Up until this point in the series, Nancy Drew hasn’t had a steady boyfriend. She’s had a few acquaintances who she’s gone on dates with and helped her out on one of her mysteries, but no one who stuck around beyond one book. It would seem that the widower and his daughter only have eyes for each other since there’s no mention of any women in Mr. Drew’s life since his wife died when Nancy was young.
The Clue in the Diary changes that. Although Ned Nickerson was erroneously mentioned in The Secret of Shadow Ranch, it is actually in this book that he and Nancy first meet.
Nancy Drew and her two friends, George and Bess, are on their way home from a day at a fair. They made two friends of a young mother and her young daughter who were visiting the fair but had no money for any of the activities. The three girls delighted themselves in indulging the beautiful little girl. So much was made of what a beautiful child she was that I had to wonder if they would have made all of this fuss over her if she wasn’t as pretty.
As Nancy is driving, they happen upon a house that explodes. These things only happen to her. Nancy witnesses a man running away from the fire and finds a diary that was dropped nearby. It is also at the house explosion that she first meets Ned Nickerson, who has also been attracted there. He’s climbing into her convertible when they first meet.
I can see it now:
“Mom, where did you and Dad meet?”
“At a house explosion. It was beautiful. I thought your father was trying to steal my car. It was love at first sight”
By the end of the first chapter, it’s terribly obvious to adults who are reading the series that the two points are going to end up coming together. Between Mrs. Swenson and Honey, the mother and daughter at the fair who Nancy, Bess, and George take an interest in, to happening upon a house on fire, I knew that somehow the two were going to be tied together and whatever they would find would result in Mrs. Swenson and Honey being much better off financially in the end than they were at the beginning.
Mrs. Swenson is fretting over the apparent disappearance of her husband. With no word from him and no money, the two are living only on what Mrs. Swenson has been able to get selling of heirlooms. After seeing a picture of Mr. Swenson, Nancy is convinced that’s the man she saw running from the house explosion. Nancy hasn’t even met him and believes he must be innocent of any wrongdoing, simply because his wife is so nice and his daughter is so beautiful.
When the owner of the home, Mr. Rayburn, turns up missing, his wife believes he burned up in the explosion and points the finger at Mr. Swenson who had an appointment with him the day of the explosion. What a coincidence!
If the case actually comes to trial, I know my father will defend Mr. Swenson without a fee – so nice of Nancy to volunteer her father’s services pro bono without asking him!
I’m all for giving girls role models. And heaven knows, even as dated as she is, Nancy Drew is a million times better than Britney, Lindsay, Paris, etc. However, her shallowness during The Clue in the Diary was enough to make me crazy.
There were also plot points aplenty that either were just way too coincidental or made no sense whatsoever. A truck bears down on Nancy and her friends on a creaky old bridge and nearly runs them off the road, then is never heard about again. After the time spent on this subject, I was waiting for the payoff but it never came about.
Nancy gets involved in the case of mail theft in the middle of the book and has the thief fleshed out in short order. Her idea is such a simple one, you’d think the postal authorities would have been able to catch the perpetrators fairly easily, but it’s the girl detective who comes up with the rather simple ruse to expose the ring.
Earlier in the book, at the house explosion, Nancy’s car is hit by a rather rude man. Instead of mouthing off to him, Nancy is exceedingly polite. This is good because he turns out to be a rather well-off factory owner who just happens to be connected to the disappearance of Mr. Swenson.
Another thing that bothered me – and has been evident in all of the books – is that as soon as the bad guys are found out, they confess everything. I would call this the C.S.I.-effect, but since these books were written way before that show was on the air, it’s evident that no one ever heard of “the right to remain silent” years ago either. Where’s the clamming up? Where’s the cry for a lawyer? The crooks are smart enough to plan elaborate schemes but aren’t smart enough to realize if they keep their mouths shut nothing will happen to them since what evidence they do have is so vague that they probably wouldn’t be able to obtain a conviction. Add to that law enforcement everywhere Nancy goes that is fairly incompetent to solve a case without her help.
I guess that is the dream of the 9 to twelve-year-olds, though, and why these books work so well for that age group. They want to believe their parents and other adults are morons and they are really smarter than us. Uh-huh. They might be able to convince themselves they’ve outsmarted us as they are stating that everything is fine at school, but they never think ahead to what they are going to do when the report card with the Fs arrives home. I bet Nancy Drew would manage to cover up an F, although she’s too perfect to ever actually get one.
George is really tomboyish at times, moreso than she has been up until this point. At one point she boasts of her muscles and the time she has spent in the gym. Bess’ worry-wart attitude is also more evident than before. It will be nice when they are given more to do than just tag along behind Nancy and round out the stories a bit more.
The Clue in the Diary is plenty accessible, even if your girls haven’t picked up the books before this. It’s a good place to start the series, although some of the earlier books are decent as well. Mildred Benson, the real author behind “Carolyn Keene” for this book does a terrific job making each of the books stand alone. This will never be great literature, but it’s fine material to get girls interested in reading.
Previous book in the series (link): The Secret of Red Gate Farm
Next book in the series (link): Nancy’s Mysterious Letter