Teen Detective Showdown!
I don't get a lot of time to read but when I do I enjoy reading books from the earlier part of the 20th century. I'm particularly attracted to writers from the 30's and 40's. As I've already mentioned on this blog before, I have a handful of magazines from those decades and I enjoy the short stories featured in them (although sometimes they're a bit corny). I much prefer novels, mind you, because they allow for greater character depth. Whenever I get the chance, I like to rummage through old book shops and second hand stores to see if I can find some vintage treasures.
A while back, I found a Judy Bolton book in an antique mall. I was attracted to the cover, a bare book without the dust jacket and a small tree pictured on the bottom corner. When I lifted the cover I was surprised to see a haunted house illustrated inside. I knew this book had to be worth checking out and for only $6 it wasn't a purchase I would regret. I did a quick Google search on the name and came up with a few results describing the book as one volume out of a children's mystery series. My best guess is that it was the poor man's Nancy Drew.
I never really read Nancy Drew books as a child. Like most kids, I was repulsed by the idea of having old things. I didn't take to vintage collectibles until my teenage years. I always gave Nancy Drew the brush off for that reason. After reading my Judy Bolton book, I felt it was time to give the Nancy Drew books a chance. I'm surprised by the results! First, I'd like to discuss each book briefly before I select a winner.
My Judy Bolton book is called The Haunted Attic, it's the second book in the series. The story begins with Judy moving into a new house. The house was gifted to her family after they lost their previous home to a bad flood. Once there, Judy discovers the house is haunted and has a dark past. As Judy and her brother seek out clues about the ghost, Judy deals with every day teen troubles involving the local girls at school. When not sleuthing, Judy spends her time planning a grand Hallowe'en party that she hopes will help win the affection of her classmates. As one would expect, everything is revealed on All Hallows Eve!
Because I don't actually own any Nancy Drew books I had to seek them out online, with some luck I managed to find the entire collection. To make a fair comparison, I selected a book that had a similar overall concept. In this case, I chose Nancy Drew and the Haunted Bridge. Nancy is competing in a golf tournament when she learns of a haunted bridge near the golf course. She becomes obsessed with the bridge; she feels there must be a connection between the bridge and a jewel thief that her father has asked her to locate. Together with the help of her friends, Nancy unravels the mystery behind the haunted bridge.
Both books were released in the thirties and have striking similarities; each deals with theft and a mysterious haunting; each protagonist is an intelligent young woman in her teens with a knack for problem solving. With that much in common, how do I choose a winner?
Who wins and why?Judy Bolton wins! I really appreciate Margaret Sutton's writing style more than Corlyn Keene's. I found Sutton's work to be articulate and immersive. I could relate to her characters and felt that they dealt with more realistic subject matter. What I mean by that is, unlike Drew, Bolton deals with the harsh judgmental world of high school. She gets treated like crap by her peers and has difficulties coping with that. Instead of bogging the story down, this personal conflict sort of catapults Judy into action and allows her to overcome her fear of ghosts in order to solve the big mystery. In The Haunted Bridge, Nancy is inconvenienced a few times by an obsessive suitor but spends most of the novel running from point A to point B. I realize that this book comes later in the series, so there's no real need to indulge in Nancy's personal affairs, but it really makes the book lack lustre and rather incredible. It's all too convenient. It's like her dad is waiting in the wings or something, he's there so quickly, he takes her word on everything (obviously because he trusts her, this is Nancy Drew "girl detective") but really, it's all a bit much. The fact that she's so good at sleuthing she can determine a man's handwriting from a mere glance, I mean really? How the hell does she not have anything better to do with her time? She says everything so matter-of-factly that she comes across as kind of a pretentious bitch to me. Judy is a normal, relatable girl, who doesn't have these abnormal sleuthing capabilities. She solves the mystery at a nice even pace, whereas Nancy's story jumps around quickly and doesn't allow you to linger on any piece of information. To me, Judy has the capacity to be wrong, like any normal girl, but Nancy comes off as perfect. You really just want to see Nancy fall on her face.
Overall, I'd love to read more about Judy Bolton and less of Nancy Drew. I'll give Nancy another fair shot by reading one of the earlier novels, but I honestly found Keene's writing style to be too lack luster and simplistic. I'm also more impressed by the fact that the Bolton books appear to have an overarching supernatural theme to them; all of the other mystery/detective series from this time seem to deal strictly with reality based mysteries, like who stole this lady's fur coat? or what happened to so-and-so?
The sad thing is that Sutton's work got pushed to the side due to the popularity of Nancy Drew. There was an overabundance of this genre at the time and shops only wanted to shelve what they knew would sell, so copies of the Bolton books are fewer and far between. You can purchase them without the dust jacket for cheaper but the books that were released later on are scarce and command high prices. You can get a torrent of the entire Nancy Drew series but you can't find much of anything for Judy Bolton. It's a real shame because I would love to read the rest of these books and see how the series holds up over time. From what I've heard from her older fans, the series was supposed to be really good and vastly underrated.
Happy Reading! ♥