John C Adams Reviews 'Nancy Drew Mysteries' by Carolyn Keene

'The Mystery of the Tolling Bell' and 'Nancy's Mysterious Letter' by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew Detective Series, Armada)

The first Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930s and since then a steady diet of intriguing mysteries have followed, penned by a team of ghost writers under the pen name Carolyn Keene. A well-known TV adaptation of the books aired between 1977 and 1979, starring Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy, alternating with episodes of the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W Dixon. The Nancy Drew books were staples of childhood reading from their publication even up to my own childhood in the Seventies and beyond.

Nancy Drew mysteries follow a tried and tested path tailored to their readership and with a proven appeal that stands the test of time, exactly as Agatha Christie murder mysteries did a generation earlier. I've selected 'The Mystery of the Tolling Bell' because it features all three of the main female characters throughout the book and 'Nancy's Mysterious Letter' because it throws an interesting light on Nancy's domestic life and relationship with her neighbours.

'The Mystery of the Tolling Bell' is set outside Nancy's home city of River Heights. Nancy and her two girlfriends Bess and George travel to Candleton, which is a pleasant resort along the coast, to help Nancy's father track down some fraudsters who have stolen the savings of one of Mr Drew's clients Mrs Chantrey (he's a lawyer). The story is packed with action, some of it really quite dangerous since it involves a cave that floods with the tide. Nancy is also drugged and carried away by two strange men when she becomes separated from Bess and George. Nancy is calm and brave throughout, exhibiting a maturity that is in advance of her slender years in solving the mystery of the bell after which the book is named and tracking down the criminals with the help of her friends and her father. I loved the teamwork between Nancy, Bess and George, as well as their good-natured willingness to muck in until the mystery is solved and volunteer to help Mrs Chantrey when her teahouse is understaffed.

Nancy is old enough to have left school and have a boyfriend (Ned, a college student). She doesn't appear to work but devotes all her time to solving mysteries while receiving an allowance from her father. This domestic situation leads to an odd mix of investigative independence with financial dependency that doesn't always sit well with the modern young woman. In 'Nancy's Mysterious Letter', Mr Drew's consent is sought for her to go away for the weekend, when she will be looked after by Ned's parents. This was a fascinating glimpse into how young adulthood has changed. Although Nancy is thoroughly professional as a detective, she charges no fees and her car, dress allowance and other expenses including hotel stays and restaurant meals are all funded by her father. On the other hand, she is plucky, impeccably well mannered, treats everyone she meets with decency and respect, and is thoroughly logical and relentless in her determination to solve the mystery or crime presented to her. The reader is left with a distinct impression of a genuine moral compass, and the glimpses of Nancy's father and their professional and personal relationships explain how this has developed.

I love the Nancy Drew mysteries, and I am constantly impressed with the inventiveness of plot and situation that kept the stories fresh. Nancy has changed and developed as time has gone on, courtesy of the team of ghost writers. I have chosen to review two of the more traditional mysteries, but the franchise developed into 'Nancy Drew Girl Detective' from 2004 to 2012, which feature much more modern takes on life, and developed further into the 'Nancy Drew Diaries', which launched in 2013. There's plenty of life left in it yet!

Many thanks to Alexey Turenkov, Rachel Crowe and Markus Winkler for providing the cover images for this blogpost via

Thank you so much for reading my review. See you for my next post on 'Why Not Wednesday'. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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