The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has now reached the fourteenth of our twenty-six scary stops. My thanks as ever to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for keeping us all safe and together. Erm – we are all here right? Right? Today’s stop is the letter N, and my contribution for this stop is Edward Stratemeyer’s creation Nancy Drew. The Nancy Drew mysteries have been ghost-written by a number of writers (including Stratemeyer’s daughter Harriet Adams) under the pen name of Carolyn Keene.
A resident of fictional River Heights, Nancy Drew is the teenaged daughter of successful attorney Carson Drew. In fact it’s sometimes through his work that she learns about the cases she investigates. Nancy’s best friends are Bess Marvin and Bess’ cousin George Fayne. While George is more adventurous than her cousin Bess is, both are loyal friends and frequently help Nancy with her cases. The fourth of this group is Nancy’s college-student boyfriend Ned Nickerson.
All four sleuths work together, but it’s really Nancy who leads the group and that is part of the reason for which generations of girls and women have loved her character. She’s smart, confident and brave. For instance, in The Clue of the Velvet Mask, Nancy is getting ready for a costume party when her father warns her:
“The police are looking for a gang of thieves who rob homes while a party is going on. A masquerade would be an ideal place for them to carry out a theft.”
Nancy’s response is,
“I hope the thieves show up tonight.”
Needless to say, Nancy gets her wish. And that strength and confidence without a loss of what many people think of as femininity have made Nancy a role model for millions of girls. It’s worth noting too that even though Nancy is strong and confident, she’s not foolhardy. She finds mysteries irresistibly appealing but she doesn’t rush headlong into situations without thinking. Nor does she consciously try to prove she’s “as good as the boys are.” Her confidence and intelligence are natural rather than contrived and that makes them all the more effective.
Another appealing aspect of Nancy’s character is that she’s a generally good-humoured person who gives as good as she gets as the saying goes. In The Mysterious Mannequin for example, Carson Drew receives a Turkish rug from a client Farouk Tahmasp. The rug contains a coded message that asks Drew to come to Istanbul and bring Tahmasp’s missing mannequin. Nancy can’t resist the challenge of finding out what the message says, why the mannequin is missing and why Tahmasp wants the mannequin so badly. Nancy, her father and her friends, including Bess’ boyfriend Dave Evans, go to Istanbul to investigate. Here’s Dave’s reaction to the trip:
“‘Sounds cool,’ said Dave. ‘I think I’ll pretend to be a sultan and you girls are some of my slaves.’
Nancy laughed and replied, ‘You just try it and I’ll cover your head with my Turkish veil!’”
This bit of dialogue also shows something else appealing about the series. By today’s standards the dialogue is admittedly clunky and certainly not reflective of the way young people speak. But the series has been adapted through the years and continues to reach out to young people and share the fun of mysteries while at the same time not being inappropriately explicit. Because of that Nancy’s adventures have for a very long time served as an effective bridge between children’s books and more adult mysteries.
Nancy’s relationship with her father and the family housekeeper Hannah Gruen is also appealing. Carson Drew has been a widower since Nancy was a tiny child and one could argue that that loss has brought Drew and his daughter closer and given Gruen the chance to fill a critical role that housekeepers don’t always fill. The three are a strong family unit despite occasional disagreements. Admittedly the family is a little “clean-scrubbed” by the standards of a lot of today’s juvenile and YA novels. But it is refreshing to have a series where the protagonist doesn’t have to face some of the wrenching problems that many of today’s young protagonists face.
Nancy Drew is a smart, brave and strong young female protagonist who’s inspired generations of women (including this one). She’s loyal to her friends, loving with her family and has a sense of humour. Little wonder that she’s got a special place in the hearts of so many readers.