Growing up, my teen detective series of choice was The Three Investigators rather than The Hardy Boys or their single white female equivalent, Nancy Drew. This wasn’t so much because of an intentional choice on my part as it was because of what was available on the shelf at my local library. So when I pulled the very first volume of the “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories”, The Secret of the Old Clock, off our shelves as part of my effort to get all this stuff read before the kid and the other kid are old enough to do so on their own, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I mean, I’ve seen the original Nancy Drew films (but none of the remakes). But that’s pretty much it.
And all told… it was fine. If you’ve not read it [spoiler alert], the will that would keep the jerk relatives from getting the fortune and let the poor-but-awesome relatives get it is found by opening up the old clock. I guess it’s a twist in that the will itself is not in the old clock, but the key to the deposit box is. In fact, there’s even a moment where we’re told that this could be an involved and detailed treasure hunt following a series of complicated clues—like that time when:
“An eccentric Frenchman died and left directions to look in a trunk of old clothes for a will. In the pocket of a coat were found further instructions to look in a closet of his home. There his family found a note telling them to look in a copper boiler.
The boiler had disappeared but was finally located in a curiosity shop. Inside, pasted on the bottom, was what proved to be a word puzzle in Chinese. The old Frenchman’s heirs were about to give up in despair when a Chinese solved the puzzle and the old man’s fortune was found–a bag of gold under a board in his bedroom floor!” (155)
- Good looks
- A new convertible
She’s also pretty sharp, but that is apparently neither here nor there.
All snark aside, this book was fine. It was about what I expected, and a decent enough read. And there’s certainly something quaint about reading pre-Harry Potter young adult fiction. For parents who are looking for clean, well-enough written books, at least the first book of the Nancy Drew series is a good place to go. I assume the rest are as well, I don’t really see a gritty reboot having happened outside of the world of fanfiction.
And with all that said, I think there’s something interesting about reading this book as a Christian. There’s certainly no religion in the book, just a civil morality that everyone understands and many people conform to. But even that is something that we have less and less of today, and which didn’t really exist in the past as it’s portrayed here in the first place. The temptation, for example, when looking at the list of Nancy Drew’s characteristics above is to bemoan the fact that so few people share those characteristics today. As Christians, we need to be both realistic about the state of contemporary morals (which is no doubt abysmal) and the fact that the past really wasn’t tinged with gold the way it might appear to be in books like this. And… I’m not going to push that any harder. This was a fine book and a fluffy read, and ought not to have too much meaning flogged out of it. Just read and enjoy and that will be enough.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he solves mysteries without poise, tact, good looks, or a convertible.