Adventures in Reading


Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene
“In the brief second of warning, the truck almost seemed to leap toward the water. Nancy and her father, hemmed in by the concrete piers had no way to escape being run down. … Without hesitation, he and Nancy made running flat dives into the water, and with arms flailing and legs kicking, swam furiously out of harm’s way” (18). From Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene.

The second installment of the Nancy Drew series The Hidden Staircase makes The Secret of the Old Clock look like a walk through the park. Nancy is recruited to solve a mystery of a “haunted” house while her father simultaneously receives threats from a man trying to leach money from the railroad company.

I have to admit that book two was fairly disappointing. While The Secret of the Old Clock may not have had the most unpredictable plot line, The Hidden Staircase is soon solved within the first few chapters. The reader then spends the remaining chapters dully flipping through pages as Nancy and her friend Helen run up and down stairs and tap on walls trying to find a secret room.

During this process Nancy’s father is kidnapped and rather than contact the FBI the local police rely on Nancy to help with the case. It’s a fun story but a stretch at nearly 200 pages. Some of the perks of The Hidden Staircase is further character development with Nancy through exploring more of her non-sleuth life than The Secret of the Old Clock dips into and her relationships with other people. Nancy kicks off the book with a date and the reader becomes acquainted with her friend Helen.

The Hidden Staircase has less “objectionable” material than the previous novel in the series but still develops a sense of good values. A fun read, but my fingers are crossed that the Nancy Drew series doesn’t continue in this downward process.

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Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
“‘That old Greek scientist, Archimedes, didn’t know what he was talking about when he said the world could be moved with a lever,’ Nancy murmured. ‘I’d like to see him move this door!'” from page 114 of Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.

Now that I have finished the first book in the Nancy Drew series I must confess: I have an entire new respect for Nancy and her authors Mildred Wirt Benson and E. Stratemeyers (pseudonym Carolyn Keene). If you recall my last post on Nancy, I did not begin the book with much promise. In fact I’ll even admit that I started the book with full intention of delivering a sarcastic Adventure response.

After all, it’s so easy. Nancy is the idealized, fed-on-white-bread-and-butter, poster child of her era. Attractive, smartly dressed, and always courteous. She has a perfect life with a lawyer father who can afford to give her a convertible for her birthday. Nancy’s mother is even dead so no other woman exists in the book to distract or detract from her.

It’s easiest to pick through Nancy Drew because of some of the language that Carolyn Keene decides to use. This ranges from Nancy’s father relying on her “intuition” to the “luck” she has in solving tricky aspects of her mystery. Throw in some coy jabs of Nancy getting “pocket change” from her father to the hokey benefactress status Nancy holds in the novel and it’s easy to write her off as fluff with little to offer a contemporary audience.

But that’s too easy and seriously disregards some of the finer aspects of the novel. It’s not Nancy’s “intuition” but her capability in the tasks at hand and it has nothing to do with “luck” but everything to do with her powers of deduction. Nancy is a strategic and deductive thinker there seems little she isn’t qualified for. Hell, she fixes her own flat tire and the engine of a motor boat. Step aside MacGyver! Also, Keene supports some great moral advice ranging from Nancy’s refusal to participate in gossip (though still allowing Nancy to listen and rake through this information to help her sleuthing skills) to extending help to those who cannot necessarily help themselves.

The language muck-ups aside, there was really only one part of the novel where I cringed and thought: “Keene! Just let Nancy do it!” After stumbling unknowingly on a group of burglars Nancy is locked in a closet. While under such distress she manages to calm herself enough to first try picking the lock with a hairpin but on tossing that idea aside she brilliantly decides to go for a clothing rod in the closet to lever the door open. Right when it seems Nancy will free herself the idiot caretaker bungles in to “free” her. I admit that Nancy had to assure him she was a victim and remind him to check his pockets for the spare keys, but it would have been much more thrilling if she had burst from the closet with gusto resulting from her own skills.

Overall, I’m currently reading The Hidden Stairecase and that should make it obvious how taken I am already with the series. While this is a book I would recommend for all ages I would encourage anyone suggesting or giving the Nancy Drew series to a child to read the book herself and offer discussion points. (Sometimes I suggest this to adults at work and they look at me like I’ve insulted them.) Why? you may ask. As marvelous as Nancy has the ability to be there are still enough hang ups that I think it’s beneficial to encourage conversation.

Fun information about Nancy Drew.