Nancy is having an elegant day being her elegant self when her doorbell rings and, on answering it (herself!), discovers a rude man, named Nathan Gombet, on the porch. He accuses her father of cheating him on a land deal and it is all Too Much for the girl detective to deal with so she summarily dismisses him.
A visiting friend who benefited from Nancy's first case provides a low character reference for the man: he stole eggs. Presently, or some weeks later, she visits a dear old lady who also benefited from Nancy's winkling out the secret of the old clock who has a friend who has been troubled by GHOSTS.
So begins a good to decent installment of Nancy Drew. First written in 1930, 'The Hidden Staircase', like so many others, was later expurgated and re-written to conform to the standards of the 1950s. Sometimes these standards were well-meaning, meant to diminish Nancy's inherent class-ism as well as any racist elements of characterization or plot. Most of the changes, however, served to make Nancy more feminine, that is obliging, polite, domestic, and tame.
'The Hidden Staircase' as originally written, has Nancy planning an extended visit to "the mansion", the ancestral home of Rosemary and Floretta Turnbull, to explain mysterious happenings, including theft, which threaten to force the women out. This is done with the permission of her father who is planning an extended business trip away from River Heights and won't need her to remind the housekeeper to keep things in order. He asks her to be careful and then gives her a loaded revolver. Even though Nancy admits she's no good with guns she walks around with it all the time.
Nancy heads to the home alone to solve the mystery which involves screams in the night, secret passages and springed doors, and canaries. Her father also ends up needing rescue! Throughout Nancy vanquishes doubt and fear, strikes out into the dark alone, and encourages the Turnbull sisters to overcome their own anxieties. She is triumphant especially near the end when she confronts the police chief of Cliffwood. She has some pretty compelling leads and is backed up by both Turnbill sisters. The chief is skeptical, though, until Nancy in exasperation uses her father's name. Suddenly, the chief is all attention and asks why she didn't mention her father before. "What has that to do with the case?" Nancy demands, and is even sarcastic to him later.
Of course, such triumph is unacceptable and is scrubbed out. The maiden Turnbull sisters are transformed in the rewrite into the grandmother and aunt of Nancy's friend Helen Cornish, who in the original 'Hidden Staircase' is dismissed from being a part of the mystery for being too much of a gossip. The revised Nancy must be flirtatious at a dance and be accompanied by a friend to the "haunted" house. The plot is other ways is less ridiculous, but not nearly as fun.
The only problem came about three quarters in when we find that our villain employs a slovenly "negress" who, though an active accomplice in the crimes and suitably violent and dastardly, is given neither name or motivation. The simple-minded rendition of a southern-fried accent was racist icing on the bigot cake.
Urgh, so close to perfection.
Nancy Drew Mysteries
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