Once again, Nancy Drew gets a vacation tied to a mystery, this time in New Orleans. George and Bess' cousin Donna Mae Haver wants them and to come to New Orleans for her engagement ball. Her parents, "Colonel" and Aunt Stella, want Nancy to solve a mystery connected to the abandoned showboat River Princess, which got stuck in a bayou during a hurricane.
Nancy says that she, Bess and George can drive in her blue convertible to NO. She packs a trunk, taking her mother's shawl and fan to wear to the ball. But a thief steals her locked car, and the suitcase in the trunk! No worries, Carson Drew gives her a yellow convertible. Conveniently, it was going to be a future birthday gift, with the blue car as a trade-in. Lucky Nancy, being in a suspended timeline with no job, no worries, adoring friends, total self-confidence. :)
Nancy, Bess and George "roadtrip" from their home in the midwest to NO. Sounds totally awesome, if you like driving. Life before GPS and Google maps must have been kinda tough, though ;).
After they've been driving a while, they hear a ticking in the yellow car...a bomb! As soon as it is deactivated, Nancy and friends continue on their journey. Then--the rear end of the car starts falling off! A car dealer who knows the River Heights car dealer lends Nancy a car.The girls finally do what they do best--eat, then find a motel. Bess is delighted. Once on road, they almost fall off a cliff.
At New Orleans, they pass "quaint cabins, formerly used by slaves." Yes, I'm sure the slaves found them as quaint. They pass gorgeous houses and azalea bushes. I live in Texas' azalea country, and dang, they are gorgeous.
When they arrive at the Havers', they meet the Colonel and Aunt Stella, and the giggly but charming Donna Mae, who was going to be married to Charles Bartolome, but then met Oxford grad, Alex Upgrove. She broke off the engagement to date Alex, and shortly became engaged to Alex-the-jerk. Anyway, Nancy, George and Bess go sightseeing with Donna and Alex. The girls also pick up costumes for Donna's engagement ball, which will be on the riverboat, if it can be taken out of the bayou. The girls love New Orleans and the food (I love the food, too). A man who looks like the car thief talks to Alex. Let's see, car theft, car bomb, car falls apart, girls nearly go over cliff, Alex is a suspect? And we aren't even at Ch. 7. The ghostwriters outdid themselves.
Oh, anyway, the mystery is, the Havers have had repairs done on the Princess, but all work done is always vandalized, and there are mysterious, haunting-like happenings. A rusty calliope plays, a ghost appears, there are mysterious voodoo chants; I bet we can predict how these are produced.
At home, Nancy, George, and Bess have a dance rehearsal with Donna. George falls off the makeshift stage and hurts herself. Donna whines that everything will go wrong if George is out. Nancy, George, and Bess are all disgusted, so they leave and go to the "colored" (the book's words, not mine) maid and butler and ask about a river guide so they can get to the riverboat. Cue Uncle Rufus, a kind, elderly black man. The girls and Uncle head down the river\bayou.
In the swamp, Uncle's boat runs into a barricade of sharp rocks. Uh-oh. Uncle Rufus wades off to get a boat, but Alex comes just in time, in a motorboat. Nancy makes plans with Uncle to go to the riverboat later that afternoon.
Nancy, George, Bess and Uncle finally get to the riverboat. All three go onboard, and they find an ornate hairpin and Charles Bartolome, who invites the girls to his and his mother's home for dinner. When Donna finds out, she goes into hysterics, but then puts on an act of indifference. Nancy suspects she feels guilty about her engagement. Well, duh. Another Donna-and-Alex sightseeing trip turns into a sleuthing trip for Nancy, but Alex tries to follow her. Nancy finds her blue convertible, now painted black, in a junkyard. It is in a poor neighborhood, so of course, the people are slovenly. When Nancy goes back to Bess, George, and Donna, Donna announces that she's invited Ned, Burt, and Dave for Mardi Gras. She also says they can't refuse. It's implied that Nancy thinks Donna doesn't want Alex or Charles to "make moves" on Nancy, George or Bess.
Alex tries to delay Nancy, Bess and George fromf their dinner engagement, but they manage to get away. Someone throws a rock at Nancy near the Bartolome home, but it misses. They have a nice visit and go to the showboat.; they are then startled to see an elderly man and woman going to the Princess. The woman seems to be pretending to visit an old-time play, talking to invisible friends and taking imaginary tickets. Charles and Nancy follow the man and woman when they canoe off; the woman goes to her own house.
Charles and Nancy stop the man; he's Henry de la Verne and the woman is Henry's sister Louvina, owner of the hairpin. Louvina misses the old-time fun on the Princess.Their grandfather owned it (I guess it's out of family ownership now). Louvina loves to pretend that the old shows are still playing and the people still visiting the boat, so Henry lets her keep up her charade. He doesn't want the boat moved because he thinks it would upset Louvina.
Drama, drama! Louvina isn't crazy after all, and she wants the Princess restored, thanks to Nancy's communication skills. Nancy's suitcase, shawl and fan are recovered. Alex is a fraud, using Donna to get closer to the gold that is found on the boat! Donna realizes her mistake, matures, and Charles and Donna get re-engaged. After Alex tries to run away during the Mardi Gras parade, Ned does his famous football tackle and is Nancy's hero. The end! Everyone's impressed and praises Nancy. The riverboat is restored and in an amazingly short time, because everyone works together! Gag. Nancy's next carefree adventure is in The Secret of the Golden Pavilion.