Book Review: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
My one word summary for this first book in the Nancy Drew series?
Nancy is a swell amateur sleuth. Carson Drew, Nancy’s practically perfect lawyer father is swell. Her live-in housekeeper who she almost always refers to with both her first and last name, Hannah Gruen, is especially swell at producing carb-loaded breakfast comfort foods. River Heights is a swell town. Even the plot to uncover Josiah Crowley’s most recent will is swell.
This first installment in the mystery series reminds any reader of how our society used to be. Originally published in 1930, this book underwent revisions in 1959 to make Nancy a bit more refined. Indeed, Nancy is polite to everyone, even the unpleasant Tophams family who are trying to swindle Josiah Crowley’s other heirs out of their share of his estate.
When she can’t make the drive to an elderly widow right at that moment, Nancy declares “Then I shan’t have time to go there today.”
She drives the speed limit, even when she knows that she must get to the police station quickly.
There are other throw backs to a society that once was. Nancy enjoys shopping at department stores where the salespeople are more like personal shoppers.
At one point in the story, she drives to a local store and orders a stock of groceries. Then she stops at a drugstore to purchase bandages and liniment.
Carson Drew asks a bank official to make photostats because the bank had the photostat equipment. The bank asked if he preferred to wait for the documents to be copied or if they should messenger them over.
Anyone who wants the picture of middle class suburban life between the 1930s and 1950s can dive right into details with Nancy.
While Nancy is described as an attractive blond with blue eyes wearing the most stylish of clothing, she’s also written as a charismatic independent character with the brains to complement her good looks.
As she’s trying to use a lever to pry open a door, she refers to Archimedes.
When she realizes that her sporty dark-blue convertible has a flat, Nancy pulls outs the spare, finds the jack and lug wrench, and gets to work. Keene writes, “Though Nancy was able to change a tire, she never relished the task.”
Nancy’s father speaks to her as a young adult and takes her ideas seriously. He gives her solid advice and offers his legal opinion and services where applicable.
I never read this first book in the series. I remember reading The Hidden Staircase and The Mystery at the Lilac Inn, but I didn’t love those books as much as I loved the installments featuring Bess and George, who show up in the fifth book.
When we would go to the library, I would run over to the shelves housing the Nancy Drew series and run my finger along the spines to see which numbers were in that day. I would start piling the books I had not read, and my mom would have to limit my selections.
One of the things I remember liking most about Nancy Drew was how she never gave up. She would solve the mystery, no matter how perplexing it might seem.
In reading this first mystery as an adult, I can see how the action verbs would have appealed to my elementary self. Nancy creeps, scurries, huddles, springs, sprints, murmurs, mulls over, and dashes. Her brow knits in concentration. She emerges from hiding places and peeps cautiously.
Her optimism and idealism hooked me when I was first realizing how much I loved to read. And her chapter-ending cliffhangers taught me to be a little sneaky with my own flashlight as I would read under the covers past my bedtime. And that was my own version of swell.