by Sharon Tucker
“Bell seated himself behind the desk, motioning for Nancy to stand opposite him. There was tense silence for a moment. Then Bell reached for a desk telephone.
?”I am going to call the police, Miss Drew, and turn you over to them on a charge of trespassing, breaking, and entering with an attempt to steal.”
?”I wish you would,” Nancy replied, “if it is possible over that dummy telephone.”
? Carolyn Keene, Password to Larkspur Lane
Nancy Drew adventures have been mainstream for over eighty years for good reason: she is our hero. It matters little that over the years these novels have had different authors writing under the pen name Carolyn Keene; what does matter is each author has carried on the original intent to give readers an intelligent, resourceful young woman who not only loves to unravel mysteries, but is very good at it, much in the tradition of the Hardy Boys, her contemporaries in stories of investigation. We first meet Nancy in The Secret of the Old Clock (1930) where she follows the clues to find a missing will in order to rectify multiple injustices in her hometown River Heights. Decades later, The Strange Message in the Parchment (1976) centers on a painting that seems to have an obscure but significant meaning—so significant that it is stolen. Several more decades later, a paranormal creature causes acts of sabotage at the Winter Festival in River Heights. That is the pervasive rumor in Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland (2003), but Nancy suspects it has nothing to do with the supernatural and more to do with the conflict surrounding the federal wolf preserve nearby. It’s deeply satisfying that through the years and changes in authorship of these stories, Nancy Drew and her friends in River Heights have stayed true to our ideas of them. They have evolved with the times but are always clear in purpose and have the cleverness and kindness of the Nancy Drew of the first novel.
The Secret of the Old Clock (1930) is our introduction to Nancy Drew, her friends, and River Heights where the adventures begin in Nancy’s breezy, take-charge manner. An unpleasant, snobbish family has inherited a fortune everyone suspects they have no right to since the original will has disappeared. Nancy is determined to find it and to uncover who is stealing household furnishings by the truckload in and around town. We also meet the people who back Nancy up in all her adventures to come: her father, their housekeeper, her boyfriend, and her girlfriends. We also meet the array of people she helps in this adventure—from a preschooler to a potential operatic diva, as is usual in all these adventures. We first see Nancy’s assurance in the midst of crises and the determination she will always exhibit as she untangles mysteries.
Nancy tackles art theft, kidnapping, and extortion in The Strange Message in the Parchment (1976). She agrees to help a friend whose father, a sheep rancher, has recently collected a painting on parchment consisting of four small vignettes that seem to tell a story no one can quite decipher. Oddly, the painting disappears almost immediately. Investigating the painting’s whereabouts leads Nancy and her friends to the suspicious, tyrannical behavior of a neighboring farmer involved with the painting. His unpleasant behavior toward his workers and particularly toward a young boy who is obviously distressed draw suspicion. This farmer is also keeping the young boy as far away from neighbors as possible—a boy with marked artistic abilities who seems to be connected to the indecipherable stolen parchment. Trust Nancy and Co. to make the connections to resolve the young artist’s problems, the rancher’s theft, and end an extortion racket.
Nancy is too practical and bright to give much credence to a rumor of a werewolf on the loose at the Winter Festival in River Heights. Despite sightings of such a creature in Werewolf in a Winter Wonderland (2003), Nancy thinks the vandalism has more to do with the wolf reserve nearby, two missing wolves from that reserve, and political machinations within its power structure of the reserve itself than a mythical creature bent on mayhem. However, disasters at the festival have marred the first two days already and no one wants to risk anyone’s life. When Nancy herself narrowly escapes injury or worse in the collapse of a Winterland ice structure, she is determined to discover the source of the vandalism and to find out who has taken the wolves as well as where they are hidden.
Carolyn Keene, beloved author(s) of the Nancy Drew series of novels may have been the brainchild of children’s book publisher Edward Stratemeyer and conceived as a foil to the Hardy Boys mysteries. However, Nancy Drew, as written, so captured the imaginations of young readers that her books are still passed down from parents to children and from those children to their children. We have all seen or read Nancy Drew in some incarnation whether in books, games, graphic novels, movies, or TV series, and although the most recent novel was published in 2003, be aware that the CW TV Network will premiere a new Nancy Drew series this fall. I hope the new Nancy will have Jo March’s zest, Bonita Granville’s enthusiasm, Pamela Sue Martin’s cool under pressure, and Sophia Lillis’ tomboy groove. What will Kennedy McMann bring to the role this October? We shall see.
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