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Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #2

The Hidden Staircase

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After receiving a call from her friend Helen Corning, Nancy agrees to help solve a baffling mystery. Helen's Aunt Rosemary has been living with her mother at the old family mansion, and they have noticed many strange things. They have heard music, thumps, and creaking noises at night, and seen eerie shadows on the walls. Could the house be haunted?

182 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1930

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About the author

Carolyn Keene

1,016 books3,163 followers
Carolyn Keene is a writer pen name that was used by many different people- both men and women- over the years. The company that was the creator of the Nancy Drew series, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, hired a variety of writers. For Nancy Drew, the writers used the pseudonym Carolyn Keene to assure anonymity of the creator.

Edna and Harriet Stratemeyer inherited the company from their father Edward Stratemeyer. Edna contributed 10 plot outlines before passing the reins to her sister Harriet. It was Mildred Benson (aka: Mildred A. Wirt), who breathed such a feisty spirit into Nancy's character. Mildred wrote 23 of the original 30 Nancy Drew Mystery Stories®, including the first three. It was her characterization that helped make Nancy an instant hit. The Stratemeyer Syndicate's devotion to the series over the years under the reins of Harriet Stratemeyer Adams helped to keep the series alive and on store shelves for each succeeding generation of girls and boys. In 1959, Harriet, along with several writers, began a 25-year project to revise the earlier Carolyn Keene novels. The Nancy Drew books were condensed, racial stereotypes were removed, and the language was updated. In a few cases, outdated plots were completely rewritten.

Other writers of Nancy Drew volumes include Harriet herself, she wrote most of the series after Mildred quit writing for the Syndicate and in 1959 began a revision of the first 34 texts. The role of the writer of "Carolyn Keene" passed temporarily to Walter Karig who wrote three novels during the Great Depression. Also contributing to Nancy Drew's prolific existence were Leslie McFarlane, James Duncan Lawrence, Nancy Axelrod, Priscilla Doll, Charles Strong, Alma Sasse, Wilhelmina Rankin, George Waller Jr., and Margaret Scherf.

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5 stars
12,865 (32%)
4 stars
13,926 (35%)
3 stars
10,199 (26%)
2 stars
1,594 (4%)
1 star
402 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,027 reviews
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,102 reviews45 followers
April 14, 2018
You're never too old to re-read childhood favorites. I'm currently working my way through the Nancy Drew hardcovers. In this book, Nancy discovers a hidden staircase and solves the mystery of unexplained happenings at the mansion. A quick, easy read with an element of danger.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews3,978 followers
September 3, 2008
I blame these books for my first recess of having to sit on the bench while the other kids played. It was third grade, I was reading one of these under my desk during math time, and totally got caught answering, "Wha-hu?" instead of the answer to a long division problem. It was traumatizing, I had never been in trouble! (Except that one time we got in trouble for throwing snowballs on the playground in the middle of January. No, really.) But it tells you how much I love these books that I didn't care! In fact, I think I went right back to reading the next day. I had the ones with just these exact covers, too. I must've had at least thirty of them, if not more. They consumed pretty much the entire third grade year.

Nancy was smart and pretty and had a nice boyfriend, and got to go into chillingly fun places that involved fog and full moons and stakeouts, and at that age, I hadn't a /clue/ what the end could /possibly/ be, so they always kept me in suspense right until the very end. What isn't to love?
Profile Image for Adita ✨The Slumbering Insomniac✨.
138 reviews259 followers
March 2, 2016

Guess who goes on a date this time around??! *Hush Hush*
Nancy's father goes missing. Helen's great grandmother Miss Flora's Twin Elms home is haunted, a mystery which Nancy decides to investigate upon her close friend Helen's insistence.

What would Nancy Drew do? Go after her father or help her friend? Imagine Nancy's surprise when Nathan Gomber, the very man who threatened Nancy's lawyer father, turns up at Twin Elms to coerce Miss Flora into selling him her much vaunted colonial house. Ah, Nathan Gomber, do you smell a rat?

⭐Buddy read(yes, my first BR with any of my GR friends) with my sweet big sis, Emer! Together we recreated our respective childhoods- hers in which she hid the book under her pillow just in case Nathan Gomber and the Ghost decided to creep out of the pages of the book and materialize in her room, mine in which Nancy Drew was totally unheard of. We could have giggled like two happy little girls at the all-too-perfect ending, but life got in the way. I hope you are recuperating faster than we all want and I am sure all this little hazy feeling will pass in no time. I know that the fighter in you will brave all odds and pains, just as sure.
Love you a mountain, come back soon with reinvigorated and revitalized self, Ems!! ❤❤❤❤❤❤
Profile Image for Jessaka.
870 reviews106 followers
May 7, 2019
Nancy and Helen Go A-Sleuthing

I am now listening to Nancy Drew books rather than reading the old ones that I own. And so I now ask, Who is Helen, and what happened to Nancy’s old friends? asn’t Nancy’s hair brown and not blonde? And since when did she own a blue convertible instead of a roadster?

Times change, and yet Nancy has not grown up. She is still in the 1930s. Perhaps she bleached her hair. I must have missed that.

Getting into the book wasn’t easy for me under these conditions, plus I am used to my own silent voice while reading her books, and now I am at the mercy of a narrator whose voice changes according to who is speaking. Ah, if only the
voice activator on my kindle could work on the BARD app that I have, It could be all one sounding voice again.

So, a ghost is expected to be in this mansion that two old ladies own, and jewelry is stolen. I wonder what ghosts want with jewelry? Plus, food is stolen out of the kitchen. Again, what do they want with food? Perhaps these ghosts are stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, as in, real live people.

Nancy and Helen suspect that the ghost is a real person, and they suspect that there is a hidden passage way in the house as well as a staircase, and if they can find it they will find the criminals, and they will find Nancy’s father too, who has been kidnapped.

The best part of this book is the recipe for custard pie, well, only the mention of their eating one. I love homemade custard, but I am not so sure that I would want it with pie crust. Still, I will give you the recipe I found for you see I do not have that recipe in my own, unpublished cookbook, as I have never considered it worthwhile, well, actually, I had never heard of custard pie, just custard.

Custard Pie

1 unbaked pie shell
3 eggs
¾ c. sugar
½ t. salt
2 c. whole milk
1 c. half-and-half
1 T. real vanilla extract
½ t. freshly grated nutmeg

Scald milk and cream together. Set aside. In a bowl, mix sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla together. Mix well. Add this milk mixture while continuing to mix. Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Grate nutmeg over the top of the pie.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven. Then move to the top rack and turn the oven down to 325 degrees and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews203 followers
March 12, 2020
A very unpleasant man confronts Nancy Drew one day when she is alone in the house. Thanks to her resourcefulness, he is quickly sent on his way. He’s pushed out of Nancy’s mind when an acquaintance begs her to help solve what seems to be a haunting at a local mansion. When Nancy goes for a week’s stay, mysterious events come fast and furious. Could there really be a ghost? Or is there an all-too-human reason for someone to want two older ladies to abandon their family home?
I borrowed this off my niece’s bookshelf because I haven’t read a Nancy Drew since I was a child, and I wanted to see how this would strike me from my adult perspective.

And … it struck me pretty well! The story is breathlessly fast-paced, with constant cliffhangers and no good places to stop reading. It was very well plotted, too -- everything came together perfectly and satisfactorily, with not a single hole that I can spot. It was also very taut and tense, with lots of nerve-wracking moments even for my adult self.

I can see why these books have stayed popular for almost a hundred years now. Nancy’s resourcefulness and quick-thinking is admirable and inspiring. A kid who’s read all these books probably can think on their feet in almost any situation. Her freedom is enviable. And the plot elements in this one -- possible ghosts, huge mansions, secret wall panels and staircases -- are what filled my childhood imagination.

My quibbles about the book are first, Nancy is a little too perfect. Good grief, she’s so helpful to everybody. Show some self-centeredness, kid! Second, she’s practically a goddess. By this second book in the series, she’s treated with awe and deference by the adults she helped in the previous book, and adults she doesn’t even know are now eager to get the aid of someone who is still mostly a child. I wanted to shake those two “old” ladies who live in the mansion (I think really they’re both under 50 years old, yet they are presented as if they’re frail and getting feeble-minded) and tell them to help themselves! But between Nancy’s reputation and her relation to her also universally-admired high-powered lawyer father, there is no door closed to her. We should all enjoy such privilege. And speaking of privilege (or lack thereof), the portrayal of the one character of color was just cringeingly awful. She’s the only person who speaks in any local dialect, and is not even given a name, despite appearing in multiple scenes. On the one hand, I appreciate that this book is unexpurgated and is a product of its time. But on the other hand, ugh, this was just painful.

I also found it funny how many times Nancy Drew was referred to by her full name. I don’t know if that’s a quirk of the writer, or whether it was the style in all 1930’s novels. Other than that, though, I didn’t find the writing too stilted or old-fashioned. It flowed very well.

Overall, this was a very fun and enjoyable read, and made me wish I’d read more of these when I was a kid. (I thought I was too cool for these old books, and rolled my eyes if anyone gave them to me. I think I read maybe two of them ever.) I’ll see if I feel compelled to read any more of them now.
Profile Image for Prabhjot Kaur.
1,039 reviews141 followers
March 5, 2021
Nancy Drew is back with yet another mystery but this one is personal. Nancy's lawyer father goes missing. So Nancy does what she does best. She tries to solve this mystery.

Nancy finds out that the ghosts are stealing objects from a mansion and the residents at the mansion seek Nancy's assistance in finding out the truth. Nancy uncovers more than she thought possible.

This book was full of little mysteries and it was fast paced. It is always delightful to read about Nancy Drew and her detective skills.

4 stars
Profile Image for Darla.
3,259 reviews488 followers
July 1, 2016
Charming! Ready to move onto the 3rd mystery.
Profile Image for Juli.
1,859 reviews473 followers
July 16, 2019
The Hidden Staircase is the 2nd book in the Nancy Drew series. First published in 1930, the book still remains in print today, although edited and updated from the original just a bit. I am revisiting a lot of favorite children's books at the moment, because a summer cold is totally kicking my butt. I found several Nancy Drew audio books on my library's digital site.....perfect! The audio versions are about 3 hours long on average. Perfect listening time for someone who is stuck indoors coughing and feeling pretty miserable.

I worried that I might find these childhood favorites dated or juvenile, but I'm actually quite entertained! The audiobook I listened to (Penguin Random House) was narrated by Laura Linney. She does a great job reading! She reads the story at a nice pace and has a pleasant, easily understandable voice. The production quality is top notch....at suspenseful moments there are cheesy music stabs and sound effects. It was a fun listening experience!

In this second book, Nancy is investigating two mysteries.....ghostly activities at a local mansion and threats made to her father, Carson Drew. It develops into quite the interesting mystery!

The mysteries in the Nancy Drew series are not all that complex and the plot gets cheesy at times....but the stories are targeted at children and the first few books were written almost 90 years ago. They had a bit of an edit in the 1960s to remove some outdated stereotypes and to add in more action, but other than that the character and her adventures are as originally written. There is a reason these stories are classics. There might be some cheesy moments, but Nancy solves some interesting cases. She is intelligent, self-reliant and interesting as a main character. The books are a bit more outdated now than they were when I read them as a child, but the stories are still interesting and enjoyable. I can see the books being fun supplemental reading in a classroom or homeschool setting. There could be some fun writing prompts for students such as how could Nancy be aided in her sleuthing if she had access to modern technology (cell phone, computer for research, etc), what are some things Nancy does/says that are outdated and what would she say and do if she was a teen today?

The books are totally appropriate for middle grade students. There are some mild threats of violence and suspenseful moments, but nothing is ever graphic, gory or scary.

Moving on to the next book! Totally enjoying re-reading these classic favorites!
Profile Image for Courtnie.
619 reviews59 followers
September 20, 2016

Nancy Drew could probably bake a beautiful pie, crochet an afghan, tutor French, write a column on comportment and change her little blue convertible's oil all in the same afternoon.

I hate her perfectness, but I love her courageousness and cleverness.

This was my first Nancy Drew, I just didn't grow up reading her as many do. I chose this book for my mystery square because it had elements that fit the theme of the Halloween book bingo - a haunted mansion and a thieving ghost.

It was cute and quick and ended well. You can tell what's going to happen about a mile away though. I think the biggest mystery for me was how you prepare gelatin and then immediately eat it (doesn't that have to set for a couple hours?) or how you would make cream of chicken and rice soup with a can of soup and milk (replace the water with milk?). I was clearly more interested in what they were eating than the mystery. Maybe I was just hungry?


Profile Image for Alice-Elizabeth (Prolific Reader Alice).
1,147 reviews153 followers
November 25, 2018
*Borrowed from my library's e-book service!*

I grew up on anything Nancy Drew, from the video games to one of my childhood favourites: The Secret of the Old Clock. The Hidden Staircase is the second in the original Nancy Drew series, published in 1930 and still remains in print! Nancy is trying to solve two mysteries: A haunting tale of a ghost that is running amok in an old mansion or so it seems... and a mystery surrounding threats made to her own father. This was a very dialogue driven novel, with a range of characters that had their own secrets and personalities. It was a little predictable for me and world-building did lack. However, this series remains a strong classic within my heart and would revisit it again!
Profile Image for Chelsea.
109 reviews79 followers
April 7, 2021
The Hidden Staircasr by Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #2
Nancy friend Helen calls her to ask her for help. Her grandmother, Miss Flora, lives at Twin Elms home. Helen and Miss Flora believe that the house is huanted and they need Nancy to help figure out the haunting. While Nancy is solving the mystery of the haunting house her father gets kidnapped and she worried about his safety. Right before her father goes missing someone threatens him for a deal that might not be a good deal.
Will Nancy solve the mystery of the haunted house, is Nancy father going to be okay?
Raiting: 4 stars 🌟
Profile Image for Whitney.
639 reviews55 followers
October 14, 2017
I just finished a bizzarro version that was written in 1930, prior to the edits and whitewashing that re-did the Nancy novels in the 1950s. Ah, mass-market paperbacks. Write a book twice and sell it to two different generations.

Offensive racial stereotypes? Take them out and pretend they never existed!

But of course Now I Need to find the more recent version of Hidden Staircase to figure out what got changed. Nancy Drew is so cute and compelling, dammit. A real plucky go-getter.
I can confirm that the revised edition of The Hidden Staircase is even MORE ridiculous than the first one. In the 1950s Nancy has a friend named Helen who helps investigate. During the plot, Helen excitedly explains that her boyfriend has written her a letter, and they are now engaged to be married! Yippee! Also, instead of two elderly (spinster) sisters owning the mysterious "haunted" house, the women are now a (widowed) aunt who has moved in with her elderly (of course widowed) mother.

The women are certain to conduct their domestic duties EVERYDAY, even though their lives are in danger and unknown beings are in their house threatening their mental health. No, Nancy, we can't go sleuthing for clues right now. We need to vacuum the floors and wash the dishes first!!! Also, we need to go marketing, both to feed ourselves and the "ghost" who is stealing our food.

Good gawd, ladies! Get the heck out of there!

But no. When the mystery is solved, and luckily after Nancy's dad Carson Drew is found in a nearly airless room, heavily sedated, the girls' first idea is to prepare a nice lunch for everyone.

I blame you for this, McCarthy!!
Profile Image for Katja Labonté.
2,278 reviews129 followers
March 19, 2021
4.5 stars & 5/10 hearts. Well, now, this was enjoyable! This is what I imagined Nancy Drew to be & how I remembered it. :D The mystery was really good. I looked up the plot on Wikipedia because I thought maybe I'd read it and I hadn't so I kinda knew the plot because of that but in spite of that, I still really enjoyed the plot and was intrigued & hooked and ended up getting surprised! I really enjoyed all the characters, too. Overall, a great Nancy Drew, in my opinion!
Profile Image for Sheila .
1,919 reviews
November 2, 2015
A cute read for what it is, but really this is so unrealistic that it is almost laughable.

The father is kidnapped, Nancy believes he is probably being held prisoner somewhere, drugged, etc., yet she just continues to go nonchalantly along trying to solve the mystery of the ghost in her friend's mansion, with her father just being a sideline thought. Really??? If someone has been kidnapped and missing for many days, THAT should be your TOTAL focus! Hello! But she is having too much fun driving around in her convertible, looking for 'clues'. Sheesh!
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
1,992 reviews208 followers
July 30, 2019
Enjoyed #2 of Nancy's adventures. . . this, like #1 continues with her older friend, Helen Corning. In and out of old - VERY OLD - homes, dating back to Revolutionary days. The homes are connected and honeycombed with all kinds of hidey-holes to keep posessions and persons hidden from any who would try and take off with valuables.

In my original reading of these books, elements like time and historical context were not even present in my kid-brain. The place where Nancy lived, in my young mind was most likely Southern California, close to me. Clearly, she is in one of the original 13 colonies. . . .guess I still need to keep my ND research hand in.

3.5 stars, rounded up. Am still smiling during my self-imposed ND challenge. . . . .
Profile Image for Jaksen.
1,305 reviews57 followers
December 12, 2015
Oh, yeah, prob my first Nancy Drew book. Read the original version; it was my older sister's. Hardcover with an intact dust jacket. The idea that there might be a 'hidden staircase' in a house, fascinating, and then I learned my grandmother had one in her house, built in 1888. (Behind a 'closet door' which she kept locked.) It was an old servant's staircase. (The stairs were old, not the servants.) :D

But anyhow, I owned and read about 20 ND books and this was the first, and to me, the best. I learned about coupes and pumps, too. Loved these books.

Added on December 12, 2015

Well I just re-read this book, found my old, original copy while pulling Christmas decorations out of a closet. Published in 1930, it belonged to my mother, not my sister. Though it may not be a first edition, I'm fairly certain it's the original story. Nancy drives a 'roadster,' has 'bobbed' hair and is amazed when a friend has an 'electrical refrigerator.' She pumps water to get her father a drink. (But not in her own house, someone else's.) And she stays with two elderly women for awhile who do not have a radio, electricity or a phone in the house. Sounds 1920's-ish to me.

The story is full of many dated references, too, as in a colored woman who calls herself 'culled' and talks in an exaggerated and - to be honest - uncomplimentary, very deep South accent. The woman is often referred to as a 'negress' and is written as being very fearful and not too smart. The main villain, a man, is also very stereotypical. He's nasty, short and sort of brutish.

So why did I love this story in 1964? It's all about the hidden staircase. In the course of helping two elderly women who are being coerced into selling their home, Nancy discovers a passageway from their house to another one. The descriptions of underground tunnels, numerous stairs going off into different rooms, and the way the staircase(s) are entered using latches and springs and sliding doors was really well-done. It's probably what sold the book to me as a ten or eleven-year old. The mystery is fairly complex and well-thought out, too, so why all the unnecessary stereotyping and why did I not notice? My age, perhaps, and the times, when certain things which today would make us cringe were commonplace in (some) books. (There's also a bumbling police chief and the fact he just charges into a house with his guns a-blazing. Craziness.)

One more little aside which amazed me. Nancy's father, prominent lawyer Carson Drew, GIVES Nancy a loaded revolver to protect herself. This guy goes from one extreme to the other: here's a gun and oh by the way, be careful. Nancy then admits she couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if she tried yet she carries the thing around and sleeps with it under her pillow. Cliches, much?

Too much, though this was still one of my favorite ND books and it's all because of those creepy tunnels AND the hidden staircase.
Profile Image for Kat | Rustic Pages.
142 reviews250 followers
February 8, 2022
‪I remember this being a childhood favorite and I definitely enjoyed it the second time around now as an adult reader!
Profile Image for Alex.
5,081 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2013
I listened to this on audiotape in my car.

I originally put this book on here a few years ago to represent my love for Nancy Drew, since this one was my favorite.

Upon my "re-read", I found this to still be a fun story. These are definitely dated books, but they're timeless in my opinion.

Nancy can really be annoying sometimes, though. Is there anything she's not perfect at?

I clearly have to give this 5 stars due to my love of this book as a kid.

(original review: - 8/12/10)

This is my favorite Nancy Drew book of all time. I re-read this one over and over again as a kid. I truly loved them all, but this one was the best.
Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,584 reviews255 followers
February 26, 2018
Finished book #2 with Laura Linney. I just love these audiobooks of the classic girl detective. They have interstitial music... you know the kind where it emphasizes significant events. The actress Laura Linney does a great job voicing Nancy and her friend.

What you discover after picking these up after 30-40 years is just how well crafted the mysteries are. There are threats to the safety of the detective and others, but no real violence. Just some sketchy characters doing menacing very well. (Though, it seems like the bad guys always have a problem with personal hygiene.)

It is also quite amusing in this one where Nancy has private talks with some of the minor criminals and they confess happily. (Hardened criminals, they're not.)
Profile Image for Robin.
1,685 reviews60 followers
June 20, 2020
I was a huge Nancy Drew fan and loved her mysteries. Since my library has many books that I read as a child, I thought I'd revisit some of them.

Nancy receives a warning that her father's life may be in danger. Carson Drew tells her there is nothing to worry about; someone was just trying to scare them. So when Nancy's friend, Helen, invites her to go with her to visit her aunt and grandmother, Nancy decides to tag along. When they arrive, they find that the inhabitants are very nervous. Small items have been disappearing from the home. They also hear mysterious noises and believe the house may be haunted. It's up to Nancy to figure out if someone is hiding in the old house and trying to scare the people who live there.

This was a solid mystery narrated by Laura Linney. It brought back a lot of memories. My rating: 4 Stars.
Profile Image for Daniel.
750 reviews72 followers
August 24, 2016
Moram priznati radnja je ovde dosta interesantnija i fina ideja mesanja uklete kuce i pokusaja pronalaska nestale osobe. Ali opet je glavni problem sto je relativno naivno. Sada tu problem nije u knjizi posto je ocigledno pisana za mladju publiku negu u meni posto sam ocito davno prerastao ovaj serijal.

Generalno mogu da preporucim knjige al ja ih necu citati dalje.
Profile Image for Hannah.
123 reviews
September 23, 2007
I loved Nancy Drew as a young girl. This was the first one I ever read.
Profile Image for Alissa J. Zavalianos.
Author 6 books127 followers
February 1, 2023
Excellent like always! I'm a huge fan of hidden passages and things, so this was right up my alley. This book was better than I remembered!
Profile Image for Tiffany.
457 reviews73 followers
September 23, 2021
Such pure nostalgic fun! I enjoyed reading it way more than I thought I would. I was a little bummed out that Bess and George weren’t in this book. Also, apparently this was before she was dating Ned? She went out dancing with some guy named Dirk 😂
Profile Image for Kavita.
757 reviews364 followers
February 19, 2020
Nancy's friend, Helen Corning, asks her for help in solving a mystery involving her great grandmother. There is a ghost in the family mansion, and Nancy has to get rid of it! At the same time, Nancy has other things on her plate. A crooked lawyer openly is threatening her father with danger over a railway company case. Which mystery should she concentrate on?

This really was a good one! Nancy solves two mysteries, rescues her father from kidnapping, and finds time to enjoy herself playacting in old costumes. Helen is still her best friend, as Bess and George haven't yet made an appearance. Helen is a mere 21 years old and is already getting married to a man she has known for barely two months. I've never liked this character as a married woman in later books, but she shows some spunk in The Hidden Staircase. Nancy is still dating Don Cameron, who simply disappears down the line.

The book is hopelessly dated in pretty much every aspect. But for me, that's the charm of it. Would I want to read a modern Nancy prancing around with a mobile phone and posting social awareness messages on Facebook? Not really! It's the idea of an independent go-getter from the 1930s that is appealing.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,088 reviews181 followers
May 26, 2020
Home alone one afternoon, Nancy Drew receives a most unwelcome visitor in the form of Nathan Gombet, a rude man who barges into the Drew home, raving about how Nancy's father, Carson Drew, had cheated him in a property deal. Shortly after this unpleasant episode, while visiting with Abigail Rowen, an elderly lady she aided in her first adventure, The Secret of the Old Clock , Nancy is introduced to a Miss Rosemary Turnbull. Miss Turnbull and her sister Floretta, older maiden ladies, live together in a Civil War-era mansion in the nearby town of Cliffwood, and are dealing with a most frightening situation, in the seeming haunting of their home. Nancy is intrigued, and arranges to spend a week with the Turnbull sisters, investigating the ghost. When she discovers that Nathan Gombet, the man who had been threatening her father, lives next door and had previously offered to buy the Turnbull mansion, she immediately has her suspicions regarding the haunting. But how can she prove her theory that Gombet is the ghost, when she can't figure out how he is coming and going? And what does the disappearance of her father, who fails to return from his trip to Chicago, have to do with it all...?

First published in 1930, The Hidden Staircase was girl sleuth Nancy Drew's second adventure. Like all of the Nancy Drew books, it was condensed and revised in the 1950s, in a project intended to update the vocabulary and narrative incidents of the stories, and to excise any racially insensitive content. This particular title was apparently more revised than most, with quite a bit of storyline changed, so I am particularly glad to have access to the original version from 1930. As I mentioned in my review of The Secret of the Old Clock , although I read this series as a girl, I tended to find it fairly uninspiring and wooden, and only realized its charm when I happened many years later upon the Applewood Books editions, which present facsimiles of the original versions from the 1930s. These original stories are far more quirky, far more descriptive, and unfortunately, far more racist than their later counterparts.

On the last point, it is interesting to me to note that almost every detailed review I have encountered of The Hidden Staircase reads the Nathan Gombet character as Jewish, and his depiction as anti-Semitic. This surprises me, as I simply never picked up on that subtext, in any of my multiple readings of this book. The description of Gombet never struck me as coded in a way meant to suggest he was Jewish, which stands in contrast to any number of vintage children's books I have read that do have such coded depictions. The unscrupulous book dealer in Jane Abbott's A Row of Stars (1937), for instance, is never overtly labeled a Jew, but his depiction makes it plain that he is. Here however, I simply didn't pick up on this. I read a review recently that mentioned a description of Gombet having a "hooked nose," but although I read through carefully this time, I couldn't find the passage. Doing a little research, I have discovered that a similar surname, Gombert, is sometimes a Jewish one, so perhaps that was also meant as a hint? However that may be, and whether he is meant to be Jewish or not, the villain's characterization is certainly not subtle, and the depiction of his African-American maid and co-conspirator, who is frequently referred to as a "negress," is most certainly racist.

The outdated racial and ethnic content of these original Nancy Drew books is their chief drawback, detracting from the enjoyment of otherwise entertaining tales of a clever and brave young heroine, always stalwartly pursuing the truth. I always feel torn about this: the originals are much better, from a storytelling and writing perspective, and they have greater charm, with their old-fashioned terms - roadsters, chums, and so on - and period details. The 50s version are like stale, bland copies in these respects, but they are't quite as outdated. It's a tradeoff. For myself, I tend to prefer the original version of any work of literature, however offensive that original is, but I would understand why some would hesitate to give these original Nancy Drew titles to young readers. This (the original) is one I would mostly recommend to adult readers who enjoy vintage girls' fare, while the revised 1950s version is one I would recommend to middle-grade readers who enjoy mystery fiction.
Profile Image for Carlymor .
286 reviews9 followers
April 16, 2022
What fun! I have always loved Nancy Drew and this brought back memories of reading past my bedtime as a kid. I think my love of cozy mysteries started with Nancy. The mystery is a bit simple but it’s pure joy to read something so sweet and innocent again.
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