You all know me well enough to understand that my love of mysteries runs deep. Real deep. And so, this Throwback Thursday I’m going back to where it all began—River Heights, a town in an anonymous state in the American Midwest and home of My First Detective: Nancy Drew.
I’ve cracked open The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy’s earliest mystery, written circa 1930 and initially read by yours truly circa 1986.
You ready? Let’s do this.
Nancy introduces herself with this gem of a line: "It was sweet of Dad to give me this car for my birthday." "Sweet"? Girl, "sweet" is your dad giving you a cashmere sweater set. Buying you a dark-blue convertible is "ridic."
I’ve started to turn on her already.
In the ten brief pages composing chapter one, Nancy saves a young girl she watched fall off a bridge and meets the girl’s elderly caretaker aunts, Mary and Edna Turner, who handily deliver some conspicuous Plot Exposition: they’re hard-up for cash; their dad’s kindly cousin Josiah Crowley died recently after promising them an inheritance; and money-grubbing cousin Robert Topham has been named executor of the estate’s questionable will, leaving his family set to inherit some major dollah-dollah-bills y’all and the Turners out in the cold. And ohbytheway—as all of this is unfolding—the Turner sisters realize that their silver candlesticks are missing and must’ve been taken by two random dudes who showed up recently looking to buy secondhand furniture. Don’t worry, Nancy’s gonna chase the thieves down in her brand-new birthday car! And we’re off!
Chapters 2 – 7
A discussion of the Turners’ financial affairs leads Nancy’s "handsome" lawyer father Carson and their "slightly plump" housekeeper Hannah Gruen to ponder whether Crowley perhaps created a later will naming the Turners, and other extraneous and deserving family members and beneficiaries. At this, Nancy "felt strongly that a mystery lurked behind the Crowley case." Spooky.
Over the next handful of chapters, Nancy uses her dad’s legal connections to learn that Crowley had indeed intended to craft another will, which would benefit family members excluding the evil Tophams. Cousins, specifically. So, so many cousins. It might be the fact that as I’m re-reading this book and I’m simultaneously watching A Few Good Men, but I am supremely confused about who’s supposed to be inheriting what.
It matters not. Nancy knows there’s a second will to be found and she’s bound and determined to get her hands on it. But where, she wonders, can it be?
I don’t know about you, but I’m gripped.
P.S.: No further word has been spoken about the Turner sisters’ missing candlesticks. MacGuffin?
Nancy almost gets attacked by a dog, fixes a flat tire and a busted boat motor, and receives confirmation from yet another elderly Crowley cousin that there’s definitely a second will and it might be hidden in an old clock …. an old clock that was conveniently deposited in the Topham family bungalow at Moon Lake, a getaway Nancy was conveniently invited to earlier in the day. Nancy should just play the Powerball already because she is like duh-ripping in luck.
But before she can hit the jackpot, she’s gotta do some snooping (Oh, I’m sorry, "sleuthing") around Moon Lake, where she eventually gets a glimpse of some thieves who are rifling through the Topham’s bungalow belongings. Gasp! It’s the same thieves who … MIGHT HAVE TAKEN THE TURNERS’ CANDLESTICKS! And we’re back in the money.
She may be annoying, but deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want Nancy on that wall. You NEED Nancy on that wall. Wait, what? I’m getting confused again.
What’s gonna happen, you guys?!
Chapters 12- 20
You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth: The thieves lock Nancy in the bungalow’s closet and leave her there … to starve! A caretaker saves her before she’s forced to eat her own shoe leather, but they quickly realize that Nancy’s coveted clock is gone, girl.
Not to fear, Nancy of course tracks it down (along with the missing candlesticks—sweet relief!), cracks it open, and finds the long-lost will that leaves Josiah Crowley’s gazillion cousins in the black. Which begs the follow-up: Just how flush was this guy? And how do I get in on the action?
So what did I learn?
- Nancy’s polite, if annoying, and plucky. She won me back in the end.
- Cousins can be confusing. Second cousins all the more so.
- Estate planning is not for the faint of heart.
- The Carolyn Keenes (Syndicate Spoiler Alert!) were a bit heavy-handed on the physical descriptors, but for all the slims, heavy-sets, attractives, and not attractives, my favorite had to be: "tallest, skinniest man I’ve ever seen outside of a circus." Now here’s a guy I want to meet.
- The same Keenes, apparently, found it acceptable to use the word "hornswoggled" in a children’s book. Kids from the 1930s must have been so awesome.
- Lt. Daniel Kaffee is the greatest lawyer in the history of the JAG Corps.
- I totally get why I loved Nancy. She’s resourceful, persistent, and cautiously adventurous. The mysteries she solves move quickly and are fairly suspenseful, but aren’t too scary for young readers. Sure the book is a bit outdated, but I was basically born at age 95, so for me this adds to, rather than detracts from, its charms.
Sleuth on, Nancy! Sleuth on.