various authors as Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew

  • This summary of Nancy Drew includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Nancy Drew Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Nancy Drew by various authors as Carolyn Keene.

Originally published in 1930, The Secret of the Old Clock is the first of nearly two hundred titles about Nancy Drew, the teenage girl sleuth. Created to be a female counterpart to the Hardy Boys, the Nancy Drew series has been penned by a number of ghostwriters throughout the years, all writing under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. The books were immediately successful, and Nancy proved to be such a popular character that new stories about her are still being written and published today. This includes not just mystery books, but also graphic novels, cookbooks, film adaptations, and video games.

There are two versions of The Secret of the Old Clock. In the original 1930 story, sixteen-year-old Nancy Drew has recently graduated from high school. The intelligent, independent daughter of Carson Drew, a wealthy lawyer, Nancy knows the class and dignity that is expected of those with money. However, Josiah Crowley, an acquaintance of the Drew family, has recently died, and his will cannot be found.

In the absence of a will, Josiah’s money has gone to the Topham sisters, who exhibit all the snobbish, ill-behaved manners of the nouveau-riche. Meanwhile, the Turner family, Josiah’s true heirs, is reduced to poverty without their inheritance. Nancy cannot abide this injustice, and so she vows to help the Turners find the will.

When Nancy encounters the Topham sisters at a department store, the interaction turns ugly, and the Tophams accidentally break an expensive vase. Pleased to see their name marred by this, Nancy interviews Josiah’s family, friends, and household staff to see what she can learn about his will. One old lady reveals that there is a clue to the will’s whereabouts in the family’s old clock, but as the Tophams now live in the Crowley house, it will be difficult to go in to find it.

When Helen Corning, a friend of Nancy’s, asks her to help sell raffle tickets for a charity, Nancy takes them to the Tophams. Under the pretense of making amends, Nancy asks them to support the charity. They invite her inside, and she starts a conversation about the old clock. The sisters tell her that it was recently stolen.

Helen is attending a summer camp near the Tophams’ summer home, so Nancy joins her in order to investigate the property. While searching, she is captured by the burglars. As they get drunk on illegal booze (this is during the Prohibition era), Nancy finds the clock and escapes. With the will now secure, Josiah’s money is given to the Turners, and Nancy is delighted to see the Tophams reduced to their proper place in society.

The Secret of the Old Clock was rewritten in 1959 as a rebranding of the Nancy Drew character. Nancy, aged up to eighteen-years-old, is given a more gracious, less aggressive attitude towards others. Racial stereotypes were removed, as was the alcohol. The details of the story were also modernized for the times; for example, Nancy now drives a convertible car, and she gives voice lessons rather than dressmaking lessons. At the end of the story, emphasis is placed on the joy of the Turners in receiving the inheritance rather than Nancy’s satisfaction at seeing it taken away from the Tophams.

After the 1959 rebranding, the original Nancy Drew series continued until 1985. In these stories, Nancy is ever a refined, mild-mannered, yet fiercely intelligent and talented young woman. She encounters her mysteries either by chance or by virtue of her father’s work as a lawyer. While she is often accompanied by her best friends, Bess and George, or her long-time boyfriend, Ned, Nancy is proactive, brave, and independent in solving her cases.

After the original series ended, the character was given a spin-off series, the Nancy Drew Files. These stories have more romance and violence than the previous series and often portray Nancy as helpless in the face of the criminals she pursues. In 1995, Nancy went away to college in the Nancy Drew on Campus series, and these stories read more like soap operas than mysteries, with emphasis placed on romance and relationships. Both the Files and Campus series were met with mixed reviews and were canceled in 1998.

In 2003, a new series, Girl Detective, attempted to take Nancy back to her roots. While these stories are closer to the Nancy Drew of yore, she now drives a hybrid car and uses a cell phone. The tales have received criticism for giving Nancy only silly mysteries to solve (such as who ruined the zucchini in Without a Trace). However, a graphic novel series, which ran from 2005-2011, featured a modern Nancy chasing legitimate criminals.

After the cancelation of the Girl Detective series in 2011, Nancy was brought back in 2013 for the Nancy Drew Diaries. This series, which continues today, has received criticism for changing the character of Nancy into someone who acts in a juvenile way and only reluctantly solves mysteries, often claiming she is “on a break” from dealing with them.

Four Nancy Drew films were released in the 1930s to mixed reviews. In 2007, a movie adaptation starring Emma Roberts was released. Titled simply Nancy Drew, the story saw Nancy working to solve a murder mystery. A new Nancy Drew film series is currently in production by Warner Bros, scheduled for a 2019 release.

Despite the troubles and inconsistencies of maintaining the character for almost ninety years, Nancy Drew is an iconic and highly recognized cultural icon. She has been cited as a personal role model by such powerful women as Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, and Sandra Day O’Connor.