NOT a YA book to read before you die, but a good friend last night reminded me of the other book series I was obsessed with in my youth: The Nancy Drew Files. These weren’t the Nancy Drew books your mum had read, in which Nancy and her plucky chums investigated a spooky apparition near or lake or twisted tree stump. No, these were adventures for the nineties, with more action, exploding cars/speedboats/light aircraft, and bikinis galore.
All Nancy Drew Files were written under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, although no such woman exists. Instead the stories came from a James Patterson-like factory set up by one Edward Stratemeyer. The writers were initially paid a tiny fee and were made to sign away any rights to their work and agree to total anonymity. Some of the authors were later identified, but many remain a mystery.
Over 124 books, Nancy, a feisty teenage detective (and poster girl for “strawberry blondes” everywhere) solved a series of recycled mysteries, most often going undercover. Luckily for Nan, she never had to investigate the death of sewer workers – more fashion models, soap stars, cheerleaders, sorority girls etc. She was accompanied by sometime boyfriend Ned Nickerson (although Nancy frequently flirted with hot lifeguards/frat guys/photographers who inevitably turned out to be the murderer/thief), and best mates: “pleasantly plump” Bess Marvin and emerging lesbian George Fayne.
As with any children’s series favourite, it’s the mind-numbing predictability that kept me reading for most of 1991. Without fail, the most evil character was innocent, and on more than one occasion, the client paying Nancy was in fact the evil party – underestimating a mere girl’s ability to uncover the truth. Paralysing agents were a huge feature too, Nancy repeatedly found herself unable to move as a result of anaesthetics or pressure points, while water or fire crept closer. Still, exciting stuff!
Today, it is important to enjoy these treasures for their front covers, which boldly portray what was considered hot in a) women’s clothing and b) “sexy” men in the early nineties. First up, the “Nancy models” were clearly 10 years older than the supposed 17 years, and the men look like the stills from 90’s classic Heartthrob. The US covers somehow managed to be even more horrific than the UK covers, too – depicting a frightening range of pastel trouser suits. Impressive.
Just think, in 25 years, someone’s going to be writing about Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Jacqueline Wilson with such nostalgic mockery. Something to think about.