The first Nancy Drew story
In 1930, Nancy Drew, the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, made her first appearance in the book, The Secret of the Old Clock. No one could have imagined the character’s popularity. The series ran from 1930 to 2003, with a total of 175 different titles. But this is only one of thirteen different series that featured the brave, female amateur detective. The publishers have sold at least 80 million copies of the Nancy Drew Mystery series in over 45 languages. As of July 2021, Nancy Drew has appeared in 13 different series and in 613 books, with books based on the character still being published.
Edward Stratemeyer was born in 1862 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the youngest of six children of German immigrants. Although his parents were German speaking, the family spoke English at home. Growing up, he read Horatio Alger and William T. Adams, writers whose stories involved rags-to-riches tales of young Americans.
He became an American publisher, writer of children’s fiction, and the founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. One of the most prolific writers in the world, he produced over 1300 books and sold over 500 million copies. Continue reading
“My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday, I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind…”
—Sue Grafton, A Is for Alibi
A Is For Alibi
Kinsey Millhone first came to the pages of crime fiction when Sue Grafton created her in 1982 for A Is for Alibi. A former police officer turned private investigator, Kinsey was one of the earliest female investigators along with Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. The novels make up the extremely popular Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series.
Grafton set the stories in Santa Teresa, California, a fictionalized town based on Santa Barbara, California. Although books came out nearly a book a year, Grafton minimized Millhone’s aging by having each of the character’s years covered in three books.
Millhone was the model of a modern female detective, feisty and smart but not above going against the rules.
In 1887, an eye doctor with no patients had his first story published about a ‘consulting detective’ who would one day take over the world. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet the world’ gets its first glimpse at what would become the most famous detective in crime fiction, Sherlock Holmes.
There had been a handful of detectives in fiction before Holmes, but no one came close to his popularity. Even today, readers often consider him as the quintessential detective who many of today’s mystery writers try to emulate.
When you think of a troubled police officer character, Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series comes to mind. Recently, I saw an article where the writer was warning against writing about an alcoholic detective. The writer said that the trope was being overused. And one reason that the character is so popular is because of how well Robert B. Parker used it in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone.
Many of our best detective fiction writers point to Robert B. Parker as a major influence on how and what they write. Parker first became
Robert B. Parker’s Night Passage
popular with his Spencer series. But it was his later Jesse Stone series that showed us how deep and multi-layered a troubled officer could become.
The Character: Jesse Stone
Parker introduced us to Jesse Stone in his novel, Night Passage, Continue reading
Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple
In 1927, Grand Dame Agatha Christie introduced to the world one of the most popular mystery characters, Miss Jane Marple. In the short story, ‘The Tuesday Night Club’, ‘she is an elderly spinster who has lived most of her life in St. Mary Mead. She often acted as an amateur consulting detective. Most people saw her as a dithering old bitty with her dated clothes and her knitting until she surprised the male police officers with her wisdom and knowledge.
In the earlier books, the townspeople wrote her off mostly as a gossip. Yet she had a keen sense for understanding human nature and using her insights of village life to explain the actions of criminals. The later stories show her as a kinder and a more modern person. Continue reading
In the 1980s, most, if not all, of the private eyes in fiction were men, loners mostly. With their macho brands of honor. Then, in 1982, Sara Paretsky introduced private investigator Victoria Iphigenia (V. I.) Warshawski in Indemnity Only to break the mold. Here was a protagonist who was smart, confident, and strong with a touch, okay a heap, of snark. Much like Paretsky and her friends.
V.I. (also known as Vic) lived and worked in her hometown of Chicago. Her father was a Polish-American cop and her mother a Jewish opera singer who fled from Italy under Mussolini during World War II. While in high school, her mother passed away. Ten years later, her father died. After a rebellious time, when her mother died, Vic went to the University of Chicago on a basketball scholarship, then earned a law degree before working as a public defender. From there, she became a private detective specializing in white-collar crime. Continue reading