The Clue of the Tapping Heels is actually two stories, depending upon which copy you have. One was written in the 1930’s and the other was written in 1969. We call these books Original Text (OT) (Amazon) (AbeBooks) and Revised Text (RT) (Amazon) (AbeBooks). I’m not going to review the plots so much as make observations of things that jumped out at me.
First, the OT (Amazon) (AbeBooks) has not aged well with it’s racial stereotypes, whether its the “colored” men (or as Ned actually calls one, “I saw a darky…” or the bumbling Irish cop. And the weird repeated description of a colored man with light freckles throughout. I know this was the 1930s, and that’s how people talked, but still, it makes for uncomfortable reading.
Second, the original cover art is wrong. George and Bess were not around when Nancy found the ladder leading to the upstairs of her house.
Nancy is learning how to tap dance at the beginning of the story and mentions to “Mrs. Gruen” (not Hannah, which is weird) that she’s learning to tap dance and thought it could be used for Morse Code. Ah, foreshadowing at its finest.
Miss Carter is a former actress but now she’s a cat hoarder living in Berryville, a few miles away from River Heights, who can’t keep up her place. The Bunce’s are the neighbors who had a ward, Gus Woonton, a boy of undescribed age described as “simple minded”. The Bunces don’t take good care of Gus, so Miss Carter takes him in, but she can’t handle him, either, and puts him in an institution and pays for his care even though she’s strapped for money. They find out Gus has died, and Miss Carter would like the Bunce’s to reimburse her for the money she spent on Gus, assuming his parents left him money. The Bunces claim there is none, threaten to turn Miss Carter in to the authorities for her cat hoarding, and are, in general, horrible neighbors. There’s mysterious tapping going on at Miss Carter’s and Nancy is asked to investigate.
Nancy, Bess and George take a train to New York and of course, the Bunces are on it. Nancy just knows they’re up to no good!
At one point, when at a fortune teller’s place, George and Nancy are drugged by incense?! and kidnapped. They manage to escape with the help of the bumbling police, who at least know that the “Egyptian” Omar is a pretty shady dude. And Nancy just knows that Omar isn’t really an Egyptian, he’s really a colored man. Shock, horror, oh, no! The dude’s bad news, regardless of skin color.
Turns out Gus Woonton is alive and well, he just escaped the institution. The doctor there said he was adapting well and a simple operation of the brain would make him a “normal” boy. Uh, can you say lobotomy? They were popular at the time the OT was written, and with almost all the cases, with disastrous effects.
Nancy is later kidnapped by the Bunce’s and stuffed in a trunk headed to South America. They are helped by one of the ship’s crewmen. Bess and George and Mr. Drew’s detective convince the police to search the ship and at first find nothing, but Bess and George just know Nancy is on the ship and find her because she’s tapping her feet in Morse Code.
Returning to Miss Carter’s, Nancy discovers a secret room and finds Gus Woonton, who is a little underfed and disheveled. Turns out his real parents are the Bunce’s, who worked for the wealthy Woontons, and claimed he was the Woonton’s son to get ahold of their money, which they squandered.
There’s a subplot involving a romance with Miss Carter and an old love, too, and selling one of her old plays so she can earn royalties and not live in such dire straits.
The story veered off into several different directions. I know that’s common with Nancy Drew books and that all paths lead to several mysteries intertwining and being solved at the end, but this was a bit of a stretch for me.
This review is for the Revised Text RT (Amazon) (AbeBooks).of The Clue of the Tapping Heels. First off, I just love the internal illustrations in this edition. This is the way I remember Nancy! Second, who ever heard of a cat that obeyed it’s owner? The Miss Carter in this revision is able to call her cats by name and they obey her commands. Who ghostwrote this book? Clearly not a cat owner.
Once again Miss Carter is a cat lady, but this time instead of being seen as a crazy cat lady with more than 25 running around, she breeds Persians as a source of income. And Nancy is performing in a play and it also involves tap dancing, so there’s the connection in the RT to tapping heels.
Nancy Drew books like using one word over and over. In the OT(Amazon) (AbeBooks) books, it was always “chums” instead of “friends”. In The Clue of the Tapping Heels, it’s “pudgy” in describing a man, repeatedly throughout the book. As in, if he’s overweight, he must be suspect.
On page 47, the writers and editors of the book must have thought that the word crowbar was too hard or kids wouldn’t know what it was, because they describe the tool, but the word is never used.
Nancy thinks the police aren’t taking the cat-napping seriously because they refuse to post 24-hour guards at Miss Carter’s house!
It’s weird that Nancy takes on a case when she has a commitment to rehearse in a play almost ever night. This gets in the way her staying at Miss Carter’s house in Berryville, when normally she’d be spending the night there to determine who is making the strange tapping noises and stealing the Persians. So Bess and George help out when they can, although they’re not quite the sleuths that Nancy is.
I notice in the RTs(Amazon) (AbeBooks). that church is mentioned in almost every book. In The Clue of the Tapping Heels RT, Bess is seen praying for Nancy at one point, and then there’s just this random question that comes out of nowhere asking if Nancy goes to church. Weird. When I read this as a kid, it didn’t make an impression upon me as I didn’t go to church. Now that I do, it struck me as out of place in this particular story.
Despite all this weirdness, the book gets really crazy when a bomb is planted in the Drew’s garage and Carson says he took a class a few years ago on bomb diffusion, so he’ll just go ahead and take care of it and not call the authorities right away!
The whole Gus Woonton as a young adult (instead of a simple-minded boy as in the OT) (Amazon) (AbeBooks) and the Bunce’s worked into the mysteries didn’t work for me. However, without Gus, there wouldn’t have been much of a mystery. He’s just seen as a smart aleck troublemaking teen whose parents got so fed up with his antics they shipped him away to some place like a reform school. But now that his parents are dead and money has been left to him, he’s “grown up” enough that he won’t cause trouble anymore. What? He just spent how many weeks breaking into his old house repeatedly?
Weird mystery, I think I prefer the OT with all its racial stereotypes but better story flow.
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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