claudia & the mystery at the museum: for once, the dude with the hitler mustache is a good guy

the tagline is, “what kind of crook would steal art?” gosh, i don’t know!

this one opens with janine being shocked–SHOCKED!–to discover claudia immersed in the sunday “new york times”. apparently they are featuring a story on a new art museum opening in stoneybrook. i call bullshit. i read the “new york times” every single day & i’ve never once seen a story about stoneybrook. what’s that? it’s not a real town? look, i’m not an idiot, okay?

claudia is excited because her favorite sculptor, don newman, is doing a show at the new stoneybrook museum. she’s excited to bring a few babysitting charges with her to see what there is to see. she decides to ask corrie addison, who was claudia’s star pupil in book #26 when mimi died & claudia ran that weird basement art class for children, as well as the arnold twins.

turns out the museum is certainly like no museum i have ever seen. it’s a bizarre hodgepodge of a legitimate, traditional art museum–one of the big ones that features an antiquities room, egyptian artifacts, contemporary galleries, etc–as well as a children’s museum, a science museum, & every other museum you could possibly think of. it sounds…awful, in my opinion. but the kids have fun, touching all the exhibits they are allowed to touch. they linger forever in each new room while claudia tries to hurry them along to the room displaying newman’s sculptures. they are almost there when the fire alarm goes off. claudia decides to take the kids into the courtyard, because i know the place i want to be when a building catches fire is in the small enclosed grassy area surrounded on all sides by the flaming building. but it turns out to be a non-issue, because the building isn’t really on fire. apparently someone pulled the fire alarm as cover before smashing a glass case & stealing some ancient coins. all the visitors & staff currently on premises have to be searched before they can leave. claudia takes this opportunity to eyeball her fellow visitors & make note of possible suspects. she observes a brownie troop, a well-dressed man with one blue eye & one green eye, & a custodian with a mop & bucket.

of course all the babysitters are excited about the robbery, & they decide that they are definitely the ones to solve the mystery. mallory actually makes an incredibly astute observation after reading the coverage of the theft in the newspaper (not the “times,” i assume). the article says that security was immediately stepped up & every room is being guarded 24 hours a day. so mallory says that the stolen coins must still be in the museum somewhere. whoever stole them couldn’t have removed them from the premises. nice one, mallory!

of course, the girls are back to their usual dullard selves when they try to guess where the coins may have been hidden. claudia says that maybe they were stashed in the donation box. because it’s going to be so easy to retrieve them from that hiding spot without being detected, right? jessi says that maybe they were thrown into the fountain inside the museum. *sigh* & kristy says maybe they were scattered among the fake antique replica coins for sale in the gift shop. because what thief wouldn’t want to take the chance that their stolen goods would be sold for pocket change?

the babysitters go to the museum the next day to check things out. they notice the man with two different colored eyes right away & try to tail him, but he leaves & it’s pretty anti-climactic. claudia asks an employee about the donation box & learns that it is emptied & counted every night, so the coins couldn’t be there. they ask the gift shop clerk about the replica coins & discover that the replicas are chocolate. they examine each coin (which is ridiculous–so there are like ten chocolate coins under glass & none of them are overlapping each other in such a way as to obscure their foil joins? has this ghostwriter never eaten a decent bag of chocolate gelt in her life?) & ascertain that they are all chocolate. then they fish around in the fountain, somehow avoiding the gaze of the numerous guards milling around (again, ridiculous–art museum guards practically stand on your shoes & let you carry them around the museum personally), & determine that all the change in the fountain is just regular everyday non-antiquity change.

claudia wanders off to see the newman sculptures. she likes them because guests of the museum can touch them & some of them move or rock back & forth when they are touched. she finds her favorite sculpture, “daphne,” which she had previously seen at an exhibit in new york city. she touches it & it swings back & forth, but claudia thinks it feels different. she decides it’s a forgery.

she goes straight to the museum curator, mr. snipes, & tells him her suspicions. he is really impatient with her & shows her that the serial number in the museum records matches the serial number on the sculpture. his weasel eyes & hitler mustache apparently arouse claudia’s suspicions, so she sneaks a copy of his resume off his desk (why was it there?) & gets the hell out of there. when the babysitters research mr. snipes’s previous places of employ, they discover that most of them were robbed when he was the curator. claudia decides that mr. snipes is the thief.

she starts to feel concerned about the safety of mr. newman’s sculptures, so she calls him up & tells him everything. he is really nice & invites her to come to his big formal gallery party so they can check out the “daphne” sculpture together. he explains that he built hidden compartments into a lot of his sculptures & maybe left something inside “daphne”. but claudia is skeptical because she had seen “daphne” within the last year, more recently than newman has worked on it.

anyway, mr. kishi agrees to accompany claudia to the party. (she tells him she had called mr. newman for a class assignment.) she wears one of mimi’s elegant kimonos. she notices the man with two different-colored eyes at the party. she meets up with mr. newman & they go to his gallery to check out “daphne”. but the door is locked. because apparently his sculptures have already been moved into storage so they can be shipped off to their next museum date. seriously? why the fuck would they schedule newman’s big party for the very same night they box up his art? anyway…claudia & newman are in the hallway when they see a custodian unlock a storage room & go inside. they follow him & see him open the secret compartment on “daphne” & dump the stolen ancient coins hidden inside into his bucket. then the dude with two different-colored eyes runs in & tackles him. then newman tackles both of them. then mr. snipes runs in & freaks out. eventually someone calls the cops or something & we discover that…

the custodian is actually an art thief. he used his key to open the case with the coins in it & then smashed the case the cover up the fact that he used a key. which seems a little dumb, actually. if he’d just used his key, he could have smuggled the coins out of the museum & sold them the same day he stole them. setting off the alarm is what caused mr. snipes to ramp up security. i mean, everyone figured out that it was an inside job anyway, so….mr. snipes has worked at a lot of different museums because he specializes in theft prevention & is regularly hired by museums at risk for theft. sounds like he really sucks at his specialty, considering all the museums that have been robbed under his supervision. he was short with claudia not because he was a thief, but because he was stressed that day. the weasel eyes & hitler ‘stache were just unfortunate red herrings. the dude with two different-colored eyes is a federal agent who specializes in art theft. he was assigned to the stoneybrook museum (another dude who sucks at his job) & has been trying to figure out who stole the coins. the babysitters really annoyed him when they were tailing him the day after the theft.

claudia is hailed as a hero & mr. snipes appoints her “honorary trustee” of the museum & tells her he’d like her help arranging a show of student work for the museum. because that won’t suck at all. can’t you just imagine? we’ll have ashley wyeth’s fire hydrant sculptures, mallory’s drawings of mice wearing clothes, & claudia’s paintings of bazooka joe gum wrappers. can’t wait to see what the “new york times” has to say about that show!

the B-plot is all about how claire pike wants to be a star. she pays margo in extra helpings of dessert to watch her tap dance in the garage. she whines & begs until her parents agree to pay for a very expensive video in which claire dresses up as dorothy from “the wizard of oz” & sings “somewhere over the rainbow” (think of those embarrassing karaoke recording booths they have at amusement parks). claudia puts claire in touch with rose wilder from claudia & the genius of elm street, who watches claire’s video & advises her on snagging an agent. but claire decides fame & stardom aren’t for her after jessi clues her in on how much she’ll have to rehearse & practice, most likely without actually becoming a superstar that is ferried around in a limo all day long. luckily, the first agent claire sent her tape to rejected her, so…no harm, no foul to anyone except the reader who had to sit through yet another tedious “those darn kids–they think they want one thing & then they want another” sub-plot. also, where was claire’s natural talent when she totally blew it at the little miss stoneybrook pageant?

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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