Nancy Drew 168 – The Bike Tour Mystery, Caroline Keene (2002)

A teen sleuth’s bicycle is bogged down in Connemara 

Aladdin 0743437632 paperback160pp £4.99

Nancy Drew mysteries are as formulaic and creaking as Scooby Doo. The teenage detective from River Heights, USA, stumbles upon something fishy, is bombarded with clues and suspicious red herrings which lead to an episode of physical danger after which, through deductive brilliance, Nancy solves the case.

In this outing, the neophyte crime stopper and her time-served buddies Bess Marvin and Georgie Fayne, are on a group cycling holiday in the west of Ireland. From touchdown at Shannon airport, however, unexplained accidents befall other members of their party.

She might be on vacation, but Nancy has a case to crack.

Aimed at adolescent girls, it would be easy to be snide about the series. The backdrop colour betrays a skim-read travel guide. The nature of the cycle tour and the participation of three American 18-year-olds are improbable. And, the faith placed in Nancy by the Garda (Irish Police), or indeed any other professional law enforcers, stretches credulity.

However, the mystery solver, and the many ghostwriters who have toiled as Caroline Keene, have been in business since the 1930s and sold more than 80 million books. Hilary Rodham Clinton cites them as inspiration as do a great many other mould-breaking female achievers.

Her appeal perhaps lies in her being an entirely uncomplicated female super hero. The plots suggest that it is neither an issue nor any way surprising that a young woman should possess and be able to deploy such abilities. Coupled with the understated privilege of her background, it is easy to see how the series offers wish fulfilment for many readers.

Given the challenge of inspiring young people to read, if Nancy Drew fills an idle afternoon, so much the better. The moment in technological development this title depicts – no Google, few mobile phones, cameras requiring film and bicycles with frame-mounted gearshifts – might just cause a few contemporary teens to realise that there once was a world without ubiquitous wifi.

TD September 2018

Were you looking for books aimed at younger readers that have something to say about actually-existing Ireland, then see below. I wrote this at the request of my then 11-year-old daughter as part of a school project in which parents and grandparents were invited to describe favourite childhood books. As well as writing this, I bought my daughter a copy of Across The Barricades. To date, she has not been tempted from her from her smartphone for long enough to read it, alas.

Among my favourite childhood books was Across The Barricades by Joan Lingard – one of a series of five books generally known as the ‘Kevin and Sadie’ series.

I found it at my local library, I would guess when I was about ten.  It was published in 1972 – around three years before it jumped out at me.  I was attracted by the drama of the title and, I think, its cover.  I had no idea what it was about when I took it home.

The stories are set in Belfast during the 1960s and 1970s and tell of how two young people, and their friends and families, navigate life against a backdrop of sectarian strife, terrorist groups and low-level civil war.  Lingard’s writing is vivid and visceral, as well as speaking of human warmth and the eventual triumph of love despite the surrounding strife.  

As well as her involving storytelling, Lingard’s setting described a situation that was much in the news in the mid-1970s, but about which I knew little before reading her books.  By the time I had got the end of the first book, I knew what the initials IRA and UVF stood, for; I understood the difference between Catholics and Protestants (I was brought up without religion) and had some idea of the travails of adolescent love.  

I can’t be absolutely certain, but I suspect that Sadie was my favourite character.  From distant memory, she seemed to muddle through life and get into scrapes that she did not at first understand – characteristics that probably ‘spoke’ to me.

Happily, when I returned to the library, I found that Across the Barricades was part of a series.  I am not sure that I read all five, but I certainly consumed at least three of them in fairly short order.  

I had largely forgotten the books until I read a feature article about the author – probably in the mid-1990s.  

Tim Dawson  19 February 2015

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