Today in our Nostalgia series, we’re talking about a girl sleuth. No, not Nancy Drew. My detective alter ego was a sandy-haired farm girl from small-town New York, a girl with three brothers and a poor little rich girl as a best friend. I discovered her at just the right age, as a preteen dreaming of adventure. If you were a fan of Trixie Belden or one of the other ongoing mystery series, come on in and let’s reminisce…
In my grandmother’s attic, a built-in bookcase held something like thirty Trixie Belden books. I still associate them with that room, with the summer heat of an attic bedroom in Vancouver. That was where I first read them, and for a long time the only place I read them.
Much later, I reread the whole series the summer after I graduated from university. I majored in English and creative writing, which meant four years of reading heavy literary fiction. By the time I crossed the stage, I was more than ready to snuggle up with some comfort reads and cleanse my palate. Out came Trixie.
The earliest books in the series once belonged to my mother and aunt; later books were acquired by my older cousins and added to the set, which was nearly complete. Finally they passed to me — the older hardcovers falling apart at the spine, the newer paperbacks yellowing, all bearing signs of having been read and loved by many of the women in my family when they were the right age.
My favourite books were always those with strong female characters having adventures. Trixie Belden was no exception. Trixie and her best friend, Honey Wheeler, were the ringleaders of their little club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen. They led the solving of the mysteries; they got everyone into and out of trouble. They were resourceful and spunky and mostly levelheaded, and they usually rescued themselves. And all this at the beginning of their teens.
The series was created by Julie Campbell and continued after the first six books by “Kathryn Kenny”, a pseudonym for the publisher’s in-house writers. I don’t remember noticing a difference in quality, though I might if I reread them now. In fact, some of my favourite titles came later in the series…
- The Mystery at Bob-White Cave featured spelunking, cave-dwelling salamanders, and ghosts.
- The Mystery of the Ghostly Galleon involved an old inn that was once a smugglers’ hideout, along with the elusive pirate ship of the title.
- The Secret of the Mansion kicked off the series, and included a reclusive old man in a mansion, a runaway boy (later adopted by Honey’s parents), and the meeting of self-sufficient Trixie and shy, sheltered Honey.
As you can see, I was a serious romantic and gravitated towards the most otherworldly of the settings and the most melodramatic of the plots! I also loved the books where they got to crack codes, and the ones where they were exploring settings far from home (mine and theirs), such as Arizona or the Mississippi.
The series was published between 1948 and 1986 — mostly before my time, so they came off as quaintly old-fashioned, but endearingly so. The earlier books in the series were reissued by Random House within the last decade, but they must not have sold well, for the later ones haven’t been reissued. However, as of this year, several of them are available on Kindle (with the new covers, alas), so it’s now possible to revisit those days even if you no longer have your old copies.
(Side note: I was also a fan of Encyclopedia Brown, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Adventure series, and an American historical series whose name escapes me, about a girl in a boarding school with an inspirational bent (Edited to add: Got it! The Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard) — though I never read Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Oddly enough, my love of the mystery genre hasn’t continued into adulthood, though my love of strong female characters most certainly has, and I still prefer stories with a mystery at their heart.)
Were you a fan of Trixie Belden or one of the other young detectives, or another ongoing series? What did you love about the series? Why do you think it spoke to you so much?