Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #1: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene, Sara Paretsky

Nancy Drew debuted in 1930 with three volumes, all ghostwritten by Mildred Wirt (later Benson). The books were revised or rewritten in the 1960’s and 70’s. We call these books Original Text (OT) and Revised Text (RT).

Some important things to note for those who read the RTs like me growing up. In The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy is only 16, and she has blonde bobbed wavy hair.  She owns a blue roadster, which offsets her blue eyes. Her father, Carson Drew, is a former district attorney who is now a successful criminal attorney. Hannah Gruen, the Drew’s servant, acts as a mother figure as Nancy’s mother died “some years before.” While River Heights does not actually exist, there is mention of something about pride of being in the Middle West. Speculation is that River Heights is in Iowa or Ohio, based on where Mildred Wirt, the original ghostwriter, was living at the time.

The Secret Of The Old Clock, Nancy’s first mystery, has Nancy searching for the will of a mistreated old man who has died. The family that has the most to gain is the snobbish Topham family, who housed the old man in his final days, and already have most of his furniture because of this. There is a bit of class discrimination in this book towards the Tophams, who annoyed the normally cool Nancy by trying too hard to fit into the rich and snobby lifestyle.  There are several other deserving, more destitute families, the Hoovers, Turners and Williams.

Nancy finds out the newer will might actually be in possession of the Tophams, so she devises a plan to recover it. You know it has to be in the old clock Josiah Crowley left behind because it is in the ding dong title! It just so happens that the Tophams have a cottage at the same lake that Nancy’s chum Helen Corning is going, where they have jettisoned much of Crowley’s furnishings.  So Nancy tags along and does some sleuthing. In the process, she runs into a couple of burly thieves and gets locked in a closet.

Besides the class discrimination seen with the Tophams, we see cringy horrible racial stereotypes. Nancy’s encounter with a drunk Jeff Tucker, caretaker, are not at all PC today. He even waxed rhapsodically about the automobile ride to being like a chariot wafting towards heaven.

Luck played a big role in plot resolution. Oh, and Nancy withholds evidence from the police so she can go over it first.

The RT of The Secret of the Old Clock has some changes: she’s titian-haired (or strawberry blonde as some books like to describe her), she’s 18, and now she drives a blue convertible. The Topham sisters are still snobs, but they have been toned down a bit.  And the racial stereotypes have disappeared.

The story for The Secret of the Old Clock remains the same for the RT, but some filler was taken out to take this book from the OT of 220 pages to a slimmer 180 or so. The pace is quicker, the plot moves faster, and the resolution remains the same.

Both the Original Text of The Secret of the Old Clock and the Revised Text are good.  But I have a tendency to lean more towards the Revised Text as that is what I grew up on. The writing is much better on the OT, but I prefer the quicker pace of the RT.

For more information about my favorite sleuth, check out Jenn Fisher’s Unofficial Nancy Drew website, which has a wealth of information.

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