Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Nancy Drew

Go To

This page is for the book series. If you are looking for other Nancy Drew works, go here.

A young but brilliant teenage girl solves mysteries with the help of her two best friends and her understanding father. She also has a boyfriend. There are relatively few actual murders: it's more thefts, hauntings, kidnappings, and that sort of thing...

The original series lasted 34 volumes from 1930-1956, but continued from 1957-1979 with volumes 35-56 (and revised versions of the first 34 books). In 1979, the series switched publishers from Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster, and finally ended with volume 175 in 2003. It was rebooted in 2004 (under the title Girl Detective), featuring more modern sensibilities, and written in first-person. It ended in 2012 after 47 volumes, and 2013 saw a new series launch with the name Nancy Drew Diaries. There have also been many spin-offs.


Originally made by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and as such, written by a great many ghostwriters. The idea was conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, who also laid down the plot outlines, but most of the distinctive characteristics are due to the writer of the earliest volumes, Mildred Wirt Benson. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, daughter of Edward, took over control of the Syndicate upon his death in 1930. Adams is primarily credited with keeping the Syndicate afloat through the Great Depression, and with revising the two most popular series, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, in the 1950s and 1960s, removing stereotypes and outdated ideas and language. She is credited with several books in the Nancy Drew series.

For what's basically the equivalent with dudes, see The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown.


Tropes in the books include:

  • Action Girl: Nancy and George.
  • Aerith and Bob: Mostly chalked up to time, since quite a few names have fallen out of favor since the books were written (as it is, names like "Nancy," "Bess," and "Ned" currently sound a little old-fashioned and not the kind of names you'd expect teenagers to have), but a name like Mortimer Bartesque couldn't have been very common, even then.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the books, Bess is Hollywood Pudgy. In the Made-for-TV Movie, she's Jill Ritchie.
  • Alliterative Name: Ned Nickerson
  • Ambiguously Gay: Between her masculine nickname ("George" was short for "Georgia"), short hair, and tomboyish interests and behavior, many readers of the original series speculated that George Fayne was a lesbian, despite the fact that she had a boyfriend. Similarly, in the Files series, she doesn't have a steady boyfriend, and although she dates fairly regularly, she isn't boy-crazy or flirtatious like Bess and is often irritated with guys who act as such. The newest incarnation of the comic series, as part of the Setting Update, made this Ascended Fanon and gave her a steady girlfriend.
  • Anchored Ship: It's clear that all the flirting and Ship Teasing between Nancy and Frank in the Supermysteries is going nowhere since they have Ned and Callie in their own respective series (and Ned even makes occasional appearances in the Supermysteries). Similarly, the not-quite-as-strong attraction between Bess and Joe was similarly stuck since Joe was essentially widowed after Iola was murdered. Well, that plus their equally flirtatious natures making them incapable of making a serious commitment to each other.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Bess, Nancy, and George for the most part, although this wavers from book to book. Nancy is undeniably the "Brains" of the group; George has always been considered the most athletic of the trio, and functions as "Brawn" if Ned isn't around; Bess has always been described as a great "Beauty" and is often given "distract-the-guard-flirting" as an assignment.
  • Beta Couple: Both Bess & Dave and George & Burt in the original series, before the two boys are Put on a Bus (see below).
  • Big Eater: Bess.
  • Bound and Gagged: An old Stratemeyer standby, in lieu of "real" violence.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The trio of Bess, George, and Nancy.
  • The Case Of: The series had a few, like The Case of the Disappearing Diamonds, and The Case of the Vanishing Veil.
  • Catchphrase: "Hypers!", often uttered by George.
  • Chained to a Rock: In one of the Files books, Nancy is knocked unconscious. When she comes to, she realizes that she's been tied to a piling, left to drown when the incoming tide inevitably rises over her head. This is especially sadistic and stupid on the bad guys' part, as if they wanted to kill her, they could have easily dumped her in the ocean while she was unconscious, but chose a method that borders on torture—and is quite obviously a murder rather Make It Look Like an Accident.
  • Chickification:
    • Both played straight and inverted in the infamous rewrites of the 60s. There was a lot more "asking nicely" and "smiling sweetly," and in general the tomboyish Nancy became much more ladylike — but she also took to wearing jeans, rumpling her hair, and eating hamburgers in diners rather than "dainty sandwiches" in tea shops. The straight examples were deliberate (original author Mildred Wirt Benson and rewrite author Harriet Stratemeyer Adams did not like each other, so when the very ladylike Adams took to rewriting the stories, she tried to edit out as much of Benson's tomboyish characteristics as she could); the inversions were simply a product of cultural changes.
    • Also inverted with Bess in the Girl Detective series. Though she remains as much of a girly-girl as ever in terms of her fashion sense and love of shopping, she's now also an expert Wrench Wench, a trait she definitely never had in any previous series.
  • Clear My Name: in Files #43: False Impressions, and #59: High Risk (though this one is actually Clear My Boyfriend's Name). Several in the original series too—Mystery at Lilac Inn, etc.
  • Costume Porn: Much like Food Porn as described on the Hardy Boys page, the books devoted a decent amount of space to descriptions of the outfits the girls wore. However, unlike the Food Porn of the Hardys, the clothing descriptions remained, and when there are books like A Model Crime and Designs in Crime, which focus on modelling and the fashion industry, the descriptions sometimes went Up to Eleven.
  • Covers Always Lie: There was an odd period during the Files series (the period surrounding issue 100) where they decided to start marketing the books almost as a romance series. They were given titles that bordered on misleading, such as The Cheating Heart (about stolen test answers), Heart of Ice (sabotage at a mountain climbing school) and The Stolen Kiss (about a stolen painting called "First Kiss.") The covers switched to look like Harlequin Romances, with Nancy staring longingly at some handsome stud (often Ned, but not always.) The writers attempted to justify this by ratcheting up the romantic angst, both in Nancy frequently missing Ned while he was at college, and having guilt-inducing feeling for the suspect, stranger, villain of the week. It came close to Genre Shift, but not quite.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Ned tended to be this throughout all versions of the books whenever another guy showed interest in Nancy.
  • Crossover: The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Super Mysteries series, Spinoffs of the Files/Casefiles and Girl Detective/Undercover Brothers series.
  • Dating Catwoman:
    • Especially during the Files spinoff, a subplot that kept popping up would be that either George or especially Bess would develop a crush on someone that Nancy would view as a suspect, with a rift forming between them when Bess or George would vehemently defend their innocence despite evidence forming against them. They would always reconcile by the end of the book, but it varied as to whether the man was guilty, innocent, or guilty of a smaller, less severe crime (He might have committed a forgery or theft, but not the murder), or had even been strong-armed into participating by the real villain.
    • In the book Two Points To Murder it was Ned who was a friend of the suspect. Much like with Bess or George's love interests, the guy turned out to be involved, but not guilty of the main crime. Only this time at the end of the book, the rift resulted in a pretty brutal, but realistic breakup.
  • Dub Name Change:
    • In Finland, she's known as Paula Drew.
    • Turned Up to Eleven in the French translation as you can see on the other wiki, Nancy Drew is known as Alice Roy to make her name more appealing to French ears while still sounding American enough. Even Carolyn Keene becomes Caroline Quine.
    • In Sweden, she was renamed Kitty Drew for reasons that has never been fully explained. The most common theory being that the publishing company thought that Nancy sounded like an old lady's name, while Kitty would be more more hip and appealing to Swedish teenagers in the 1950s.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A lot of the things Nancy says come across as snarky and sarcastic.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection
  • Extruded Book Product
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Though they're cousins, this is precisely Bess and George's relationship. Enough that it's a shock to everyone on the rare occasions that George dissolves into a giggly schoolgirl over a guy.
  • Foreshadowing: The first few books of the Files series hint at the events of the eighth book Two Points To Murder, namely, Ned getting fed up with always being second to Nancy's detective work and Bess and George getting angry when Nancy becomes suspicious of their respective boyfriends.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: A variant appears in "The Clue in the Crumbling Wall," when George takes an inadvertent "swim" — i.e., falls into a pond — and lays out her outer clothing to dry while she waits in an abandoned stone house. Naturally, a small child steals her clothes. (And since this was written in 1945, chasing him in her underwear is just not done.)
  • Hard Head
  • Hypocrite:
    • Ned spends much of the first few books of the Files series bitching about always being second best to Nancy's detective work to the point where he finally breaks up with her. By the very next book after this, he himself needs those same detective skills to help his new girlfriend. His hypocrisy aside, this is also horrifically insensitive of him. He's also visibly jealous upon meeting her new boyfriend, even though he broke up with her and is dating someone else.
    • Overlaps with The Unfair Sex: in the Files series and their crossovers with the Hardy Boys, Nancy has, and occasionally even acts on, some serious feelings for men other than Ned, most notably Frank Hardy and Mick Devlin (both of whom she straight-up kisses multiple times); though these flings don't ever end up lasting long-term, they're still usually portrayed positively or at least as being tragically star-crossed, even though she's essentially cheating on Ned with other guys. At least with Frank, he and Nancy mutually conclude whenever this happens that they want to stick with their respective partners, but with Mick, he outright asks Nancy to marry him, and she actually considers it. And yet, when there are books that involve another girl being attracted to Ned, Nancy gets very jealous, even though Ned never displays behavior that comes across as "cheating" as blatantly as Nancy does in the same situations.
  • Kid Detective: One of the most famous.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Hannah Gruen is portrayed this way, as well as being a Parental Substitute for Nancy.
  • Long-Running Book Series
  • Missing Mom: She passed away when Nancy was three years old. (Note: In the stories before the rewrites of the 60s—see Orwellian Retcon—she passed away when Nancy was ten.)
  • Multiple Narrative Modes: For the franchise as a whole.
    • The originals/Digests and Files are told in third-person, almost always from Nancy's points of view, but occasionally switching to that of her family and friends as well.
    • In the Girl Detective and Diaries series, the books are in first-person, almost always from Nancy's point of view (with one exception: the first Girl Detective Super Mystery, "Where's Nancy?", where Nancy is missing for most of the book, and George and Bess alternate first-person chapters instead).
  • Mystery Fiction: One of the most well-known examples.
  • Mystery Magnet: Oh, so much. Nancy can't even take a vacation without stumbling upon a mystery.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Though it varies from original incarnations, Nancy Drew's age largely is stuck around 17-19 years old and as such is either a high school student or a college freshman/sophmore. Deliberate on the part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, who had notice sharp drop-offs in readership of other series such as Judy Bolton and Cherry Ames when the characters grew older and matured.
    • Averted in the Made-for-TV Movie and Nancy Drew On Campus. They both start out with Nancy going to college.
    • The 1995 TV series rarely if ever mentions Nancy's age.
    • Oddly averted in the original series, though: Nancy was sixteen in the early volumes, then suddenly advanced to eighteen so it would be legal for her to drive in every state. (Although as Bobbie Ann Mason has pointed out, she never acted as though she was under thirty.)
  • Obfuscating Disability: In Captive Witness, the plot centers around a plan to rescue ten children from then-Communist Hungary. The ringleaders of the rescue mission are an elderly professor and his wheelchair bound nephew. It's soon revealed that the young man is not paralyzed and that the rescue plans were hidden in the seat of his chair, knowing that customs officials would not search it.
  • Official Couple: Nancy and Ned Nickerson.
  • Orwellian Retcon: On at least one occasion, new editions of the old stories were revised to update the settings (along with other changes, in some cases to the extent that pretty much everything after the title page was new).
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: You wouldn't think this could happen in book form, but it has. Nancy Drew Files #39: The Suspect Next Door focused heavily on Nancy's neighbor, a girl named Nikki Masters. Not too long after, Nikki got her own spin-off, a romance series called River Heights. It lasted about 16 issues before getting run off the face of the earth and is largely forgotten now.
  • Power Trio: Nancy, Bess and George.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality:
    • Nancy and co. engage in a lot of behavior that would be considered rude and meddlesome if anyone else were doing it, but it's always justified as the people she's displaying this towards are usually jerks and/or suspects in her case. For example, when she demands that a man explain something that she heard while eavesdropping on his private phone conversation, he is the one made to be in the wrong for screaming at her to mind her own business. Of course, he doesn't help his cause by grabbing and shaking her, but he still has every right to be upset for her butting into his personal life.
    • The three girls are almost always supportive of each other no matter what, which is usually a good thing...but in the Files, this includes not calling each other out on displaying borderline-infidelity to their respective boyfriends by flirting or even having a fling with other men, and sometimes even encouraging these relationships. But if any of their boyfriends or flings cheat on them or someone they're close to, it's unforgivable.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Helen Corning in the original series, who was eventually replaced by Bess and George (the excuse was that she was either traveling or studying in Europe, a common way to jettison unwanted characters at the time.)
    • Dave and Burt—the steady boyfriends of Bess and George, respectively, in the original books—are faded out by the time of the Digests, and are nowhere to be found in the subsequent Files, Girl Detective, and Diaries series, all of which instead portray both girls (Bess in particular) as serial daters with perpetually changing boyfriends.
    • In the Files series, the writers sometimes had issues finding something for all four main characters (Nancy, Ned, Bess, George) to do. Usually, it was easiest to get rid of Ned, by having him busy with some major assignment for school. However, either Bess or George would often be "visiting family" or "attending a wedding" or George would be in some kind of sports tournament.
  • Sauna of Death: Appears in the '80s series during Two Points to Murder; Nancy sheds her footwear, sweater, shirt and jeans to keep the heat at bay before managing to escape.
  • Shouldn't We Be in School Right Now?: It's not as bad as some instances, since later books have explicitly stated Nancy's age at 18, meaning it's perfectly plausible for her to have already graduated high school. However, as society marches on, it becomes increasingly strange that she doesn't attend college or pursue some kind of employment.
  • Spin-Off: There have been several:
    • The Nancy Drew Files: Darker and Edgier and Hotter and Sexier series designed to appeal to teen audiences by removing the previous roadblocks of the parent series (No Hugging, No Kissing, Never Say "Die", etc.) Might qualify as a Quietly Performing Sister Show since it had a successful run of 12 years (1985-1997) and 124 issues.
    • The Nancy Drew Notebooks and Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew: Spin-Off Babies series which both involve 8-year-old versions of Nancy, Bess, and George solving mysteries in the vein of missing pet cats.
    • Nancy Drew On Campus: An ill-conceived Genre Shift that didn't go over well. This sent Nancy away to college, and tried to be a drama series in the vein of Sweet Valley High. The mysteries became a minor subplot, and Nancy had to struggle with college life and the drama of roommates and student loans and partying (and dumping Ned!)
    • Nancy Drew: Girl Detective: Considered a continuation of the original series by the publisher, it hovers somewhere between the Originals and the Files in terms of storytelling (while more shy about showing death than the Files, it's more liberal in implying death than the Original, using more violent crime such as arson and sabotage.)
    • Both the Files and Girl Detective spin-off had their own spin-off, a Crossover series with the Hardy Boys. Interestingly, they were both titled Nancy Drew-Hardy Boys Supermysteries. (Fans tag them '88 and '07 for the sake of avoiding confusion.) Both shared a lot of similar traits, including hinting at Nancy/Frank and Bess/Joe relationships.
    • The Nancy Drew Diaries: Beginning in early 2013, this series took the place of Nancy Drew: Girl Detective as the "official" canon (meaning it's not considered a spinoff like the Files or On Campus).
  • Status Quo Is God: Nancy and Ned break up at the end of the eighth book of the Files series. Within one book, things fall apart with their respective new partners—his is a self-centered bitch, hers a nitwit. By the next book, they're working on a reconciliation and by the book after that, they're back together.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Usually averted, as the story is mostly told from Nancy's point of view. However, there are a few examples:
    • The originals, Digests, and Files are told in third-person, usually focusing on the thoughts and feelings of Nancy; however, if Nancy is incapacitated, the p.o.v. will sometimes switch to her friends.
    • The first Super Mystery of theGirl Detective series—which is usually told in first-person exclusively from Nancy's point of view—has Nancy missing for almost the entire book, with her friends trying to find her. Instead, George and Bess share the narrative as they work together with Ned to investigate her disappearance, with the two of them alternating chapters for who has the first-person p.o.v.note  Once they finally find Nancy at the end of the penultimate chapter, she takes over the narrative for the final chapter.
  • Techno Wizard: George becomes this in the Girl Detective and Diaries series. In the former, she's still as athletic as ever and has her tech savviness as an additional trait, but in the latter, she loses her athleticism, and being a techie becomes her primary skill.
  • Tomboyish Name: George. In the original series, it's her real name and she's actually quite proud of it. In all later versions, it's a nickname for "Georgia", meaning it's a Tomboyish Nickname of her own choosing.
  • Useless Boyfriend: Ned Nickerson toes the line here. Often averted as he works as her muscle when things get really dangerous; occasionally, in less action-heavy stories or ones where Nancy Took a Level in Badass, he will end up feeling a little tacked on. A common story thread is creating conflict because of his feelings of uselessness.
  • UST: Between Nancy and Frank Hardy in the Crossover series. Occasionally between Joe Hardy and Bess as well, much to the annoyance of everyone else.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: It's a common problem with any book series, but there's always one large block of exposition that's always dropped into (usually) the first chapter of each book (Nancy's mother died when she was three, Bess and George are cousins, but couldn't be more different, Ned is studying at Emerson College, etc.)
  • Where The Hell Is River Heights?: The location of River Heights has always been pretty sketchy. The original ghostwriter, Mildred Wirt Benson, put it in her home state of Iowa, but it seemed to keep drifting farther and farther east, going as far as New Jersey when Harriet Adams did her rewrites in the 60s. As early as the Files series, however, it seems to have settled down and tends to stay within driving distance of Chicago (and despite that leaving four states as possibilities due to Chicago's location, it's often implied that it's in Illinois, also.)

Alternative Title(s): Carolyn Keene


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: