Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Secret of the Old Clock: Review

My mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew when she gave me her 5-6 volume set from the 1950s (they looked like the one at right). From that moment on I devoured the mysteries starring the girl detective like they were going out of style--every birthday and Christmas saw at least one Nancy Drew title on my list. These books were the bread of my reading existence when I was growing up and were always my comfort reads when I needed comfort or just didn't have anything else on hand. You know, it's been over 25 years since I read these books regularly, but I can still tell you where the Hidden Staircase was and why it was important. I can also tell you what the Clue in the Broken Locket was and why The Sign of the Twisted Candles is one of my least favorite of the Nancy Drew books.

Nancy Drew was my gateway to reading.  She was my introduction to mysteries.  More than than that Nancy and her blue roadster stood for adventures.  My parents have always supported me no matter what.  They believe I can do anything I want--and made me believe it too and taught me that it never mattered that I was a girl.  Nancy was my first reinforcement of that idea in book-from.  She was supported by a loving and interested father who had taught her to be independent and to take care of herself.  When Nancy has a flat tire while out detecting in her roadster, she doesn't have to wait for some strong man to come along and change it for her.  She sets right to work:

It was not the first time Nancy Drew had changed a tire, but she never relished the task. Rummaging under the seat, she pulled out the tools and quickly jacked up the rear axle. She loosened the lugs which held the tire in place, and tugged at it. Again and again she pulled, but the huge balloon tire could not be budged. Then, she gave one mighty tug, it came off and Nancy Drew fell backwards into a sitting posture in the road.

When Nancy first indicates that she wants to try and track down the missing will, Carson Drew doesn't tell her the job is too difficult or too dangerous for a girl.  He just tells her: "Detective work isn't always the safest occupation in which to engage. I happen to know that Richard Topham is an unpleasant man when crossed. If you actually succeed in learning anything which may help the Horner girls, you are certain to have the Tophams in your wool." He warns her of the dangers....but he doesn't warn her off.

For this reread, I went back to the original 1930s version of The Secret of the Old Clock.  Working in the English Department of a university, I am often offered extra desk copies that instructors don't need.  The reprint of the original Nancy Drew story was one such bonus.  It was lovely to sink back into one of the stories that I loved in elementary school and relive Nancy's adventures while tracking down the clock in question and finding the secret will that provides for several down-on-their-luck relatives.  But one thing I did notice was the stark contrast between the representation of Jeff Tucker (the Tophams' cottage caretaker in the original and later versions.  In the original, Jeff is portrayed as the stereotypical "negro" of the times (the author's word, not mine)--very heavy dialect, lazy, slow, prone to alcoholism. The solution to this problem of racist stereo-typification in later editions?  Remove the problem.  Make Jeff Tucker a country hick white character--which I'm sure could still be offensive, but at least it's not racist.  As child, I didn't pay attention to that sort of thing--I was focused on the mystery and the adventure.  As an adult, it is important to remember that each version is a product of its time.

When I first read this story, I am sure I would have given it five stars (maybe even a five-star-plus).  Reading it now, it's a four-star winner.  Fun, engaging, and an interesting window on the 1930s.


Ryan said...

I read this for your first Vintage Mystery Challenge, but I can't remember which version of the caretaker was in it.

Gypsi said...

I just recently reread this myself! I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. (My version had the country hick caretaker.)

I had a large set of Nancy Drew books as a child and enjoyed them, but Trixie Beldon was always my favorite girl sleuth.