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Sleuthing 101

What's a girl sleuth to do without her trademark sleuthing tools? Never leave home without a trusty flashlight or a handy magnifying glass. A bag of clothes bathing and a suit kept close at hand in the trunk for those sudden overnight sleuthing adventures is essential. Always on the trail of clues through musty old attics, castle dungeons, secret passageways with hidden staircases, spooky moss-covered mansions and dark alleys, Nancy leaves no stone unturned. A few other sleuthing tools Nancy uses in some of her mysteries: matches, book on codes, extra batteries, screwdriver, bobby pin, nail file, sketching paper and pencils, police whistle, camera, and binoculars.

Whether investigating crime in River Heights or nearby spots like Moon Lake, Nancy has a penchant for traveling. Often called "travelogues," were volumes where Nancy visited foreign countries and children learned a few factoids about these countries. Although she had a couple of trips out of the country previously, Nancy's passport became quite full in the 1960s and 1970s with visits to Hong Kong (The Mystery of the Fire Dragon, 1961), Scotland (The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes, 1964), France (The Mystery of the 99 Steps, 1966), Peru (The Clue in the Crossword Cipher 1967), Africa (Kenya) (The Spider Sapphire Mystery 1968), Turkey (The Mysterious Mannequin 1970), Japan (The Thirteenth Pearl 1979), and Mexico (The Triple Hoax 1979).

While sleuthing to help downtrodden victims of dastardly villains, Nancy had a volatile relationship with law enforcement. Early in the series, the police were bumbling and patronizing to Nancy. Nancy was much less trusting of the officers and their actions. Over time, Nancy developed a more trusting relationship with the police, who were quick to ask her for help or help her in her cases. They were often very praiseworthy of her sleuthing abilities. In fact, Chief McGinnis of the River Heights Police Department often treated her as an equal and felt she was better than the men on his force.

Nancy was often threatened by villains, caught snooping, and warned to drop a case with a threatening phone call or an "all-purpose assailant rock." Memorable villains include the bumbling Frank Semitt (Jemitt in the revision)from The Sign of the Twisted Candles, poisonous spider weilding Bushy Trott from The Secret in the Old Attic, and vixen Mary Mason who delighted in Nancy's possible demise in The Mystery at Lilac Inn.

Sleuthing was made extra suspenseful in old spooky mansions where Nancy might stumble upon or search for secret passageways, hidden rooms and most infamously, a hidden staircase in The Hidden Staircase. Spooky settings like these made the mysteries even more thrilling.

Nancy managed to cross the line herself when breaking and entering to find clues, keeping stolen property (Topham clock, The Secret of the Old Clock), and obstructing justice by harboring wanted but seemingly innocent fugitives (The Clue in the Diary). Nancy was much more flippant and more of a risk taker in regard to the law in the early texts.

Though modest, Nancy was often rewarded by those she helped: Crowley clock (The Secret of the Old Clock), silver urn (The Hidden Staircase), ring (The Bungalow Mystery), and a handbag (The Clue in the Diary). She never took money as payment like a regular detective would and at one point in the series, she was referred to often as an "amateur" detective.

For fun, I'll note 5 random sleuthing techniques we learned about in the classic Nancy Drew books:

1. The Ear to the Ground Trick

When Chasing Suspects...put your ear to the ground like Nancy, who while she was in pursuit of villain Kit Kadle, puts her ear to the ground to get a feel for his whereabouts in The Message in the Hollow Oak, revision.

2. Speaking in Code

Nancy and her chums develop a handy code for communicating in The Secret of the Forgotten City. Every third word in each sentence of a set of 3 to 4 sentences adds up to a message, such as “I spy a villain!”

3. The Old Detective Hand Trick

When Nancy finds herself about to be tied up by villain Stumpy Dowd in #3, The Bungalow Mystery, she hold her hands in a particular manner—an old detective trick she read about—in order to be able to slip out of her bonds.

4. Whistle Your Worries Away

To keep in communication with her sleuthing chums, Nancy issues everyone police whistles in the revision of The Clue of the Crumbling Wall and in The Secret of the Forgotten City.

5. Master Keys Come In Handy

When locked in a hallway by feisty “pearl cultists,” Nancy finds that carrying a large set of master keys with her comes in handy while solving The Thirteenth Pearl.

Currently, I am writing a book which focuses on the mysterious history of Nancy Drew®. While this website is a good introduction into the world of Nancy Drew®, you will find further analysis in my upcoming book.

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