A Clue About Nancy Drew

“Bluffing about questionable information can often lead to people revealing juicy secrets.” –The Clue in the Old Stagecoach

I love Nancy Drew.

As a kid, nothing was better than crawling under the covers with a flashlight and a new Nancy Drew mystery. I started collecting the girl detective series written by Carolyn Keene for my own daughter shortly after her birth. I’ve dressed as Nancy Drew three times for Halloween–twice as a child and once as an adult. And I am not ashamed to admit to rereading a Drew mystery now and again. (I am still scared silly when Nancy heads into dark alley to follow the shadowy figure who may or may not be selling fake jewels to the housewives of River Heights. “Don’t go, Nancy! For once in your life be a coward and dial 911!”)

So, it came as a blow when I discovered that there is no Carolyn Keene. All these years I have imagined Keene at her typewriter–an older version of Nancy–tapping out the adventures the titan-haired sleuth. The truth is this: the Nancy Drew mystery series have been penned by no less than sixteen different authors.

“When confused, sit back and try to arrange the facts into some kind of order.”  —The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

Nancy Drew is the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer. Stratemeyer was one of the first publishers to print books marketed for children. In 1926, he created the popular Hardy Boys series. Even though Stratemeyer believed that a woman’s place was in the home, he was savvy enough to realize that a series featuring an amateur girl detective might be a success as well. The first four Nancy Drew mysteries, published in 1930, were an instant hit.

“When forging a letter to nab a perp, be sure to use grammar and spelling appropriate to the education level of the person you’re impersonating.” –The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

The initial manuscripts featuring Nancy Drew were plotted by Stratemeyer himself, and written by hired writer Mildred Wirt. Wirt wrote the majority of the early Nancy Drew books along with Stratemeyer’s daughter Harriet Adams who eventually took over her father’s publishing company. The later Nancy Drew mysteries were written by numerous ghostwriters, but the characteristics of the girl detective remained consistent throughout the years.

“Lipstick is not just for looking glamorous; it can be used to signal for help on windows or other surfaces.” –The Mystery of the Fire Dragon

Growing up, Nancy Drew was the girl I wanted to be. She’s the girl I want my daughters to be. Not only is she attractive and slim, but she is smart and talented as well.  She speaks French, paints, can drive a motorboat, skies, swims, ice skates, sews, plays golf and tennis, is a gourmet cook, and can hold her own at bridge. When in a jam, the amateur sleuth keeps her cool and relies on her nerve, intellect, and intuition to find a solution. Nancy is a loyal friend, an adoring daughter, and has a handsome and supportive boyfriend. Despite the many trials she undergoes during her investigations, she has never taken any monetary compensation. Plus, she drives a convertible. It doesn’t really get any better than that.

“If you can prevent it, do not chase after thieves when you are clad only in a leotard. It’s unseemly.” –The Scarlet Slipper Mystery

I’m not the only one who admired Nancy’s calm, intelligent demeanor. Powerful women such as Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Sandra Day O’Connor along with Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush all cite Nancy Drew as their girlhood hero and looked to her as a role model. Over 80 million copies of her books have been sold world wide, and her mysteries have been translated into more than 45 languages.

“No one is so jaded that they don’t appreciate praise for mysteries solved or jobs well done, no matter how small.” —The Hidden Window Mystery

My girls are now old enough to enjoy Nancy Drew, and they have fallen in love with her as well. As disappointing as it is to learn that the author of Nancy Drew is really just a pseudonym, I realize that Nancy is still as timeless as ever. . .with or without Carolyn Keene. If anything, the veiled authorship might even add a bit more intrigue to the aura of Nancy Drew.

East Side Books is always well-stocked with the Nancy Drew mystery series. Her books are located in on the Children’s Mystery Series shelves adjacent to the Vintage Children’s Books section.

(The italicized quotes are from the book Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life by Jennifer Worick.)

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