Yes, it's true...that spunky girl detective with the sandy curls and sparkling blue eyes is back to charm a new generation of fans.
The Secret of the Mansion, book # 1 in the series, is where it all started. Originally published in 1948, it will introduce readers to some of the series' main characters. First and most importantly, there's Trixie, a 13 year old horse-loving tomboy living on a farm in the Hudson River valley area of New York State, surrounded by three brothers (two older, one younger) a banker father and a stay-at-home mother. While it's true that Trixie may not dress or talk like the teenagers in today's world, I think many girls will still relate to her curiosity, stubbornness, sense of humor and sense of adventure.
In The Secret of the Mansion, Trixie's brothers are working at camp for the summer, leaving Trixie somewhat at loose ends and bored, faced with long hot months of gardening chores and baby-sitting her 6-year-old brother. All that changes when Honey Wheeler, a "poor little rich girl" moves into the big house next door.
Shy and somewhat squeamish Honey, who has been raised in boarding schools and camps, is a perfect foil for rip-roaring Trixie, and shows growing spirit and spunk herself through their first adventure. In fact, Honey's character development is one of the best parts of the book.
With the neighborhood's old miser Frayne unconscious in the hospital and not expected to live, Trixie and Honey decide to investigate his crumbling old mansion on the hill. Readers will be glad they did, because along with Trixie and Honey, they will get to meet Jim Frayne, a red-headed runaway boy who provides the first (but not the last) of mysterious adventures for the girls to investigate. It turns out Jim has fled a nasty and abusive step-father and is the great-nephew of old Mr. Frayne. Rumor has it that Mr. Frayne has hoarded a fortune somewhere in the old house. But can this trio of teenagers find it before Jim's mean step-father shows up to try to reclaim Jim? You'll have to read it to find out!
Purely on its own merits, apart from the rest of the series, The Secret of the Mansion is a good read. I still recall the thrill of danger and excitement it gave me the first time I read it as a nine year old. With a (possibly) haunted house, a snakebite scene, a (possibly) mad dog, the tantalizing potential for buried treasure, a boating accident, a moonlit horseback ride...each chapter packs a lot of action. Young readers, however, will genuinely root for and relate to the characters...and the "danger" is always overcome through the spirited efforts of the young heroes and/or the encouragement of caring adults in their lives.
Trixie "purists" count this and the next five books in the series as the "real thing" as the first 6 books were written by Julie Campbell. Campbell, under this name and the name Julie Tatham, also originated the Ginny Gordon series and wrote books in other girls' adventures series, including Cherry Ames. Her stories seem marked by strong female role models, well-developed characters and loving families. They definitely carry the flavor of the times they were written in -- mostly the 1940's and 50's -- but that retro feel could work to the book's advantage. It's so old it's almost like it's new again!
Parents should be warned that these books can be habit-forming. If bitten by the Trixie bug, your daughter (or to be fair, son...I can imagine these stories having some appeal for younger boys too) may likely want to read them all. After Campbell wrote her six, Western Publishing hired various in-house writers (some more talented than others) to handle more books for the series under the name "Kathryn Kenny" which accounts for the unevenness of the quality. There are 39 titles in all. Random House is reissuing the first 6, and word on Trixie Fan Street has it that they are waiting for reader response to decide whether or not to publish more. So if your daughter gets hooked, be prepared to innundate them with emails!
Updated to add: When I first wrote this review in 2003, Random House was just reissuing the first 6 books. As of 2008, they've reissued 7 more books (the first 13 in all) each with a new, contemporary looking cover. They've even rejuvenated the Trixie Belden fan club (and yes, I used to be a member sometime back in the 1970s...)