~ A Book Review: Nancy Drew, The Secret in the Old Lace, by Carolyn Keene ~

Posted: January 26, 2023 in book review, Book reviewing, books, children's writing, Fiction, Middle Grade, readers, Story, time, Writing
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I have finished reading my second novel for 2023, a Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret in the Old Lace, by Carolyn Keene. I have fond memories of reading Nancy Drew mysteries as a young girl and was curious to take a peek back into my past. It is interesting, is it not, to read material that fascinated us when we were children and gain that window to our more innocent, younger selves.

The first part of the mystery is the cold case of a famous Belgian aristocrat, Francois Lefevre, who vanished in the 1700s. A magazine runs a contest where people can write the “solution” and win a prize. Needless to say, our ‘attractive titian-haired girl’ Nancy Drew enters the contest with her story solution. Bess’ mom has asked Nancy and the girls to solve the mystery of Madame Chambray, a friend of hers in Bruges, who has found a fancy cross and wants Nancy’s help finding the owner. Add to this a side plot where the bad guys, having heard about the cross, try to sidetrack Nancy by stealing her story and submitting a copy of it before her entry arrives. Then Nancy gets accused of plagiarism.

*Spoiler alert* (I’m going to tell you what happens).
The intrepid sleuth leaves her father to sort out the accusation of plagiarism, while she jets off to Belgium with her pals. While staying with Madame Chambray, the girls learn of another mystery involving the home. Somewhere on the grounds, the famous Belgian aristocrat who vanished has a hidden treasure. The girls meet the great-grandson of the aristocrat, and they discover the hiding place of his lace cuffs and the fortune, which turns out to be jewelry. Nancy has solved the century-old mystery. Hurrah!

It was a company called the Stratemeyer Syndicate that created the Nancy Drew series. The author’s name, “Carolyn Keene,” was a pseudonym used by many people – both men and women – over the years. But the original writer of the first 23 novels was Mildred Benson (aka: Mildred A. Wirt). Also contributing to Nancy Drew’s catalogue of titles were Walter Karig, Leslie McFarlane, James Duncan Lawrence, Nancy Axelrod, Priscilla Doll, Charles Strong, Alma Sasse, Wilhelmina Rankin, George Waller Jr., and Margaret Scherf. Notably, Harriet Stratemeyer, the daughter of Edward Stratemeyer, also wrote a number of novels.

Nancy Drew still has fans all around the world. However, the stories don’t stand up too well to modern scrutiny. Casual sexism and outdated attitudes rankle. In 1959, a concerted effort was made by the publishers to rewrite the earlier books, removing racial stereotyping and attempting to update the language. But 1959 was a long time ago, and there is still a lot left to raise an eyebrow. Nancy’s boyfriend Ned is mentioned multiple times as a potential hero to rescue the girls if needed. Nancy says at one point that she would not be able to stop the bad guy herself but would need a man to do it. Also, the non-P.C. element of constantly mentioning Bess’ weight would not fly these days, and we are told: “calories are bad.” Nekminit, George grabs a kid and shakes them. The P.C. police would have a field day!
Reading a book like this is an invitation to consider how much things have changed in our modern era. Nancy Drew is the sort of light reading that reminds us of simpler times. The child reader I was fifty years ago did not think to question stereotypes or gender bias. I read for the love of reading alone. That’s a lovely state to remember. These classic stories are a bit of naive fun. Having said that, I doubt I’d bother reading another Nancy Drew novel anytime soon. There is insufficient specificity, zero character development, no depth, and no real challenge to the mystery. Perhaps some books are best left to our fond childhood memories.
My rating: One star

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol

“For me, euphoria is simply the act of waking up, making my coffee, and sitting down with a book and being able to read.” Elliot Page


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  1. Thanks for sharing your interesting review on this novel. The author is new to me, but very interesting to discover. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      Thanks, Michael. Funny thing is, until doing this review, I always assumed Carolyn Keene was an actual person. It was only when I did some research that I discovered all the many people who had authored the books over the years!


  2. Thank goodness today that girls can be heroes. I read a lot of Nancy when I was a kid and even then it bothered me that boys had most of the fun. Great review. I wonder what she’d think of women’s literature today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      Hi, Joylene! Agreed. There’s an ad running on TV over here at the moment where a young girl asks Google who scored the most goals in soccer and it answers with a male (I think it may have been Ronaldo). Then the girl asks how many goals one of the famous women soccer players had scored and the figure was higher. So the girl asks Google again who has scored the most goals and it answers with the male player again. The bias is still real and exists. We have a long way to go. But, at least we are making headway in some areas and in some ways. I decided to write a female hero for my new series and it is so satisfying!

      Liked by 1 person

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