November 17, 2005


Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway. By Wendelin Van Draanen. Knopf. $15.95.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. By Melanie Rehak. Harcourt. $25.

Smart, sassy, with-it and anathema to stereotypes, female detectives – especially young female detectives – have all the elements needed for long-term series success. That is, they do as long as they have as much personality and as many minor personal foibles as seventh-grader Sammy Keyes, Wendelin Van Draanen’s redoubtable mystery-solver. Sammy’s latest adventure is not quite at the top of Van Draanen’s form – this time, the author makes things not just complicated but over-complicated – but it has some typically wonderful moments: “Then I started seeing birds. They were everywhere. …I’m not talking big ugly ones like in that Alfred Hitchcock movie. These were scarier than that. These were pretty little tweety birds. …And I know this is going to sound crazy, but I swear on my high-tops – these birds were tweeting at me.” Why this none-too-tweet scene? It’s part of that somewhat confusing plot, which involves a teacher’s pair of lovebirds, a series of rocks thrown through windows, and a city council trying to evict elderly people from their houses. It also involves Sammy doing something wrong for which her archenemy, Heather, is taking the blame, leaving Sammy with a moral conundrum made more complex because Heather is acting guilty, which means she must have done something else. There’s some pirate stuff, too, and a golf course, and a cemetery, and of course eventually everything makes “horrible, bone-chilling sense” and Sammy solves another mystery. Although a tad overdone, the book is fun and a fast read.

“Fun and a fast read” is a perfect description of the 56 books of the Nancy Drew Mystery Series – and at least some of the 124 books in the Nancy Drew Files created much later. Nancy, in fact, is the model on whom Sammy Keyes and many other girl sleuths are at least loosely based. Girl Sleuth is filled with information and trivia on Nancy and the women who wrote the books about her. It’s strictly for fans and for students of popular culture, but it’s delightful if you fit either of those categories. Here Nancy’s adventures are traced back to their start, when she dressed properly in gloves and cloche hats while out doing detective work. You will find out differences between Nancy as seen by Mildred Wirt Benson and as envisioned by Harriet Stratemeyer Adams – the two women who together were author “Carolyn Keene”: Benson’s Nancy was brash, skeptical of authority and unapologetic; Adams’ was well-bred and had perfect manners. The tidbits are great for Nancy fans: Nancy carried a gun until the late 1950s; she and boyfriend Ned Nickerson never kissed; Nancy was originally 16, but her age was changed in the 1960s to 18, after the driving age was raised, so she could keep using her famous blue roadster – which was maroon for a time; and much more. Readers who have the publication date of the first Nancy Drew book mentally tattooed on their brains will have an absolutely great time with Melanie Rehak’s well-researched, well-written book. Those for whom April 28, 1930 is just another day will probably prefer to read something else.

No comments:

Post a Comment