Anyone who speaks out against formulaic series fiction was never a child. I don’t think I can ever fully relate the deep and lasting influence the Stratmeyer syndicate had on my life. All I know is the first book I remember reading over and over and over again was the Hardy Boy’s mystery “The Case of the Melted Coins”. Nancy Drew followed shortly thereafter, and so much of my childhood I owe to the titian haired beauty who was always getting herself out of rather ghastly scrapes just in the nick of time. I was obsessed. I combed garage sales and thrift stores for copies of the “old” editions of the series, and one day I hit the jackpot, purchasing a box of five titles copyrighted in the thirties for only fifty cents. My ambition was to collect every single title shown on the back of the yellow bound hard covers: I spurned the 1980’s incarnation of Nancy, for various moral reasons (probably echoing the values of my mother) and sought instead the world where a live in housekeeper was utterly appropriate, the collegiate Ned was always around to take you driving in his rumble seat, and Bess and George were described as “plump” and “boyish” rather than “fat” and “butch”.
I inhabited the worlds of the old Nancy Drews so fully that even now, sitting here in the dark tip tap typing away when I really should be sleeping, I can recall in detail the plots of “The Mysterious Mannequin”, “The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes”, and snatches of the rest, all mixed together in a big formulaic stew. I remember secret passageways and priceless artifacts, statues that whistled and a stained glass window that hid a tremendous secret. Both houses I lived in as a child were fantastic, mysterious playgrounds, and I was constantly looking for (and constantly disappointed for not finding) sliding panels, secret documents, and spy holes cut into the next room.
I remember an old, beautiful run down brick house on Sherwood road, just half a mile up from our depressingly normal home. It was covered in ivy, the glass had long been shattered in the window panes, and the whole place had such an air of desolation that I was certain it housed, depending on my mood, a dead body or an ancient treasure. We passed that house every time we headed to the doctor, or to visit my father at work, or to run errands, and every time we passed, I sat there in the car, making up grisly stories in my mind. I can still picture the house perfectly, and I wonder if it might one day be the setting for a story that I have not yet thought of.