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IMAGE: Nancy Drew books
James Cheng  /  MSNBC.com
The eyes and mouth on the new Nancy Drew book jackets are borrowed from the 1950s reissue of "The Secret of the Old Clock."
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msnbc.com
updated 8/4/2004 1:03:22 PM ET 2004-08-04T17:03:22

REPORT TO: Nancy Drew

FROM: A wannabe detective

Say Nance, I heard about your makeover. Sure, at age 74, almost any woman might think about an update, but really, I want you to know you were just fine the way you were, dated hairdo and all.

What girl wouldn't want to be you? Back in the '70s when I read your adventures, the books were yellow-spined hardcovers, your hair was "titian" and styled in a "That Girl" flip, and you solved mysteries while racing around in your blue convertible.

This month, Simon & Schuster has released four all-new Nancy Drew mysteries. The books are paperbacks, your hair is now strawberry-blond, and while you still solve mysteries, you do it while racing around in your blue ... hybrid?

Nancy, there's nothing wrong with being environmentally conscious, but I have to say I'll kind of miss the roadster. You had a sort of adult elegance about you, and part of it was that oh-so-cool car. To girls who read your books while jolting around in the way-back of Mom's wood-paneled Country Squire station wagon, one's own blue convertible was about as grown-up and out-of-reach as a castle.

I also appreciated  the way you treated steady, sensible beau Ned Nickerson (although if you ask me, you should seriously think about tossing him over for Frank or Joe Hardy).  Ned was fine and dandy when you needed an escort, but you never sat around doodling "Mrs. Nancy Nickerson. Ned and Nancy Nickerson. Nancy 'N' Ned 2-gether 4-Ever" in the margins of your Trapper Keeper. (If I recall, you even rescued him from an occasional kidnapping or two.)

No Malibu Barbie
Like many a Disney heroine, you were motherless, but you didn't spend a lot of time dwelling on your loss. You still had dad, top lawyer Carson Drew, as well as unfortunately named-yet-lovable housekeeper Hannah Gruen (should a housekeeper really have a name that sounds quite so much like "gruel"?).

Hannah was Mom without the title, as much a part of the family as The Brady Bunch's Alice. Yet since she wasn't really Mom, you had the freedom to race in and out of the house, up and down the streets of River Heights, solving mysteries, returning stolen property, exposing villains. We readers lived vicariously through you, all the while keeping a close eye on our neighbors in case their Avon sales were just a cover for an international diamond-smuggling ring.

Even the titles of your early books screamed adventure. My favorites were "The Mystery at Lilac Inn" (1961), "The Password to Larkspur Lane" (1933), and "The Secret of the Old Clock" (1959).

My copy of "The Secret of the Old Clock," your first-ever book, features one of the prototypical pictures of you. You're kneeling in a wild patch of grass by a spooky looking tree. No jeans for our Nancy —  you're wearing a lime-green knee-length dress, but you're not afraid to get it dirty. When fashion went up against a mystery, fashion lost every time.

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You clutch what looks like a screwdriver, and are using it to force open the glass on the old clock from the title. But best of all is your expression. Grimly determined, you're looking not at the clock, but off to the side, as though you just heard a noise and are prepared to run, to scoop up the evidence, jump into your faithful roadster and evade discovery. I ask you, did Malibu Barbie ever live quite so dangerously? I think not.

I've read the first four of your new adventures now, Nance, and I have to admit that the modern elements don't bug me as much as I feared. It's a bit jolting that you're speaking to me in first person now, but I'm proud that you've added Internet research and a cell phone to your sleuthing arsenal.

I've heard it said that the girls of today have moved beyond you and your mysteries. Some say that new generations want magic, a la "Harry Potter," or romance and royalty, as in "The Princess Diaries."

That may be true, but I still believe you're a good role model. (Even though you don't appear to go to school, or have any kind of paying job.) All of us could use a good head on our shoulders and some smart deductive reasoning. We're all searching for things in life, all trying to find our way. You just happen to be searching for stolen Fabergé eggs, kidnapped musicians, and safes full of cash.

Here's to another 75 years, Nancy, at which time you'll be driving a hybrid hovercraft and solving mysteries on the Martian colonies.

And if you want Frank Hardy's number? Call me, girlfriend.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC's Books Editor.

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