Can you remember the first “real” novel you read—or at least an early, early one—a book that launched you down the reading path? In my case, it was a hand me down. I had an older sister who loved to read (and still loves to read, devouring a book or two each week) and so, when she discarded a book it found its way to me.
If memory serves me correctly, my first was a Nancy Drew mystery. With over forty titles in the series by the early 1960s, I can’t say now whether I started with “The Secret of the Old Clock,” or “The Hidden Staircase,” or the “Clue in the Diary,” or “The Message in the Hollow Oak,” or “The Haunted Bridge”… There seemed to be an unending supply of the books for girls, written as I later discovered by a syndicate under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.
In retrospect, I suppose they were perfect novels for girls who would become women in the 1970s. Nancy triumphed where others failed. She even went on to be “Nancy Drew, Girl Detective” in the series that continued into this century. Somehow, I think Nancy changed with the times; and I shudder to think of her texting or playing pokemango. For me she’ll forever be climbing dark staircases, running through dark forests, or exploring attics, on her own or with an occasional sidekick. And, of course, she’ll always find the clue and solve the mystery.
The books are definitely for the young reader. Consider the opening words of “The Hidden Staircase.”
Nancy Drew began peeling off her garden gloves as she ran up the porch steps and into the hall to answer the ringing telephone. She picked it up and said, “Hello!”
“Hi, Nancy! This is Helen.” Although Helen Corning was nearly three years older than Nancy, the two girls were close friends.
“Are you tied up on a case?” Helen asked.
“No. What’s up? A mystery?”
“Yes–a haunted house.”
Nancy sat down on the chair by the telephone. “Tell me more!” the eighteen-year old detective begged, excitedly.
There you have it, in less than one hundred words: three exclamation points, a mystery, a haunted house, and a sidekick. Oh yes, and long garden gloves that have to be peeled off.
Seriously, maybe there is a reason to go back and read a few books from the series. In this very short passage there’s drama, tension, suspense, and the beginnings of character description. With chapters titled “Strange Music,” “Frightening Eyes,” and “An Elusive Ghost,” to come, what’s not to love?
With my own new novel, a thriller, coming to market this fall, maybe I can call my publisher and ask them to hold the presses while I inject a bit of Nancy into my own heroine.