Wednesday, December 17, 2014


You mystery fans out there. Which detective in all of fiction solved the most cases? Sherlock Holmes? Hercule Poirot? Nero Wolf? Ellery Queen?  Jane Marple?   

After doing some research, I've discovered none of the above. Nancy Drew outranks them. Although, there are sources that say Nancy Drew solved only 56 original mysteries, they go on to say between the first books, the updated releases, and joining the Hardy Boys in TV episodes, there are more like over 500.

Nancy is a teenage girls' favorite first detective. A teenager sleuth who's stood the test of time from the early 30's until present day. Teenager Nancy Drew was born in 1930. She lives in River Heights with her lawyer father and Hannah their cook/companion.  Her gift for solving puzzles (maybe a teenage Jane Marple?) leads her to solve crimes for her father, friends, local police and people she meets on vacations, in towns, in and of the country,  in old mansions,  in attics, cellars and ranches.  

Titles indicate her breadth of experiences: The Secret of the Old Clock, The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk, The Secret at the Gatehouse, The Clue of the Black  Flower, The Ghost in the Gallery, In the Shadow of the Tower, The Secret at the Hermitage and The Thirteenth Pearl.

Who was this ingenious author, Carolyn Keene, who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries? Enter Edward Stratemeyer, writer, publisher of children's books. He didn't have  time to write all the stories in his head, so he hired ghost writers to do it for him.

Mildred Wirt Benson is the real writer of the first Nancy Drew mysteries. Born in 1905 in a town in Iowa, she loved sports and a good outdoor adventure. Her love of books created a desire to write, and she had her first short story, "The Courtesy" published at age 13.  Mildred was the first woman to graduate from the University of Iowa with a Masters Degree in Journalism.

Then, she went to work for Edward Stratemeyer.

Her  first novel ,The Secret of the Old Clock was based on Stratemeyer's characterization and a three and a half page outline.  But it was Benson who breathed life into the character. She influenced young girls to know they could accomplish their aspirations and goals.  Benson wrote 24 of the first 30 books, which became instant hits. 

She went on to become a journalist until she died at age 96. She loved adventures, which helped shape the persona of Nancy Drew. Mildred Benson was not only a writer, but an amateur archaeologist and received a pilot's license in her 60's.

Stratemeyer hired many different authors to write Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys Mysteries, The Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls Mysteries and Tom Swift from outlines he provided. His syndicate's practice was the authors should remain anonymous, and despite the revenue brought in by the books, they paid the authors $125 for each book.  Each writer wrote under the pen name of Carolyn Keene.

Edward passed the reins to his daughters Edna and Harriet. The syndicate, under the direction of Harriet kept the series alive and thriving. In 1959, she and several authors rewrote the earlier editions, eliminated racial stereotyping, updated the language,  condensed the books and rewrote outdated plots.

Other writers included Harriet, who wrote most of the series after Mildred Benson. Subsequent authors included: Walter Karig, Leslie McFarlane, James Duncan Lawrence, Nancy Axelrod, Prscilla Doll, Charles Strong, Alma Sasse, Wilhelmina Rankin, George Waller Jr and Margaret Scherf.

So, who is Carolyn Keene? Rather, who are they?  And more important, who is Nancy Drew?

Los Angels Times, March 28, 2010
Childresn's "Much Like Nancy Drew" by Elizabeth Kennedy, Chief Books Expert

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