Now she's basically locked in the house's most upsetting room and this is when the noises start. Shuffling footstep noises and so forth. Then her St. Bernard appears in the window and she opens it up and he hops inside. It's pouring out, thus she doesn't want to go outside. Which I find stupid because, you know, I'm not good in potentially threatening situations where I'm cornered in a room. I'd rather jump out the window, but not Julie. Not even when the footsteps become banging noises out in the hall. Then someone throws a rock through the window. Julie takes this all in stride, like it's normal.

This keeps going and going until Monty, Leon and Stash show up and crawl in the window also. After she's been gone for hours on end I guess they decided something was up, and rather then go to bed they went after her. They manage to open the door and discover that the banging noise was that stupid BEAGLE who got her head stuck in a grease jar and was banging her head repeatedly against the wall. The footstep noise was Pushy, because he drags his giant dog feet.

Anyway, we discover that Alexis is really Dirk's stepsister. And Dirk is like 28. Alexis has been all rude or not around when Julie is at Croydon, which is supposed to imply that because she's actually not related to Dirk she wants his manliness for herself. Then Julie kisses Monty and Monty kisses her back and oh my God hearts and rainbows, only it involves coffee and awkwardness and the word "disengaged," which I hate. Absolutely nothing comes of this.

So then the following stuff happens:
1. Julie and Dirk measure a sequence of jumps. They go to tack up the horses and come back to the jumps, going through them as planned except the last jump has been moved. This causes Julie to fall off. Damn.
2. Dirk offers his saddle to Julie to test out, because his saddle is super awesome. She jumps with it and the stirrup breaks and she falls and twists her ankle. Damn.
3. Cache injures himself in this stirrup episode. Double damn.
4. Instead of putting pink antibiotic cream on Cache's injury, the containers get confused and merc-oxide blister gets put on it instead, causing a complete leg melt down and lays up Cache for six weeks instead of a few days.
5. Dirk invites Julie on a drag hunt, and her horse is all slow and then a "figure" spooks her horse and this is meant to freak her out or something.

This all takes a while, as you can imagine. I'm just being efficient at this point. In the middle of this, Alexis keeps telling Julie that she thinks there are ghosts on the property and Stash thinks Dirk is really the crazy guy who somehow escaped from his padded room and came back to exact revenge, or something. All of this culminates in a) Stash and Leon yelling at Monty to tell Julie he loves her for Christ's sake and b) Bonnie being stolen again. This is really kind of a been there, done that sort of plot. Only this time Nana comes to the rescue and finds Bonnie on Croydon's property. Dirk is all pissed off, so they take the mare back to Fieldstone Farm and Alexis is there and Alexis goes all pale and, as you have probably guessed by now, Alexis is our culprit because she wants her stepbrother and was all pissed off because he wanted Julie.

In classic fictional form, Alexis comes out with all of it. She planted the glass ax, which shattered because Pushy scared her. She did all the rest of it, and stole Bonnie, thinking that would at least distract Julie for a while until she could put Bonnie back on Fieldstone's property. So...yeah. Nevertheless, Dirk does not want to have sex with his stepsister, so she gets sent to the padded room. Then everyone muses about how they thought Dirk was the crazy ax murderer guy, and he says haha that's funny but actually I'm that guy's best friend.

And everyone sort of shuts up very quickly. So it turns out that the crazy ax murderer guy sort of went extra crazy and started saying he saw his dead parents, but twisted it around and said he killed them when he didn't. Dirk always believed that he never killed his parents, but no one could ever prove it, especially when the guy confessed. So Dirk bought the place thinking he could find some clue to prove the guy innocent. As luck would have it, Julie was doing some snooping before the drag hunt, and found the murder weapon under the previously stained, recently sanded floorboard. The murderer's prints are all over it because the guy was apparently stupid, and Julie told no one because no one tells anyone anything in these books. Because sharing important information is seen as "worrying someone unnecessarily." So they get the cops back and they find out that some crazy person who was not the couple's adopted son was the real killer and so now Dirk's friend is free to roam the Kentucky countryside. And, as it always happens in these books, Tolkov is there with job in hand for the previously crazy ex-lunatic. Because Mr. Tolkov is awesome and apparently has no standards.

  • Julie describes Monty as antediluvian. Which means "of or relating to the period before the flood described in the Bible." Poor Monty.
  • The end of the book is basically dedicated to the budding competition between Monty and Dirk for Julie. Here I thought we'd come to some closure on this topic by now, but no. We are treated to all sorts of talk about how Monty is a closer and Dirk is a front runner and how this race is going to come down to the wire. They have this grudging respect for one another now as they talk about tote boards while Julie's playing around with her dogs, completely oblivious to the fact that she's being treated like a prize. It makes me want to hit both of them.
So, that's it. One more book left in this series, because Bonnie is headed back to the racetrack in The Betrayal of Bonnie. To Barbara's credit, she does say rather point blank that mares who have been bred rarely, if ever, return to their racing careers. So she makes a point of stating that it's almost ludicrous to expect Bonnie to make a comeback. The only reason I can think of for this plot even happening is because she needs to get Monty and Julie together soonish, and Bonnie's foals are too young to provide much plot, therefore Bonnie is our dependable fall back plan. We shall see how it works.

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