Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sleuthing for Girls

Did you know Nancy Drew wasn't the first young, female sleuth in the annals of American mystery literature? Did you read Nancy, or some other contemporary crime-solving girl detective?


By pure coincidence, my bedtime book is a mystery by Susan Kandel, author of "Not a Girl Detective" which is not about Nancy but about the obsessive fans who collect her books, go to conventions, and even mimic Nancy in their clothing and decor. An author worth sampling if you enjoy well-crafted mysteries about Golden Age American mystery writers

Back to Girl Detectives: 

I favoured Trixie Belden over Nancy, in large part because Trixie's community felt more real and accessible to me than Nancy's idealized, chore-free existence ever could.

 In adventures published between 1948 and 1986, Trixie dived headlong into risky situations in a way that made my timid pre-teen heart beat green with envy. And she had friends, staunch ones, who had her back and helped her out of scrapes while still carrying on with their own lives. I yearned for friends like Trixie's. She got to go exciting places (in the vein of the Bobbsey Twins I'd read voraciously in my earliest reading years). 

The series didn't age gracefully as it grew; the later books lack the lively curiosity of the younger Trixie and acquire a more formulaic feel akin to the Nancy Drews. See more about Trixie at this website run by devoted fans

Pre-dating Trixie was Judy Bolton, created by Margaret Sutton. I discovered Judy in my 20s, though, by the accident of working in a small prairie library in the 1980s. The elderly librarian there hadn't yet seen the need to weed out Judy Bolton books in favour of more modern series. Older by five years than Trixie at the start of her series, Judy had more personal autonomy (more like Nancy) and a strong sense of what some call moral justice, rather than legalist justice. While solving a mystery, she looked at people as much as at objects. She grew up, got married, moved along with her life. That series ran to over 30 books between 1932 and 1967, with one new title (finished by another author) released in the late 1990s and the 39th book published in 2012.

Nancy and Judy were approximate contemporaries, Trixie came a bit later. Years before them all, books were being written about teenage and young adult girl detectives. This article linked below is a good introduction to some of the most popular. The social and historical root-stock - the Women's Suffrage movement and the First World War, for example - were particularly interesting as (I almost blush to confess) I had not considered how the great social changes of the early 20th century would naturally have been reflected in books for girls as much as for any other audience.

I've read some of the authors discussed in this article, but not heard of others that were likely quite popular in my grandmothers' youth. More books to seek out and add to my teetering To-Be-Read pile!

The Secret History of the Girl Detective

Who's your favourite girl detective?  

 Find me on Facebook

2 comments: