The Nancy Drew Project: Nancy Drew reviews by a pop-culture obsessed and F-bomb dropping madwoman
Book 2: The Hidden Staircase (1959 edition)
The second book in the Nancy Drew Mystery stories also starts with a bang, when Nancy hears word from Helen Corning that her aunt and great-grandmother have a ghost haunting their colonial mansion!
Oh, yeah! A haunting!
Inevitably, this burst of excitement I get when reading any Nancy Drew with a title or description mentioning “ghosts” or “haunting” dies out when I remember that there are pretty much never ACTUAL ghosts in Nancy Drew Stories. Much like Scooby Doo, it frequently ends up being no-good swindlers out to scare some poor, simple, unsuspecting person that Nancy feels she must help.
These swindlers, as I will bring up in later reviews, all seem to have names like Swindly McGee or Stabby Von Stealsabunch. (Oh, the Stabbington Brothers!) And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that snooping teen detective! Except, even without Nancy’s help, how could they not get caught with names like Swindly McGee? Note to all parents out there: Do NOT name your child Swindly McGee. It will not look good on his Bank of America job application.
Anyway, my initial flicker of excitement fading, I am ready to focus on the story at hand. This is actually a pretty good one, too. Nancy and Helen Corning set out to solve the mystery of these “ghostly” occurrences at Twin Elms, but are foiled at every turn when the mysterious sounds turn up no signs of people, apparitions, or secret hiding places to speak of.
This book is where you really get an idea of Nancy’s character, in my opinion. She’s not just Nancy Drew: Girl Detective. She’s Nancy Drew: Problem Solver. At one point, Ghosty Fugazishire (this will henceforth be how I refer to the unknown probably-a-swindler ghost) sets a large owl loose in Twin Elms and Nancy very skillfully grabs a pair of thick gardening gloves and grabs the bird by its talons, paying no attention to the fact that the owl is pecking her arms to all hell while she gets it out of the house. I admit, I would have probably just intermittently screamed “OWL!” while frozen in terror. Nancy Drew is one gutsy broad.
Meanwhile, an obsequious toad named Nathan Gomber keeps showing up to both: 1) Tell Nancy that her father’s life is in danger and she is one hardhearted skank for not dropping everything to stick by his side and 2) Try to trick Helen’s elderly aunt into selling her “haunted” house at a very reasonable price.
Wow, guys. Do you think HE might be the ghost? Uh-DOI.
Despite a barrage of pitfalls, including a ceiling collapse (Nancy’s first head injury…awwwww), a near-heart attack, and the drugging and kidnapping of Carson Drew, Nancy forges on and eventually cracks the entire gang of ne’er-do-wells. At one point, she asks the police to be “alone” with a suspect while her father is still missing and, for a second, I thought: “Holy shit, is she going to beat a confession out of this guy?!” However, with just a few words, Nancy convinces the man to admit to his crime. Wow. That’s even more hardcore. She should totally be Chief McGinnis’ closer.
After finally discovering the underground tunnel system (including the titular hidden staircase), Nancy finds her missing father, and restores the status quo at Twin Elms. The Hidden Staircase is definitely a good one. It relied a little too heavily on the “Omigod, a noise!” shtick, with Nancy and Helen constantly making plans to check out noises, only to be tricked over and over again. I give this one 4/5.