The Clue in the Crumbling Wall (1945) by Carolyn Keene
When four rose bushes disappear from Nancy Drew's garden, she's plunged into another mystery. The bushes are stolen by Joan Fenimore, a poor little girl with a love of beautiful plants. Joan and her widowed mother are living in reduced circumstances and are convinced that if only the mother's sister, Florianna Johnson--a famous dancer--could be found, then things would change for them.
Florianna was engaged to Walter Heath, heir to a fine estate and the family business. But she disappeared nearly ten years ago. Her health had been bad and she'd been advised to take a break from work and go on a vacation. She never returned. Walter loved her and believed she'd come back, but died five years later. His will revealed that he had left everything to Florianna, provided she was found within five years of his death. There are only three weeks left and if the dancer isn't found the estate will revert to the county to be turned into a park.
Nancy promises the Fenimores that she will do all she can to find the missing dancer. There is also a rumor of clues to be found and the Heath estate so she and Bess and George make it their business to investigate. They discover that someone has been damaging the walls of the gardens and buildings--evidently in search of something. Nancy soon discovers a plot to defraud the missing dancer of her inheritance and she must race against the clock to find Florianna, as well as the valuable secret hidden at Heath Castle.
The Clue in the Crumbling Wall was one of my top ten favorite Nancy Drew stories when I was young. And the mystery still holds up forty-some years later. There are good clues for Nancy to follow and just the right amount of danger and adventure. The girls are attacked at various times, but never seriously hurt and they manage to outsmart the crooks very cleverly. It was nice to see Nancy working with her Dad on this one--he and Nancy follow a lead to Florianna in a nearby town. Usually, Carson Drew is off doing lawyerly things and just gives Nancy little "that-a-girl" pep talks when he appears. I really like the ending--how Florianna uses her new-found wealth and the happy ending for Joan and her mother. ★★★★
First line: Great drops of rain pelted the sidewalk, as Nancy Drew raced madly toward home, her golden hair flying in the stiff breeze.
Last line: "And forever they'll remain a symbol of mystery and romance!"
Deaths = two natural