The Bungalow Mystery is the third volume in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series.
Nancy Drew and her friend Helen Corning are rescued from a boat wreck by Laura Pendleton during a sudden and severe storm. The girls from River Heights befriend the orphaned Laura, who has come to the area to meet her new guardian, Jacob Aborn.
The new guardian proves to be unfriendly and uncouth, which seems very strange considering that Laura's mother was wealthy and rich. The once-wealthy Laura is informed that she is now penniless, and Aborn takes her to his bungalow on the lake. Nancy is startled to hear from Laura shortly after returning home - Aborn is evil, and life is intolerable—he keeps no servants, and expects Laura to perform household chores! (Evoking sympathy from Nancy but probably not from Depression era readers). There are strange happenings in which she (Laura) is locked into her room. Laura flees, seeking asylum at the Drew residence. Nancy drives out to the lake and sneaks into the house, where she spies Aborn taking securities from a wall safe. She trails him to an abandoned bungalow in the woods and, once inside, finds a man who looks just like Aborn chained up in the basement. He says that he is the real Aborn and the criminal is an imposter, and has taken Aborn's place to defraud Laura. Too late, Nancy whirls to face Dowd, who knocks her out!
Nancy wakens to find herself being bound by Dowd, but uses an escape artist trick to free herself after he exits. She summons authorities and her father, who quickly arrive to help investigate. Dowd is pursued, and crashes his auto. Nancy investigates the burning car in time to remove suitcases containing Laura's stocks and bonds - she is still wealthy! This volume contains only the one main plot, with no subplot mystery to investigate, and as such, is unique in the original versions of Nancy Drew mysteries, which usually contain at least one subplot or secondary mystery, and a subplot involving a personal matter for Nancy or one of her friends. It is also rather unique in that the mystery develops and is solved in only a few days.
The plot is very similar, but the mystery takes longer to develop; normally the revised versions of Nancy Drew reduce detail and speed up the action. Nancy and Helen meet Laura after she rescues them on the lake. Nancy and Helen are vacationing while Helen plans her upcoming wedding with her aunt. Nancy and Helen meet Laura's guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Aborn, in a more dramatic way---Mrs. Aborn arrives at the hotel in disarray and with bleached hair. The Aborns appear friendly but gauche to Nancy. Nancy is called home to aid injured Hannah Gruen, and as in the original, encounters a tree on the road, only this time, she is aided by a brother and sister team.
Upon returning home, Nancy assumes the housekeeping role and attends to the injured Hanna Gruen. Carson Drew assigns her to try to find out the character of a long list of individuals suspected of involvement in investment securities fraud. To do so, Nancy dresses maturely, the first time she implements a change in appearance to sleuth, and solicits for charity as a ruse to meet with the suspects. This sub-plot adds time and depth to the story.
As in the original, Laura calls Nancy suspiciously, then escapes from her locked room at the Aborn residence and seeks aid at the Drew home. Mrs. Aborn had demanded Laura turn over valuable jewels; rather than do so, Laura put them in a handbag and fled, after discovering she had been locked in her room.
The rest of the mystery passes similarly to the 1930 edition, although Nancy arranges for a social life by fixing Laura up with a boy she dates occasionally, Don Cameron, and goes to investigate under the ruse she is on vacation. A feature fixture is introduced that appears vaguely in other volumes—that Nancy carries a suitcase in her trunk with sleuthing costume appropriate for outdoor wear, a dress appropriate for evening with accessories, and swimwear, along with cosmetics and toiletries. The main difference in the final chapters of the book is that the Aborns are working together as a couple, and both are impostors. Jacob Aborn's wife was on vacation, and Stumpy resembled Jacob Aborn closely, allowing for the substitution. They are also the couple that Nancy couldn't locate in River Heights, who committed the banking crimes under review by her father. Laura finds out the real Aborns are wonderful people. As a reward for her services in protecting Laura's wealth and her actions with the burning car securities rescue, Laura gives Nancy her mother's favorite ring, an aquamarine, which reminds Nancy the friendship began on water.
The original 1930 artwork - Nancy peeking into the abandoned bungalow - was created by Russell H. Tandy, who also designed the frontispiece and three internals for the original version. In 1937, the three internals were omitted. In 1943, Tandy executed a completely new pen and ink drawing for the book, instead of updating earlier illustrations, for a new frontispiece. In 1950, Bill Gillies created new cover artwork, showing Nancy spying on Stumpy Dowd. This artwork was retained when the 1960 revision was published, which also added a frontispiece and five pen-and-ink internal illustrations. In 1966, the cover was updated by Rudy Nappi to show Nancy dressed severely, contrasting with the current "mod" look, and spying on the bungalow in the woods.