For my eighth Christmas, my grandmother gave me two Nancy Drew Mysteries: The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase.
And I fell in love.
Nancy Drew was so lucky. She was eighteen years old and had a housekeeper, a steady boyfriend, two best girlfriends, and a blue convertible. The convertible seemed to have a perpetually full tank of gasoline. She was also a blonde, which meant she had fun.*
Her father, prominent River Heights lawyer Carson Drew, was not the average parent. He rarely, if ever, asked where she’d been all day, and when he found out, he never said anything like, “Nancy, the next time you climb into a moving van driven by thugs and hide under a rug, you’ll be grounded till you’re thirty.” Or, for that matter, “Time to get serious, Nancy. Either enroll in Emerson College and start working on a degree, or find yourself a job. You can’t play detective for the rest of your life.”
Hannah Gruen cooked and cleaned, so Nancy did no chores. Boyfriend Ned Nickerson escorted her to dances when appropriate but otherwise stayed busy at Emerson College and didn’t get underfoot. Friends—tomboy George, whose pet phrase was, in 1959, an anachronistic “Hypers! You slay me!”; and George’s “plump” cousin Bess—provided companionship as well as help with investigations.
What was there not to love? Well, Nancy herself wasn’t perfect. She teased Bess about being plump; I didn’t like that. And her unfailing self-confidence sometimes grated; I’d have been happier if she’d expressed self-doubt now and then.
But she was eighteen and could take off in her convertible, wind blowing through her hair, seeking and finding adventure, solving mysteries along the way. To an eight-year-old convinced she’ll never be old enough for a driver’s license, much less a car, Nancy’s freedom sounded like heaven.
But Nancy wasn’t a party girl; she took detective work seriously. She solved mysteries because she wanted to help people.
In The Clue of the Tapping Heels, for example, she helped restore a child’s trust fund. In The Secret of the Wooden Lady, she found the lost figurehead belonging to a historic clipper and helped the captain establish clear title to the ship. In The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, while looking for a valuable Chinese vase she stumbled upon a gang using immigrants as slave labor. In The Secret in the Jewel Box, she reunited Madame Alexandra with her long-lost grandson, a prince.
In addition to enjoying the stories, I picked up some interesting bits of information. From The Clue of the Black Keys, I learned about obsidian; from The Clue of the Leaning Chimney, about kaolin.
And Madame Alexandra, her long-lost grandson, and Mr. Faber, the jeweler who created the ornate jewel box, took on new meaning when I later read about the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Tsarevitch Alexei, and the Faberge eggs.
I said earlier that I fell in love with Nancy Drew mysteries, but I could just as well have said I was hooked. Two years after I read the first ones, I was penciling, in my neatest handwriting, letters to Joske’s Department Store:
Please send me the following books:
1 copy of The Secret in the Old Attic $2.00
1 copy of The Clue of the Tapping Heels $2.00
Please charge my account.
My mother signed them. It was, after all, her account.
By my eleventh birthday, I’d moved along, fallen in love with Zane Grey’s westerns—society ladies from the East meeting up with cowboys down on the Mexican border, very romantic—and was writing to Joske’s about those.
But even though I no longer read Nancy Drews, I’m still hooked—on mysteries. Every time I pick up an Agatha Christie, a P. D. James, a Ruth Rendell, an Elizabeth George, a Martha Grimes, a Tana French, a Donna Leon, a . . . as I said, I’m hooked.
Nancy Drew made me a mystery reader. And Nancy is the reason I write mysteries.
From what my friends tell me, a lot of them are in the same boat.
That Nancy Drew has a lot to answer for.
How did we know blondes have more fun? Television told us so.
Image of clock by stux from Pixabay
Image by opsa from Pixabay