Cbr13bingo White Whale
I somehow managed to make it into my 6th decade having never read a single Nancy Drew book. I have always been somewhat ashamed of this given how great an impact Nancy Drew novels have had on so many women. It’s even more shocking and shameful when I recall that growing up, there were dozens of the Nancy Drew novels in my bedroom closet!! My sister read them all, and I’m pretty sure my mom and aunts had read them when they were kids. I don’t know why I never picked one up. I don’t remember having anything particularly against Nancy Drew. At a certain point, I decided I was too old for them but I’ve always felt like I missed out on something important, and so today I harpoon my white whale of kid lit, Nancy Drew.
The Secret of the Old Clock is the first Nancy Drew mystery, published in 1930. All Nancy Drew novels have been penned by Carolyn Keene, but there have been many Carolyn Keenes over the decades. Mildred Benson was the first to use this name and wrote 28 Nancy Drew mysteries including this one. Nancy is 16 years old and the daughter of a respected lawyer in a small midwestern town. She is cute, smart, spunky, athletic, and supremely capable of running anything from a household (which she does since her mother died several years prior) to an investigation of legal matters. Her father Carson Drew is proud to have raised a daughter who knows how to approach matters in a logical, rational way, and he welcomes her ideas and input on his own cases. This story opens with Nancy disturbed by the fact that a local family, the Tophams, stand to inherit a large fortune from an eccentric named Josiah Crowley who recently died. The Tophams are insufferable snobs and exceedingly rude to everyone. Josiah Crowley was known to have lived with different families, some relatives and some not, over the years, and when the Tophams took him in, it was solely to get at his fortune. Crowley’s will named them as his sole heirs, but Nancy has heard rumors that Mr. Crowley wrote a second more recent will that would have rewarded the kinder and more deserving people whom he had known. With her dad’s blessing and help, she undertakes to discover what happened to this will, if it exists at all.
During her investigation, Nancy meets sisters Grace and Allie Horner, who are around her age but who are alone in the world. They had been close to Josiah Crowley and he had promised to take care of them in his will, but they aren’t money grabbers like the Tophams, nor do they have the ability to contest the will had they been so inclined. Grace and Allie have to scrape to get by, but they are proud and don’t expect handouts. They and Nancy become close, and Nancy becomes more determined than ever to find Mr. Crowley’s lost will. From the elderly Abigail Rowen, who had nursed Mr. Crowley during a difficult illness and who had likewise been promised financial support in the will, Nancy gets some important clues as to where she might find this mysterious document. As Nancy does her sleuthing, she finds herself in some very dangerous situations involving robbers and road chases. Nancy has her own “roadster” which, of course, she can drive like a pro. Eventually, she does track down information that, with help from her lawyer dad, reveals the truth about Mr. Crowley’s will.
Overall, this is a pretty decent mystery for a 90-year-old kids book. Keene/Benson includes some interesting twists and turns in Nancy’s journey. There is some glaring racist characterization of the Black caretaker at the Topham’s summer home, which I supposed isn’t terribly surprising for a book written in 1930 but it is cringe-inducing. Nancy’s schadenfreude vis-a-vis the Tophams was a little weird, too. I mean, they are horrible people, but usually we expect our heroes to rise above that kind of gleefulness when justice is served. And then there’s the matter of Nancy’s own theft of evidence. Still, all’s well that ends well, right?
While I can’t say that I’m terribly interested in reading the rest of the series, I’m glad to have finally read a Nancy Drew novel and gotten that monkey off my back.