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Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys

For many mystery fans, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are their first introduction to the genre. In this week’s episode, Sarah and Brook discuss the enduring appeal of these young sleuths and the legacy they leave.

Discussed in order

The Agathas (2022) Liz Lawson and Kathleen Glasgow
Truly Devious (2018) Maureen Johnson
Ace of Spades (2021) Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Outer Banks (2020-2023) Netflix
Wednesday (2023) Netflix
New York Nell the Boy Girl Detective (1880) Edward L. Wheeler
“Welcome to Camp Noir” in Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (2006) Lani Diane Rich

Bobbsey Twins
Nancy Drew Diaries
Three Investigators

More about Edward Stratemeyer

For more information

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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery
SarahHi Brook
BrookHi Sarah. How are you?
SarahI’m doing really well. How about you?
BrookYeah I’m great too. The springtime weather is sort of kind of emerging where I am and it’s it’s actually wonderful to get that little perk up.
SarahYeah, we’re we’re experiencing the same thing. It’s been a little bit milder the last couple of days. Still chilly at night. But I’ve seen a couple of little um crocus buds. So we’re definitely on the way to spring.
BrookOh that’s exciting.
SarahSo I’m super excited today to talk about our episode.
BrookYes, today. We’re going to be talking about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. So I’ll get us started. The teen detective trope is amazingly popular at the moment. In books, yes, but in TV movies, podcast and games as well. Some recent published books with teen sleuths include The Agathas the Truly Devious series and Ace of Spades shows such as Wednesday and Outer Banks are hot on Netflix but the idea of young people solving mysteries is nothing new. In fact, this subgenre of mystery emerged in tandem. But detective fiction written for adults teen detective stories date back to at least 1854 when the dime novel New York Nell the Boy Girl Detective was published in this series of stories nell dresses up as a newspaper boy and over it. Nell dresses up as a newspaper boy in order to solve mysteries. I found a website with images of the publication and you’ve got to go have a look. We’ll put a link in the show notes. The popularity of teen detectives really took off in the 1920s when Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer syndicate developed the characters of the Hardy Boys. Not only was stratamire a prolific author pinning more than 1300 books himself and selling over 500 million copies, he was also a clever publisher and businessman.
BrookA Fortune magazine article notes “as oil had its Rockefeller, literature had its Stratemeyer.” Stratemeyer originally pitched the Hardy Boys series idea to Grosset and Dunlap and suggested the following names for the fictional brothers: Keen Boys, Scott Boys, Heart Boys or Bixby Boys. The publishing company approved of the project but chose their own name: The Hardy Boys. Stratemeyer hired journalists to write the Hardy Boys stories based on his ideas. He paid them a flat rate for each book retaining the copyrights and publishing under a collective pen name Franklin W Dixon. I think it’s safe to say that James Patterson has been heavily influenced by Stratemeyer, given that his system is quite similar.   As our listeners are probably aware, the Hardy Boys Frank and Joe Hardy are teenage brothers and amateur detectives. They live in the city of Bayport with their mother and father and their aunt Gertrude. Their father is a detective. The brothers attend high school in Bayport, but school is rarely mentioned in the books and seems to never get in the way of their solving cases. In the older stories, the boys’ mysteries are often linked to their father’s confidential cases. In each novel, the Hardy Boys are constantly involved in adventure and action despite the frequent danger, the boys always show courage and ingenuity.
BrookThey are hardy boys, luckier and more clever than anyone around them, even the adults. The first three titles were published in 1927 the same year as The Big Four by Christie and the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle . The Hardy Boys stories found immediate success. And by 1929, the series had sold more than 100,000 copies. As I mentioned earlier I find it striking that these books intended for younger readers emerged simultaneously with adult detective fiction given that the YA boom of other genres wouldn’t happen for decades. Scholar Carol Billman called the Hardy Boys soft-boiled detectives and says what Dasheil Hammet and Raymond Chandler did for mature audiences Franklin W Dixon did for children. The Hardy Boys series was such a hit Stratemeyer was inspired to create a female count Stratemeyer was inspired to create a female counterpart Nancy Drew officially appeared in the Nancy Drew mystery stories.
BrookShe’s originally depicted as a sixteen-year-old high school graduate but is later rewritten as an eighteen-year-old in the series she lives in the fictional town of river heights with her attorney fought with her attorney father Carson Drew and their housekeeper Hannah. Stratemeyer wrote the original plot outlines and hired Mildred Wert to ghost write the first volumes in the series under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene and just think if one of Stratemeyer’s other suggested names for the girl detective were chosen instead. We might be reading adventures about Stella Strong, Diana Drew, or Nan Nelson. Young readers immediately clicked with Nancy’s wit and skill and devoured the books about her the series soon eclipsed the Hardy Boys in popularity with young readers. Over the years several ghost strip over the years several ghost writers have written as Carolyn Keene the original series lasted until 2003, consisting of 175 novels and of course the girl detectives legacy lives on in spinoff series, movies, and games. The intelligent and confident Nancy Drew is cited as a formative influence to many prominent American women including supreme court justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayer, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush.
BrookAlthough intended for younger readers, the fact is these series have always been enjoyed by kids and adults alike. So what makes us love stories about teen sleuths? One reason is referred to as “reminiscence bump.” In a Crime Reads article, writer Elizabeth Held explains why books transport adult readers instantly back to their adolescence. It’s a sensation compounded by the reminiscence bump a psychological phenomenon that makes memories from that time period stronger than other times in our lives. All those emotions that mark the teenage years helplessness a desire for control and even yes, the angst come rushing back. Lani Rich a contributor to the book Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars agrees noting that there is something intense about the high school years that we continue to connect with as we get older. Add to that the conflict of a mystery and the two factors coalesce into captivating stories. Aside from this desire to reminisce about our younger years, teen sleuth stories accomplish the same thrill ride as any detective fiction, making order out of chaos, ensuring good prevails over evil, and that justice is served. And maybe they’re about hope too navigating the teen years can be tough but if a teen can solve a mystery they can do just about anything.
BrookNancy Drew and the Hardy Boys will be forever the younger versions of us out there solving tricky puzzles and catching the bad guys even when no one else can.
SarahThank you, Brook that was such a great introduction and I learned so much and I want to check out what was the name of the um, the first detective that you talked about the female wearing the cap?
BrookYes, her name she was so she would dress up like a little newspaper boy to solve crimes and her name was New York Nell, The Boy Girl Detective.
BrookAnd like I said we’ll have to put some links in the show notes because the illustrated publications. This was a serial you know, like most of the fiction back in the eighteen hundreds. Um, and they’re just adorable. The print is teeny tiny, so I’m not sure we can read any of it. But yeah, some research into her seems seems really good.
SarahSo I, I’m sure like most mystery fans devoured Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys over the course of a couple of summers at my grandmother’s house. Um. I just absolutely loved them. Um, and I’ve been rereading some of the original stories as well as some of the ones that were published more recently that have a more modern day twist and so maybe we can talk a little bit about that sort of adapting with the times that they seem to have done really really well so that you know they continue to be read by audiences almost a hundred years later.
BrookYes, it’s interesting that you say that you read them at your grandmother’s house because that was my um method of getting these books as well. I I’ve shared with you before that I lived on a farm and so my grandparents house was right across the street essentially from the house I lived in and in the basement my dad’s and his sister’s ah collection of books still existed and so I would go and ah use it as my own personal library and get um, different books. Ah, some of them were Nancy Drew some of them were Hardy Boys. Um, there were also the Bobbsey Twins and um oh there’s another series which also was a Stratemeyer production. He was absolutely prolific in the children’s book industry. So, if it was popular at that period of time, he probably had something to do with it. But yeah, that’s how I did too so these were authentic, um, probably 1950s 1960s copies of the books and um, just really a fun way to to get introduced to these mysteries.
SarahSo, when I was reading them, it wasn’t that reminiscence that you were talking about because I wouldn’t have been through high school yet. Um, but Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys seemed to have this freedom that I didn’t have but I didn’t have um I was also too young but didn’t have access to a car and couldn’t really imagine myself hopping in my car and and going to check out a clue the way that that Nancy did with with no like this is just what she’s going to do so really inspirational in terms of she knew what she wanted to do and I I really admired that.
BrookAbsolutely that confidence and we see that in um in all amateur sleuth stories. Don’t we where we think “man I wish I had you know the Hutzpah to go do that”. But when you’re dealing with these teenagers that’ll do that, it’s the confidence. It’s the um, the ingenuity the the quick thinking as a kid that I think is so endearing and you can see why those prominent ladies that I mentioned I mean and. And let’s face it. Those are probably just a small sampling of ah women who can say that Nancy Drew impacted them. It inspired them made them realize that as a girl you know as a young person I can I can do these things and and I think that that’s something that both of these series did really well was empower kids.
SarahOne of the things that I think, Brook is really easy for us to forget as readers in the twenty first century is how impressive it must have been for readers in the 1930s to see this young woman 16- 17-year-old girl being granted the freedom to hop into her car and go off on these investigations right? It was it was just oh Nancy’s you know up to her old detection tricks again and there was no question about whether whether she should be doing that.
BrookIn a time where as a girl as a as a woman you really couldn’t travel or be in society unaccompanied. It wasn’t considered appropriate.
SarahAbsolutely like you know I’m sure my grandmother wasn’t afforded any of that kind of freedom. My mother probably wasn’t afforded any of that freedom. Um, and so it’s yeah you know I think really really impressive that um that this character was given that.
BrookAnd as much fun as it is for us in in modern day to read and enjoy the confidence and freedom of this young girl detective it had to be so satisfying and fun for the women who were living in the same time as her for those girls that didn’t have the ability to go hop in ah her in your roadster and go I mean that’s what would make it so much fun to read these. You can see why they would be so popular.
SarahYeah, absolutely um, and even the more modern version. So I’ve read um from both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys books that were published within the last decade and so you know they have cell phones and they’re driving I think Nancy Drew is driving a hybrid car. Um, and so you know they’re they’re definitely in the modern world but they still have that um that confidence that is really impressive.
BrookI I did that this week too I chose to read um a Nancy Drew and a Hardy Boys that are in the new series. So it was one of the Nancy Drew Diaries I think is the the most recent series and um, I’ll be honest I was nervous about it I’m like I don’t know how I’m going to feel about these kids being in modern times with modern technology and I but I loved them I enjoyed them so much and  thing that I thought was really really well done. And over the years I have no idea how many ghostwriters have written under these collective pen names. But I’m always struck by how well they keep the voice. They keep the the tone I don’t know how to to describe it any better this feeling that you get when you read. Ah.
BrookAnd I I feel it a lot in the Hardy Boys the way that the two brothers interact with one another. Um they’ve they’ve kept it and I enjoyed them so much. It didn’t bother me that they had cell phones and could do um you know modern technology it was it was just really great.
SarahYeah, it’s I remember being really surprised when I realized that they were both ghostwritten right? That Franklin W Dixon and and Carolyn Keene did not exist as as people but were this collection of people who were all writing these stories. Um. Because as you say like it. It’s it really is hard to tell that you know different people. Um wrote these books. Um I also have been watching. There’s a Hardy Boys series that’s on Tv I think it’s on. Um.
SarahKnow if it’s on Amazon Prime um, but so it’s set in the 1980s so they don’t have cell phones. They don’t have all of the you know access to to computers and internet that um that the more modern day sleuths have ah. But there’s there are a couple of differences. So the younger brother. Ah Joe is. He’s only about twelve years old um whereas Frank is you know  he can drive so he’s at least 16.
SarahUm, and their mother dies in the first episode which is I think different than the books. Um, and that’s what sends them to they end up living with their aunt because their dad has to go on a case. Um, and so yeah, so like the dynamic is a little bit different between them because in the other books they seem to be much closer in age whereas you know they’re they’re definitely um, a few years apart. Ah and I don’t remember this so much from the books but they kind of each have their own mystery that they’re investigating um in this series. Yeah yeah, and so. That’s that’s interesting as Well. Um, but I’m yeah I’m enjoying it watching watching the Hardy Boys.
BrookThat sounds really good I’m going to look for that and I enjoy seeing how they’re maybe deepening the backstory a little bit deepening some of the um, the subplots. That’s interesting we you know we talked about when we talked about cozy mysteries and I think that these stories definitely fit in like the cozy category. Um, we talked about a trend for a little bit more of the traditional mystery of elements coming into the cozy world. And that would be more of like ah an overarching character arc maybe a story that continues throughout a series. Um a little bit more of a there could be a little bit more of a dark backstory. Definitely not too dark because it continues to be cozy, but that’s just really interesting I think there’s a parallel there. With what we talked about with Melissa Bourbon in our cozy discussion.
SarahYeah I I would agree I think I think they are cozy in terms of um I mean there’s a little bit in the in the television show. There’s a little bit of um tension you know there’s someone who’s kind of after them and um, kind of suggestion that there there is a potential for violence. But there’s nothing that’s kind of shown on the screen. Um, and I’m just trying to think about the modern the more modern Nancy Drew Diaries book that I read because it was a ah little while ago that I read it. But um, yeah I would I would agree I think it. Think it fits in the in the cozy category. Ah, although I’ve been reading one of the original I think it’s the second of the original Nancy Drew stories um and there’s a scene where her father offers her a gun because he wants her to like protect herself which I thought was really really interesting and I don’t know if that would I don’t know if we would see that in something if it was published today.
BrookYeah, probably not and I know that um I believe it was in the ‘50s I would have to look back at some notes but that some of the early Hardy Boys were um, rewritten and kind of updated because of maybe not ah weapons but things like ah you know discrimination. Um, some language that we wouldn’t use any longer to um, but so that was even done in the 50s so I’m sure in today’s books for kids. No father would offer their child again.
SarahNo I I can’t imagine um that that would happen but it’s interesting. You mention the kind of revisions that happened um in the 1950s and I think I think there might have been another round of revisions maybe in the 1970s and maybe again recently like I think I think it’s. Um, it’s not uncommon for that to happen with with books that were published a while ago if you you know if you think about if you’re a publisher and you want your books to remain relevant to modern audiences. Ah maybe you do go in and and you know you issue. A. Ah, next edition that removes some of those references that might not sit as well with ah with today’s audiences. And I know you know in the in the publishing world. There’s been some controversy recently about Roald Dahl books and James Bond books as well. I think being um being revised but you know these aren’t the first series of books to get that treatment. Um, and so it’s you know it’s understandable and I think it’s a purely financial decision. Um, so that the so that the books remain relevant.
BrookUm, and maybe it’s even more important. So maybe it’s even more important for these series that are intended for younger readers because um, ah as an adult you can like maybe put some perspective and. And say oh well this is written in the twenty s so I can ah take it take some of these references with a grain of salt and understand this the times that it was written in but you know I think when you’re ten or eleven years old you’re not going to be able to layer on that hat worldview and so I think it is important that to keep a series relevant for that audience that that you go in and you make some updates so that the stories can endure.
SarahYeah, absolutely. Um and I think so I don’t know if this is true of the Hardy Boys but there’s a series of Nancy Drew books where I think she’s even younger like she’s not in her teens. She might be ten or twelve years old um, and I I read one of those um and that you know as you would expect the case is much less harrowing than um, you know some of some of the stuff that the original Nancy Drew or even the the Nancy Drew Diaries would be looking at you know the the one that I read was um, ah a pair of ballerina flats that um, that were stolen right? and so kind of investigating amongst the the ballet class who might have who might have done that um and so I think pitched at the early reader so almost that gateway into mystery um, kind of book.
BrookI love that we got to get them while they’re young, Sarah and suck them into the world of mystery.
SarahAh, exactly you can see how again this is a publisher decision as you say get them get them while they’re young reading. Um these really introductory Nancy Drew stories and then graduating into the um ah more traditional Nancy Drew stories and you know same with the hardy boys right? and then and then the whole world of mystery opens up.
BrookYes, yes, you know for me I did I did read the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series but for me the series that was the gateway was um, Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators and it’s a very similar concept. But it’s three friends who are the ah sleuths I devoured this series I loved it and um I actually now own the books that I would check out from our public library in our town because I it was a miracle I was at the library. I do still live in the town I grew up in and this series was stacked against the back of this shelf and I said “wait a minute. What are you doing with those?” and she said “well you know it’s time to they’re they’re not getting checked out anymore. It’s time to clear out” and I said “can I buy them?” Because these are the books that I I probably read the series like three times beginning to end and she’s like you can have them if you’ll just buy a few things off of our Amazon wish list I said absolutely so I’m really really honored because because it it was that series for me like. Many people. It is the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys series. But for me, it was ah Jupiter Jones and Peter and Bob and um, yeah, it’s it’s amazing. How impactful these books can be and the the feeling that you get when you read them again. I get that reminiscence bump. So much.
SarahI love that you managed to get those, Brook I think that is that’s so wonderful and I can just imagine you seeing them on your shelf and them bringing a smile every time you do, um, that’s that’s such a cool story.
BrookYeah, yeah, they do and they’re very well loved you know so because as a library copy. You know some of them. Ah, you can barely see the cover anymore because so many kids took them home and that’s even special to me.
SarahYeah, well I I mean I have to say like I have enjoyed rereading some of the um books that I would have read I don’t know thirty years ago I guess um and or more maybe ah, it’s it’s been kind of fun. To um to relive that and and yeah, you know, maybe a part of me still dreams that I I could be Nancy Drew and I could have her little I think she has a little roadster um that she hops into and goes off to solve her cases.
BrookAh, yes, me too. It’s so romantic to imagine, right.
SarahWell thanks, Brook for talking about Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and and um I learned a little bit about some of the history of of um, young sleuths as well. So this was this is a really great conversation.
BrookYeah, thanks, Sarah I think that it would be great that in the future to maybe talk about some of the other series that were written as well for younger kids because we’ve got some other ah famous sleuths out there so we’ll come back and talk about teen sleuths again in the future. But for today. Thank you for joining us on clued and mystery I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah. And we both love mystery.