Pen Name: Carolyn Keene
Author Name: Mildred Wirt Benson
“We could certainly use a detective. And I’ve got to hand it to you, Nancy – you sure can keep your head.” The Secret of Shadow Ranch (UK #1) by Carolyn Keene
As this is the first book in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories in the UK, I’ll start with some basic background to the series. The series follows an 18-year old amateur sleuth named Nancy Drew. Although the story is set in the 1920-1930s, Nancy is ahead of her time. She is smart, quick-witted, brave, and always exceeds people’s expectations as she’s a woman. Her father, Carson Drew, is a famous lawyer. Her mother died when Nancy was three, so she was raised by their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. She is helped throughout the series by her two best friends, George and Elizabeth (Bess), as well as her boyfriend, Ned.
The Secret of Shadow Ranch begins with Nancy arriving in Arizona, USA. She is has been invited to spend the summer with her two best friends at their aunt and uncle’s house. When Nancy arrives however, George informs Nancy that they will all have to return home the next day because a legendary outlaw’s (Dirk Valentine) phantom horse is haunting the farm. George and Bess agree to convince their uncle and aunt to let Nancy solve the mystery. After gaining their uncle and aunt’s blessing to investigate, Nancy gets straight to it: chasing the phantom horse across the farm, surviving a series of near deadly warnings including a rock slide, surviving a flash flood, and outsmarting the bad guys at every turn. Will Nancy discover how the phantom horse is rigged? More importantly, who is behind the phantom horse and what do they want?
The Secret of Shadow Ranch is a really nice easy read. I read the whole book in just over two hours. There’s always something happening so the pace of the book is fairly quick which keeps the pages turning. The mystery isn’t too difficult to figure out in this particular story. I figured out who was behind the phantom almost immediately. I am 25 years old so that might play a part in how quickly I figured out who the culprit was when reading the book this time; I did figure it out almost as quickly when reading the book for the first time over 10 years ago though. Some of the smaller aspects of the mystery are harder to work out though. I always forget how the phantom horse is done, making for a nice surprise each time.
I really like Nancy’s character. I like how she’s not afraid to walk around in the dark on her own in the middle of the night. I also like that she’s smarter than everyone else in the book, even the men. She speaks up for herself, but not in a feminist way. In other words, she doesn’t bristle when the men doubt her abilities because she’s a woman, most likely because they usually eat their own words shortly after saying them.
Bess and George are cousins and they are complete opposites. The Secret of Shadow Ranch offers a nice introduction to the girls. George is more boyish, and Bess is more girly. Bess is always concerned about her appearance, boys, and food. Bess’ love of food comes up periodically throughout the story and series in general leading George to tease her.
The feel of the book is certainly 1920-1930s. Reading the book now in 2013 is like stepping back in time. The manner of speaking and the social rules are so different, yet Nancy is still relatable to women today. She’s a great role model. The focus on food is partly what gives that 1920-1950ish feel. This is typical for books written in this post-war era (e.g., The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, both written by Enid Blyton).
In the edition of The Secret of Shadow Ranch that I have, Nancy is knitting a sweater for her boyfriend, Ned. This was actually an error in the early printing of the book. Nancy doesn’t actually meet Ned until a later book in the series. In reprinted versions, Nancy is knitting a sweater for her father, Carson Drew. There still remains a reference to Ned being in Europe in the reprinted version, however.
Final Verdict: A fast read for children and young adults with a great female sleuth, or for older adults, like myself, reliving the nostalgic of a youth well spent reading Nancy Drew.