The Three "R's"

Ramblings, Reflections, Reviews … From the "Pen" of William Land

My Favourite Nancy Drew Books

NANCY DREW SERIES LOGO Artist: Bill Gillies, ©1950.

My Favourite Nancy Drew Books

by William Land

Nancy Drew #2 – THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE, ©1930. Artist: Russell H. Tandy, ©1930

As a life-long fan of Nancy Drew and similar series for children, I am writing about my favourite books in the classic mystery series.

I offer my choices not in favourite order, but chronological series number. Since I am very familiar with the classic series (first 56 books), I’ll confine my remarks to that series even though I enjoyed some of the later books too.

2. THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE (Original Text)
To me, this book is more exciting than the volume that introduced Nancy Drew, girl detective. The mysterious stone mansion with its many secret staircases and passageways, the frightened elderly twin sisters, and the strange thefts make for exciting reading. Carson Drew’s kidnapping at the hands of miserly, Nathan Gombet, and Gombet’s cruel servant, “the slovenly unnamed negress,” bring new meanings to the words “thrilling adventure.” Nancy looks appropriately inquisitive and beautiful in a 1930s style on this dustjacket cover art. The revised story, with a completely different plot, is also very good, but it doesn’t effectively compare to the original story.

4. THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN (Revised Text)

Nancy Drew #4: THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN, ©1961. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1961. Note: This art was used on both dustjacket and pictorial hardcover.

Doubles and impersonators are one of my favourite series themes. I love this book’s cover—lilacs are a favourite flower and the titian-blond is not, as one might expect, Nancy Drew!

9. THE SIGN OF THE TWISTED CANDLES (Original/Revised Texts)
The strain on Nancy’s friendship with Bess and George due to a long-standing family feud is a departure from the usual relationship dynamics found in the series. This plot twist is more realistic than the friendship without significant problems from other books, making the girls’ relationships more realistic. Nancy’s resemblance to a woman in a long-ago portrait is fascinating. On the revised text cover art, Nancy looks especially beautiful.

Nancy Drew #10 - THE PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE, ©1960.   Artist: Unknown, ©1960. Note: The artist is likely either Bill Gillies or Rudy Nappi. This artwork was only used in the United Kingdom; Nancy's pose was considered too risqué for the USA market.

Nancy Drew #10 – THE PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE, ©1960.
Artist: Unknown, ©1960.
Note: The artist is likely either Bill Gillies or Rudy Nappi. This artwork was only used in the United Kingdom; Nancy’s pose was considered too risqué for the USA market.

10. THE PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE (Original/Revised Texts)
The inclusion of Effie Schneider in the story, Nancy’s disguise as an elderly woman to gain entrance to the fraudulent sanatorium, and her courage and determination in facing down the fake doctor are very exciting. While I enjoy both versions, I especially like that Helen Corning, an underused character in the series, has a huge role in the original story. Additionally, the cover art from the British Sampson and Low edition depicts a very lovely Nancy kneeling near the fence to speak to the elderly woman in a wheelchair on the other side. I’m saddened this art was never used on the North American publications because it is so beautiful.

20. THE CLUE IN THE JEWEL BOX (Original/Revised Texts)

Nancy Drew #20: THE CLUE IN THE JEWEL BOX, ©1943. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1962.

A romantic tale featuring the exiled former queen of an unknown country, her many treasures especially the jewelled Easter egg, the fashion show and designer gown, and the clever way in which the pickpockets, for a time, fool Nancy appeal to my sense of adventure. Helen Corning (Archer in the revised book) makes another significant appearance in the series. Rudy Nappi’s first picture cover art shows Nancy and the former queen, elegantly dressed, in luxurious surroundings.

21. THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC (Original/Revised Texts)
To me, this book has all the elements of a successful Nancy Drew mystery: a search for lost treasure (in this case music), an old rundown rambling mansion ironically named Pleasant Hedges, another Effie appearance, and both Bess and George have significant roles in the story. The subplot in the original Story in which Ned asks Diane Dight, instead of Nancy to the dance, shows a different dynamic of their relationship.

Nancy Drew #22: THE CLUE IN THE CRUMBLING WALL, ©1945. Artist: Russell H. Tandy, ©1945.

22. THE CLUE IN THE CRUMBLING WALL (Original/Revised Texts)
The romantic story of the wealthy button manufacturer and the talented dancer and their sudden broken long-ago romance is told amidst the backdrop of a run-down castle. A new character, Lieutenant Masters, is introduced as a River Heights policewoman. She was interesting enough to have become a recurring character in the series. I’m disappointed this never happened.

Nancy Drew #29: MYSTERY AT THE SKI JUMP, ©1968. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1968.

29. THE MYSTERY AT THE SKI JUMP (Original/Revised Texts)
This story features a female villain who pretends to be Nancy Drew. Again the impostor theme is present. The winter season, appearances by Aunt Eloise Drew, and the stock swindle and fur coat thefts are very appealing.

30. THE CLUE OF THE VELVET MASK (Original/Revised Texts)
This story of daring party thieves is told within the confines of society parties. Descriptions of Nancy’s adventures at such parties and her elegant wardrobe are appealing. The intriguing masquerade of George Fayne as Nancy Drew and her subsequent decline into fearfulness are exciting to read. It’s a fine tribute to the last Nancy Drew book by Mildred Wirt Benson.

Nancy Drew #32: THE SCARLET SLIPPER MYSTERY, ©1954. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1954.

32. THE SCARLET SLIPPER MYSTERY (Original/Revised Texts)
The refugees from Centrovia, the smuggled paintings, and the scarlet ballet slippers are intriguing elements of this interesting Nancy Drew mystery. I’m partial to this book because the original story is my introduction to the mysteries of Nancy Drew. Although Nancy looks older than her years on this cover art, I enjoy her tailored outfit (black skirt and long-sleeved red blouse), complimenting her attractive, wavy blond hairstyle.

Nancy Drew #38: THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRE DRAGON. ©1961. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1961.

38. THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRE DRAGON
The search for missing Chinese girl, a neighbour of Eloise Drew, and George Fayne’s impersonation of this girl among the streets of New York are exciting. Also, Nancy’s cleverness in using a lipstick to write an SOS message on the plane window after she’s been kidnapped is unusual and thrilling. This cover art is very bright and colourful and Nancy looks especially attractive in her yellow ensemble.

Nancy Drew  #48: THE CROOKED BANISTER, ©1971. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1971.

Nancy Drew #48: THE CROOKED BANISTER, ©1971.
Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1971.

48. THE CROOKED BANISTER
This is one of the better 1970s Nancy Drew books although I feel the quality of the writing and the believability of the plots had significantly had generally declined from 1966 to present. While the book does have its implausible moments, I find the villain unusual for a Nancy Drew mystery. He clearly suffers from mental illness and, interestingly, is never found or brought to justice. Rawley Banister should have made another appearance in a subsequent book. Also, the cover art is in the late-1960s/1970s style (attractive young lady face … or big head!) Nancy looks absolutely gorgeous in her natural-flip reddish-blond hairstyle and fuchsia outfit with, not coincidentally, matches the book cover background.

49. THE SECRET OF MIRROR BAY
This tale features another Nancy Drew look-alike and Miss Eloise Drew is a major character in this story. The romantic tale of a grieving royal family burying their deceased child’s old carriage sealed in a box and sung into a bay, is a sad and intriguing plot. Other mysteries including a vacation hoax and a weird, strange green-glowing mountain man is fascinating. The cover art shows Nancy peering from behind the leaves of a tree is mysterious, but I remember finding it very disturbing as a child, and still somewhat so as an adult.

Bibliography:

2. THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE (Original text)
Outline: Edward Stratemeyer; Text: Mildred Wirt
Keene, Carolyn. The hidden staircase. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1930. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 2) 206 pp.

4. THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN (Revised text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Patricia Doll
Keene, Carolyn. The mystery at Lilac Inn. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1961. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 4) 180 pp.

9. THE SIGN OF THE TWISTED CANDLES (Original text)
Outline: Edna Stratemeyer Squire; Text: Walter Karig
Keene, Carolyn. The sign of the twisted candles. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1933. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 9) 217 pp.

Nancy Drew #9: THE SIGN OF THE TWISTED CANDLES, ©1968. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1968.

9b. THE SIGN OF THE TWISTED CANDLES (Revised text)

Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Patricia Doll
Keene, Carolyn. The sign of the twisted candles. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1968. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 9) 176 pp.

10. THE PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE (Original text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Walter Karig
Keene, Carolyn. The password to Larkspur Lane. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1933. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 10) 220 pp.

Nancy Drew #10 – PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE, ©1966. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1966.

10b. PASSWORD TO LARKSPUR LANE (Revised text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Patricia Doll
Keene, Carolyn. Password to Larkspur Lane. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1966. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 10) 175 pp.

20. THE CLUE IN THE JEWEL BOX (Original text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Mildred Wirt
Keene, Carolyn. The clue in the jewel box. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1943. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 20) 216 pp.

Nancy Drew #20: THE CLUE IN THE JEWEL BOX, ©1972. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1972.

20b. THE CLUE IN THE JEWEL BOX (Revised text)
Outline: Priscilla Baker-Carr; Text: Julie Irish
Keene, Carolyn. The clue in the jewel box. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1972. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 20) 181 pp.

21. THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC (Original text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Mildred Wirt
Keene, Carolyn. The secret in the old attic. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1944. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 21) 216 pp.

21b. THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC (Revised text)
Outline: Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Priscilla Baker-Carr
Keene, Carolyn. The secret in the old attic. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1970. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 21) 177 pp.

22. THE CLUE IN THE CRUMBLING WALL (Original text)
Keene, Carolyn. The clue in the crumbling wall. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1945. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 22) 217 pp.
Original; Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Mildred Wirt

Nancy Drew #22: THE CLUE IN THE CRUMBLING WALL, ©1945. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1962.

22b. THE CLUE IN THE CRUMBLING WALL (Revised text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Priscilla Baker-Carr
Keene, Carolyn. The clue in the crumbling wall. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1973. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 22) 181 pp.

29. THE MYSTERY AT THE SKI JUMP (Original text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Alma Sasse
Keene, Carolyn. The mystery at the ski jump. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1952. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 29) 212 pp.

29b. THE MYSTERY AT THE SKI JUMP (Revised text)
Outline: Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Ann Shultes
Keene, Carolyn. Mystery at the ski jump. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1952. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 29) 176 pp.

30. THE CLUE OF THE VELVET MASK (Original text)
Outline: Andrew E. Swenson; Text: Mildred Wirt Benson
Keene, Carolyn. The clue of the velvet mask. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1953. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 30) 211 pp.

Nancy Drew #30: THE CLUE OF THE VELVET MASK, ©1969. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1969.

Nancy Drew #30: THE CLUE OF THE VELVET MASK, ©1969.
Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1969.

30b. THE CLUE OF THE VELVET MASK (Revised text)
Outline: Andrew E. Swenson; Text: Priscilla Baker-Carr
Keene, Carolyn. The clue of the velvet mask. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1969. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 30) 177 pp.

32. THE SCARLET SLIPPER MYSTERY (Original text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Charles Strong
Keene, Carolyn. The scarlet slipper mystery. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1954. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 32) 214 pp.

Nancy Drew #32: THE SCARLET SLIPPER MYSTERY, ©1974. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1974.

Nancy Drew #32: THE SCARLET SLIPPER MYSTERY, ©1974.
Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1974.

32b. THE SCARLET SLIPPER MYSTERY (Revised text)
Outline: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams; Text: Ann Shultes
Keene, Carolyn. The scarlet slipper mystery. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1974. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 32) 179 pp.

38. THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRE DRAGON
Outline/Text: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams
Keene, Carolyn. The mystery of the fire dragon. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1961. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 38) 182 pp.

Nancy Drew  #49: THE SECRET OF MIRROR BAY, ©1972. Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1972.

Nancy Drew #49: THE SECRET OF MIRROR BAY, ©1972.
Artist: Rudy Nappi, ©1972.

48. THE CROOKED BANISTER
Outline/Text: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams
Keene, Carolyn. The crooked banister. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1971. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 48) 179 pp.

49. THE SECRET OF MIRROR BAY
Outline/Text: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams
Keene, Carolyn. The secret of Mirror Bay. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, ©1972. (Nancy Drew mystery stories; 49) 178 pp.

©2015
Written: March 2011
Revised: February 2015

2 Comments

  1. I agree with most of Bill’s choices. I believe he is correct with his comments regarding The Sign of the Twisted Candles and The Password to Larkspur Lane, especially the original text versions of the books.

    I’m not a big fan of The Hidden Staircase or The Mystery at the Ski Jump (neither the original nor the revised texts, though I am a fan of the Russell Tandy cover for The Hidden Staircase) and would offer up The Message in the Hollow Oak and The Clue in the Old Album on a list of my favorites.

    I am a fan of Helen Corning (Archer) and would have enjoyed seeing her play a larger part in the series. The two mysteries in which she plays a substantial role — the original texts of Larkspur Lane and Jewel Box — are among those I’ve re-read the most.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Kevin,

    I’m curious – why are you not a fan the original text of The Hidden Staircase and either version of The Mystery at the Ski Jump?

    I think the best original text Nancy Drew books were published from 1943-1948 (#20-#25 inclusive). These were Mildred Wirt’s last Nancy Drew novels for several years. She returned briefly to pen #30: The Clue of the Velvet Mask before retiring her “Carolyn Keene” cap. These seven books are consistently excellent, and many adult fans count most of them among their favourite books.

    #25: The Ghost of Blackwood Hallhas many elements found among the Nancy Drew novels that make the stories successful: a haunted mansion in a deserted woods, ghostly spirits and queer happenings, naive victims, stolen jewels, a clever swindle, a gang of wily villains, and Nancy’s determination to find the answers, restore lost property, and bring evil criminals to justice. As a reader, I should like this story, but I do not! I intensely dislike Mrs. Putney!

    The elderly widow is naive and an easy prey for the clever swindlers who targert such persons. This fan should have had sympathy for her, but I could not; the reason – she was so mean to Nancy!

    The plot twist during which Mrs. Putney was warned not to speak of any man or woman that she received messages from her deceased husband during séances is clever; the River Heights jeweler, Mr. Freeman, brought the distraught woman to a “girl detective” for help!

    Nancy was very gracious and kind to the widow even though she was, at times, rude and ungrateful toward the young sleuth. Nancy was determined to help Mrs. Putney despite the objections of the elderly woman. I felt Nancy should have shown some realistic emotion at the repeated nastiness of the woman; perhaps even telling her to take a dive into the Muskoka River! In 1930, Nancy Drew would have been “caustic and sharp,” as told by Mildred Wirt, with the woman; however, Nancy, as envisioned by Harriet Adams, was “kind and sweet” toward Mrs. Putney.

    I think it’s a new twist that not all Nancy’s clients are appreciative and glowing (this is realistic), but Nancy’s reaction toward the sometimes angry woman wasn’t realistic, and this spoiled the story for me.

    It was fitting that Nancy received both an apology from Mrs. Putney and a priceless piece of jewelry at the successful close of the mystery!

    Like

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