The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Edward Stratemeyer’s Nancy Drew

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.

56 Comments

Filed under Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy Drew

56 responses to “The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Edward Stratemeyer’s Nancy Drew

  1. Nancy Drew was my second stop in crime fiction (after Enid Blyton) and it seemed to show me a glamorous American world far removed from my own experience. Since I was much younger than Nancy, it seemed to me a very ‘grown-up’ series at the time. And it led me straight to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and the like (I know, an unlikely sequence, but it made sense to me…).

    • Marina Sofia – It actually does make sense. Nancy Drew has been a stepping-stone character to a lot of different series so why not Chandler or Hammett? When I started reading Nancy Drew mysteries, I too was younger than the character, so she seemed so sophisticated and smart (I mean in the fashion sense of that word, not the sense of “intelligent,” although of course she is that too). I really enjoyed reading the novels in part because of that – because I got to read a series about a character just as the adults in my life did.

  2. Rebecca Bradley

    Wow, this brings back memories. I loved Nancy Drew as a child and she was my transition into adult crime fiction. A brilliant series!

    • Rebecca – Oh wasn’t it?! Nancy Drew was my transition too into more adult crime fiction. Writing this post brought back some very good childhood memories for me.

  3. Didn’t read the books but saw a TV series — way back when I was a bit younger! Nice blog post!

  4. Very interesting Margot – At last I feel like know a bit more about the character – she is so familiar as an icon but have never actually read any of the books (for shame). As a lad I did read some of the Hardy Boys mysteries (I wasn’t too impressed, probably too old already) but did watch the 70s TV show that paired them together – the B-movies made by Warner Bros. in the 30s starring Bonita Granville are actually a good deal more fun if I remember correctly. I was tempted again to read the books when i saw the first season of VERONICA MARS as that seemed to be such a hommage.

    • Sergio – Thanks 🙂 – I’ll be the first to admit that once one’s started to read adult mysteries with more complex characters and themes, the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys stories aren’t exactly engrossing. But they are fun and they’ve been such a stepping-stone into the world of crime fiction for so many people that I think Nancy Drew is a fairly influential character. I must confess I haven’t seen Veronica Mars, ‘though I’ve heard from others that it is indeed an hommage. I should check that series out…

  5. PS I used to love the maze titles and the spooky theme tune:

  6. Somehow I missed Nancy Drew when I was growing up. Perhaps she just didn’t penetrate the Australian market particularly well. In my day we were too hooked on Enid Blyton

    • Kerrie – You could very well be right about Nancy Drew not making it in the Australian market. And of course who wouldn’t get hooked on Enid Blyton? Definitely one of the most influential authors of young people’s mysteries. Ever.

  7. I used to devour Enid Blyton and graduated to Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I read the Caroline Keene ones, come to think of it! Your post brought back memories, I thought I had forgotten.

    Thanks!

    • Gautami – I think a lot of young people have done a very similar thing: moved from Enid Blyton to the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series on their way to adult reading. It’s one reason I think those series have been so influential. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. Margot: When I was growing up in rural Saskatchewan I read the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift Jr. My sister read Nancy Drew. At that time boys did not read Nancy Drew. I do remember envying the Hardy Boys. They seemed to have a perfect life compared to me.

    • Bill – Oh, I’ve heard of Tom Swift, Jr., ‘though I’ve never read that series. You make an interesting point too about the gender divide when it comes to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. As I recall, where I grew up the girls read Nancy Drew. The boys read the Hardy Boys. Ne’er the twain met. I’m not entirely sure the gender lines are so firm these days.

      • I read the Hardy Boys when I ran out of Nancy Drew books to read…I was slowly collecting old copies from our local used book store. Whenever Mr. Mason didn’t have a Nancy that I didn’t have, I took home the Hardy Boys.

  9. kathy d.

    Well, I may have broken the mold! I devoured Nancy Drew books. I had a friend who actually owned the series, as opposed to the rest of us mere mortals who had to get the books out of the library. I’d visit her and if she wasn’t home, I’d read Nancy Drew books.
    However, I also read some of the Hardy Boys books, if they were in my vicinity, i.e., if I was at a friend’s house and those books were present.
    Later on, I began reading “adult” mysteries about Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe and the leader of deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes. I also read a book or two by Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey, the only women crime fiction authors I knew of in my teen years.
    Those were good days: in my room with the parakeets (and cat sitting on their cage), reading about Nancy Drew’s adventures, thinking about what a great, interesting life she led.

    • Kathy – You were fortunate to have access to all of the books. It sounds as though you have some very good memories of reading both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and that’s great. I had a similar experience to yours in that I also went from Nancy Drew to authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout and of course Agatha Christie. Those were good days indeed, even though I didn’t have a parakeet…

  10. I missed Nancy Drew too – maybe she wasn’t around in the UK either? I went straight from Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie. Thanks for explaining about Nancy Drew

    • Margaret – It’s possible that the Nancy Drew series wasn’t as big in the UK as it was in the States. But of course, Enid Blyton’s work is classic and I think millions of people have very fond memories of growing reading her work.

  11. kathy d.

    Never read an Enid Blyton book. What were they like? What type of detective was involved?

    • Kathy – Enid Blyton was a UK author of several series of books featuring young detectives. There was the Famous Five series (I think that’s the best-known of her eries), the Five Find-Outers and Dog series and the Secret Seven series too. In all of her series, groups of young people work together to solve local mysteries. They’re actually (in my opinion) terrific books for young people.

      • I never came across Enid Blyton until my son was young. He loved the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I read them to him until he was old enough to read without me.

        • Bev – I’m really glad you and your son discovered Enid Blyton. Such a talented author I think. And of course I”m always a fan of anyone whose work encourages young people to read.

  12. I agree, boys read Hardy Boys and girls read Nancy Drew, though I remember reading a few Nancy Drew too. There are so many similarities between the two series, the characters, the plots, and settings. Both series, including Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys, were ghostwritten and I won’t be surprised if the ghostwriters were common to both the series. I think Frank and Joe Hardy and Nancy Drew even joined hands later, in a new series that I haven’t read. I was particularly fascinated by the titles of the original hardbound Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, with their familiar blue and yellow spines respectively. I’ll always remember both these series for what they thought young readers back then: friendship, loyalty, and honesty.

    Apart from these, I also enjoyed reading Roald Dahl, R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi stories, Richmal Crompton’s Just William series. Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse are enshrined on our bookshelf, so to say.

    • Prashant – Ah, yes, those blue spines on the Hardy Boys series and the yellow spines on the Nancy Drew books! You could always spot them instantly at the library or the bookshop. You make an interesting comment too about the ghostwriting. Edward Stratemeyer created the Hardy Boys just as he did Nancy Drew and in fact his daughter Harriet Adams did plot outlines for several of the mysteries. So it’s not surprising that there are so many similarities between the two series.
       
      Like you I read some Roald Dahl and of course Agatha Christie and Wodehouse too. I must confess I haven’t read Narayan or Crompton’s work but I have good memories of those Nancy Drew days.

  13. Ms. Kinberg, I ought to have been more specific. While Stratemeyer created the two series, I think both Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew came to be written by several people who were probably common to both. The books went through a fair amount of revision though what exactly I don’t know. I hope you get to read Narayan’s fiction: he was one of India’s most celebrated writers and was famous for his Malgudi series based on a little village in south India.

    • Prashant – Thanks for the clarification. I’m sure that some writers ghost wrote books in both series; as you say, they are so very similar. I know that Stratemeyer’s daughter Harriet Adams did, and I’m sure she’s not the only one. And I hope too to read some of Narayan’s work.

  14. I haven’t read Nancy Drew in a very long time but I have fond memories of the series. Even though now I would consider them quite formulamatic (made-up word, I think), they were a hit as a young girl.

    • Clarissa – I know exactly what you mean! They certainly are formulaic, but that didn’t matter at the time I was reading them either. It was a good series for hooking a young girl on mysteries.

  15. Skywatcher

    I must admit that I never read either Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, although I do remember the 70s TV show. Actually, rather more than the show itself I remember a parody of it that was done on a British comedy show. The brothers disabled an armed robber by smiling at him, the light reflecting off their terrifyingly white teeth temporarily blinding him…

    • Skywatcher – I wish I’d seen that parody; it sounds as though it was really funny. The book series are very earnest in their ways, so they just cried out for a parody. And I’m saying that as someone who read a lot of Nancy Drew as a kid.

  16. How I yearn for “clean-scrubbed” when I peruse the library or bookstore for a new good read. I read many, many Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid, so that shows you how long they’ve been around. 😀

  17. kathy d.

    When I was 12, I thought Nancy Drew had such a good life and that her mysteries were all adventures — and a lot of fun. They were just right.
    I forgot to say that when I began serious mystery reading as a teen-ager, I also read Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s books, but only those. However, when I hit 19, the Belgian detective and I parted ways; it was a principled separation.
    There is a series teen-age girls are now reading. I have to find out what it is. I bought a book for a friend’s daughter and it came in a kit with clues. She loved it. So did I.

    • Kathy – Nancy Drew’s life does indeed seem glamourous in a lot of ways doesn’t it? Especially to young girls who couldn’t yet drive and travel and do the other things she does.
       
      As to Poirot, I think a lot of readers moved from Enid Blyton and/or Nancy Drew/The Hardy Boys to Christie and some of the other Golden Age authors. And it’s good to hear that there are still series out there that are specifically intended for young people. I know that there’s an American Girl mystery series (‘though I must say I don’t know much about it). I’m glad there are others too.

  18. PeterReynard

    My parents were lawyers, just like Nancy’s dad. Of course, she was a girl so not everything about the series was relatable. 🙂 But like so many other commentators, I first got on the mystery train at The Famous Five and the other Blyton books, went through the major stations of The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators (another very good American series) and Nancy Drew. I don’t think any of the other books come close to the Nancy Drew series as having a strong role model for girls and young women. I remember reading about the fact that there was controversy about Nancy driving alone and wearing slacks when the books first came out, because those weren’t things that young women did. Now we have teenage girls yearning for their glittery vampire lovers. Oh how far we have come.

    • Peter – Yes indeed, how times change. And you make an interesting point about the eyebrows that were slightly (or more) raised about Nancy Drew’s independence and her strength both in dress and behaviour. For girls like me who grew up reading those books it was a good role model. Thanks too for mentioning Robert Arthur, Jr.’s The Three Investigators. That’s another fine series for young people I think. But as you say, for being a strong role model for girls and young women, especially for the times during which she was created, Nancy Drew is certainly up at the top of the list.

  19. I loved Nancy Drew as a kid but I can’t remember a single thing about her anymore. Thanks for reminding me about this series. And for the Enid Blyton comments too.

    • Sarah – Always glad to remind people of old favourites. I think for many people, Enid Blyton’s work and the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series brings back lots of good memories.

  20. I remember growing up and reading The Hardy Boys with my brother, while my sister was reading Nancy Drew. I enjoyed the TV series as well.

    • Scott – I think Nancy Drew/The Hardy Boys was a staple in a lot of young people’s reading diets. And of course there was that TV series that hooked who new generations on the books.

  21. I honestly don’t know if I every read a Nancy Drew mystery. I think I skipped to Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout when I first got into mysteries in my teens. This is a great overview of an iconic character.

    I have a question. Is there a way that I can follow you by email? I find that I am missing some of your posts, even though I stop by often.

    • Tracy – First, thanks for stopping by as often as you do. I appreciate that very, very much. If you want to follow my blog by email, you can subscribe by clicking the “Sign me up” button on my sidebar where it says, “Want to Keep Up With This Blog?” Or, you can click the small “follow” button on the bottom right of the page. I hope that helps! Please feel free to email me if you have questions.

  22. Lorna Currie Thomopoulos

    I read Nancy Drew in South Africa in the 1950’s, along with all the other titles mentioned.
    Lorna C.T

    • Lorna – Thanks for your visit. I think Nancy Drew was the introduction to the world of mystery novels for a lot of young people. And she’s certainly had a wide appeal.

  23. Margot, coming in to this discussion very late but want to say not only did the Nancy Drew character inspire 100s of thousands of girls (and boys) worldwide, she is still doing it today. In fact she just celebrated her 85th ish birthday. Some she inspired are Oprah, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Presidential Candidate Hilary Clinton, journalist Diane Sawyer and scores of other famous and not so famous women. And they inspired me and co-author Linda Lombri writing under the pen name Crystal Sharpe to write the Sandra Troux Mystery series. http://www.amazon.com/Crystal-Sharpe/e/B0089P7U1K. We are completing book 3 Secrets at Abbott House next week and it will be out the 14th of June.Sandra and her two lifelong friends were Nancy Drew fans as girls and now are babyboomers solving international mysteries and crimes. While younger folk will like the series, they are intended for grownups.Would love to talk to you about an interview. Best, Virginia (1/2 Crystal Sharpe!)

    • Thanks for your input, Virginia. No doubt about it; Nancy Drew has had a very far-reaching impact! Thanks for sharing about your books, and I wish you well with your release!

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