Note: I read the 1959 edition.
A few weeks ago I posted a review of the first Hardy Boys mystery and started a friendly debate about who was better: the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. It had been a long time since I’d read any of these mysteries, but I remember, as a youngster, having a slight preference for the novels featuring the more feminine detective (I’m talking about Nancy).
Shortly after my review was posted, I received a package in the mail. It seems my friend Ms. Was wanted to keep the debate going by encouraging a review of the first book in the Nancy Drew series.
Challenge accepted! I’m thankful she didn’t jump straight to the triple-dog-dare.
Right off the bat, Nancy is cooler than the Hardy Boys because she’s eighteen and tooling around in a dark-blue convertible instead of puttering around town on bicycles. Of course, her father gave her that car for her birthday, which you might think would turn her into a spoiled teenager, but I assure you she is down-to-earth and never lets her privilege go to her head. Also, she’s using the car to deliver some legal papers for her lawyer father, so it’s probably a tax write-off for him.
The action starts on page one when Nancy sees a small girl nearly get run over by a moving van. She stops to help, and of course the grateful guardians, two elderly women named Edna and Mary Turner, invite Nancy in to hear their life stories. Apparently the parents of the little girl, whose name is Judy, were killed in a boat explosion and the Turners decided to raise her. Judy’s mother, coincidentally, also lost a parent to an automobile accident. It’s page 3 and this book already has more orphans than Oliver Twist!
Talk shifts to the Turners’ financial situation, and Nancy learns that they were hoping to receive an inheritance from the late Josiah Crowley’s estate. Mr. Crowley had suggested that they would be taken care of, but when the will was read, it turns out he left everything to their well-to-do cousins, the Tophams.
I sense a villain!
The Turners even wonder if maybe there wasn’t another, later will that named them as beneficiaries, but so far nobody has come forward with any such thing. Still, a wish is good enough for our Nancy Drew, and she talks to her father about what would need to happen to enforce such a will, if one exists. Carson Drew, a top lawyer, tells Nancy that if they found something in Mr. Crowley’s own handwriting and signed by him, it would stand up in court.
As you can imagine, the rest of the novel is a quest to find the missing will! Nancy encounters other deserving people who may have a stake in this new will: Allison and Grace Hoover, young neighbors who dream of taking singing lessons; cousins Fred and William Mathews, who apparently had a bit of a “thing” for the Turner sisters; and a sick, elderly invalid named Mrs. Rowen.
What, no old-timey army vets?
As the title of the book suggests, an old clock is going to come into play. It’s not really that much of a spoiler, because Nancy still has to find the clock, which houses the clue, which leads to the will. The real mystery is why Josiah Crowley chose to entrust the secret of how to find the will to the most feeble-minded of the bunch and didn’t just file a new will with his attorney.
Along the course of Nancy’s adventure, her car breaks down twice, she gets stranded all day on a lake in a boat with a faulty engine (um, starting to think maybe you’re not meant to be working heavy machinery, Nancy), gets locked in a closet by thieves, takes unlawful possession of stolen property, and stares down a couple of mean girls.
In the end, the kind and good people all get a share in the inheritance, while the wealthy Tophams get a measly $5,000, to which one of the Topham daughters shrieks, “Oh no. Oh no! Oh mother, all those bills! What’ll we do?”
Yeah, this is 1959. The women don’t come off great.
In conclusion, Nancy Drew is better than the Hardy Boys because:
- She drives a convertible.
- She forges a path for her own career and doesn’t just imitate her dad.
- She faces down some real baddies and foils the plans of rich people, not some poor, hungry hobo.
- She never faints, not even when locked in a closet by thugs.
- She only screams one time to convince a cabin caretaker that she is, in fact, a woman.
I’m willing to hear alternative views, but Nancy has my vote!