Monday, February 9, 2009

Mystery Books that Stand the Test of Time

Sorry All. I fell into a time-warped alternate universe at the end of December, and have only now been able to escape. Darn time-travel machine! Luckily I had my P.O.C.L novel revisions with me, so I have been working on those and making great progress. But now I’m back in real time here at Writermorphosis. Sorry for my absence during January.

While I was away I went used-bookstore shopping to feed my addiction for antique books. And in one used clothing store I came upon a treasure! For $2.00 I acquired a 1939 first edition hardback of “The Clue of the Tapping Heals” (A Nancy Drew Mystery, written by a ghost writer – most likely Mildred A. Wirt Benson, the first writer of the Nancy Drews). As a collector of old books, and a huge childhood fan of Nancy Drew, I snagged it immediately. Even though the back cover is splotched with water marks from where someone clearly left it in a puddle or a flood, I'm so thrilled to have it.

In my opinion, the Nancy Drew books have stood the test of time. And as a writer, currently slogging through my own mystery manuscript for young people, I had to wonder how they did it. What do these books have that is still relevant to readers today.

A quick peek within the thick, yellowed pages, answered my questions.

1.) A great first line, dialogue no less, that throws us right into the action: “Land sakes, Nancy, there’s so much commotion in this house a body can’t even think!”

2.) Action in every chapter that moves the plot forward. For example, in the “middle” of the book, where many stories tend to slow and sag, the chapter titles are these:
Ch 14. A mysterious disappearance
Ch 15. Hidden Money
Ch 16. A threatening message
Ch 17. Travelers
Ch 18. The Unpleasant Interview…

3.) Great last lines in every chapter with a “hook” that makes you want to keep reading.
Ch 3. “Someone was watching us from behind the foliage,” she said tensely. “As we came up the walk I distinctly saw a dark figure slip around behind the house!”
Ch 5. “Before Nancy could stop him he had pushed open the screen door and walked boldly into the living room.”

Ch 25. The girl gazed steadily at the woman. “That’s exactly what I mean to do—“ Nancy began, and then her voice trailed off.
In the doorway of the cabin stood Chief Officer Murray.

4.) Surprises and “red herrings.”
Ch 9 Hurriedly the girls moved into a nearby bedroom, but did not have time
to close the door. A man, whose face they could not see, crept noiselessly down
the hallway. Warned by some slight sound which Nancy and her chums were
unaware that they had made, he whirled toward them, whipping out a revolver.
“Hands up!” he ordered sharply.
The chums obeyed, then Nancy began to laugh. “Detective Keely!” She
exclaimed. “My, but you frightened us.”
Big thanks to Mildred A. Wirt Benson who, being a ghost writer, got little credit for her work. Thank you! Thanks for writing mysteries that writers today can still learn from. And thanks to Russell H. Tandy for great illustrations, and to Grosset and Dunlap for publishing it.

For those who want to know more about the unofficial history of the Nancy Drew Mysteries, check out the Nancy Drew pages at wikipedia.(–NancyDrew).