Book Reviews

Book Review: The Clue of the Tapping Heels – Nancy Drew Dances Her Way Into Trouble

I aspire to one day be an eccentric woman who lives alone with a lot of cats. Really. That seems to me to be the idyllic way to live since cats don’t talk back, monopolize the remote, and know when to crawl into your lap and when to leave you alone. Just feed them twice a day and make sure the litterbox is clean and you’re good to go.

Reinforcing that image is the Nancy Drew mystery The Clue of the Tapping Heels. In this book, Nancy and her friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, come to the aid of a former actress who lives alone with many prized Persian cats that she raises and breeds. She’s my hero.

The actress, Miss Carter, has been injured recently and has a nurse living with her in her home. Both women have been hearing mysterious tapping sounds in the walls of the house at night. The first night that Nancy and her friends arrive at the home, they find a wobbly Persian kitten in the street and discover that some of Miss Carter’s prized cats have been stolen.

Meanwhile, Nancy has been preparing for an appearance in a charity production in which she performs three tap-dancing numbers. She spends a good deal of time going back and forth between where the rehearsals are in River Heights and the town where Miss Carter lives. This gives plenty of time for her to experience more than the usual amount of peril. In short order she is threatened, locked in a room with a fire, has a bomb planted under her car, and is tied up and left sealed in a hidden place. Ned also suffers during this time as he’s locked with Nancy in the room with the smoky fire as well as seeming to spend a lot of time just trying to see her, only to become drawn into the mystery and assaulted. Even when the two are staking out the attic, they don’t sit together but are across the room from one another.

As the mystery deepens, Nancy learns about a learning-disabled boy (not their words, I’m trying to be a little kinder) who lived in the house before Miss Carter and locates a secret room he lived in for some time. She suspects he has something to do with the noises in the house, and enlists her father, attorney Carson Drew, to help track him and his parents down. Unfortunately, he learns that the man’s parents are dead and the man hasn’t been seen since he left the “home” he was living in some months before.

There are a few things that surprised me in The Clue of the Tapping Heels. Many of the books contain details about the food the girls eat, including snacks. They will whet your appetite while reading and I’m telling you, it does make you want to make the trip to the kitchen. In this book, for the first time, Nancy refers to getting a drink as “a Coke”. I haven’t heard a brand ever mentioned before and I can’t recall Nancy ever mentioning anything as unhealthy as soda.

The pacing of the book is good. The mystery unravels pretty evenly and Nancy doesn’t seem to be forcing the situation as the previous book seemed to want to rush through the events taking place. The characters seem to be their usual selves, including Nancy’s seemingly endless talents.

Who would have thought Nancy could tap dance well enough to secure a part in a show and perform three numbers? Once, just once, I would like to see George or Bess be the ones able to do something that Nancy can’t do. I would think they would get tired of always being outdone by her at every turn. In addition, Nancy has learned Morse Code at just the right time to use that in combination with her tapping in this mystery. How utterly convenient.

Even for the 1970s, this version is really light on romance. This far in, I would think that Nancy, Bess, and George would refer to the boys as their boyfriends and vice-versa, but that doesn’t happen. Likewise, I would think there would have been a kiss or something. With it aimed at the 9 to 12-year-old market, they wouldn’t want to see too much affection (or maybe they would but their parents wouldn’t), but I don’t think Nancy kissing her boyfriend hello or goodbye would be out of character.

This time, too, when Nancy has a suspect that she wants the police to check out, it’s her father who gently reminds her that they have no grounds to stop the suspect, rather than just have the police go ahead and put out an APB for the people on nothing but flimsy evidence. Usually, once Nancy decides someone needs to be brought in, the local authorities just go along with it instead of conducting their own investigation. In some ways, that small piece makes The Clue of the Tapping Heels a little bit smarter than some of the other books in the series.

There’s an unusual segue to the next book in the series at the end of this one as well. The whole performance and Nancy’s actions during it does seem out of character. I don’t recall any other time where she seems to totally relish being the center of attention due to her detective work. It’s almost like it’s getting to her head.

I’d have no problems with my daughters reading The Clue of the Tapping Heels. There’s nothing in here particularly offensive and even the portrayal of the learning-disabled man is fairly sensitive even if some of the terms used to describe him aren’t the same as we would use today. The adults aren’t all portrayed as morons to Nancy’s superior intellect either. It’s definitely one of the better books I’ve read so far, and it even makes being a woman living alone with many cats sound like something to aspire to.

Previous book in the series (link): The Haunted Bridge

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