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A young but brilliant teenage girl solves mysteries with the help of her two best friends and her understanding father. She also has a boyfriend. There are relatively few actual murders: it's more thefts, hauntings, kidnappings, and that sort of thing... The original series was written in the 1930s, and revived in the 1960s and later in the late 80s and again in 2004, with the 80s and '04 versions featuring more modern sensibilities. There are multiple films inspired by the original series, with the most recent version a sort of affectionate parody, as far as poking fun of the Values Dissonance between Nancy (who is of the eras in which she was written) and modern society. It is not certain that the filmmakers knew why there was Values Dissonance, but the trailers suggest they had fun with it.

Made by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and as such, written by a great many ghostwriters. The idea was conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, who also laid down the plot outlines, but most of the distinctive characteristics are due to the writer of the earliest volumes, Mildred Wirt Benson. Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, daughter of Edward, took over control of the Syndicate upon his death in 1930. Adams is primarily credited with keeping the Syndicate afloat through the Great Depression, and with revising the two most popular series, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, in the 1950s and 1960s, removing stereotypes and outdated ideas and language. She is credited with several books in the Nancy Drew series.

A series of PC adventure games based on various books in the series has been produced to much critical acclaim.

For what's basically the equivalent with dudes, see The Hardy Boys.

Tropes in the books include:

  • Action Girl: Nancy and George
  • Aerith and Bob: Mostly chalked up to time, since quite a few names have fallen out of favor since the books were written, but a name like Mortimer Bartesque couldn't have been very common, even then.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the books, Bess is Hollywood Pudgy. In the Made for TV Movie, she's Jill Ritchie.
  • Alliterative Name: Ned Nickerson
  • Anchored Ship: It was clear that all the flirting and Ship Teasing between Nancy and Frank in the Supermysteries was going to go nowhere since they had Ned and Callie. Similarly, the not quite as strong attraction between Bess and Joe was similarly stuck since Joe was essentially widowed after Iola was murdered. That and each others flirtatious natures making them incapable of making a serious commitment to each other.
  • Bound and Gagged: an old Stratemeyer standby, in lieu of "real" violence
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The trio of Bess, George, and Nancy.
  • Chickification: Both played straight and reversed in the infamous rewrites of the 60's. There was a lot more "asking nicely" and "smiling sweetly," and in general the tomboyish Nancy became much more ladylike — but she also took to wearing jeans, rumpling her hair, and eating hamburgers in diners rather than "dainty sandwiches" in tea shops. The former was deliberate (Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams did not like each other, when the very ladylike Adams took to rewriting the stories, she tried to edit out as much of Benson's tomboyish characteristics as she could), the latter was simply a product of cultural changes.
  • Clear My Name: in Files #43: False Impressions. Several in the original series too--Mystery at Lilac Inn, etc.
  • Covers Always Lie: There was an odd period during the Files series (the period surrounding issue 100) where they decided to start marketing the books almost as a romance series. They were given titles that bordered on misleading, such as The Cheating Heart (about stolen test answers), Heart of Ice (sabotage at a mountain climbing school) and The Stolen Kiss (about a stolen painting called "First Kiss.") The covers switched to look like Harlequin Romances, with Nancy staring longingly at some handsome stud (often Ned, but not always.) The writers attempted to justify this by ratcheting up the romantic angst, both in Nancy frequently missing Ned while he was at college, and having guilt-inducing feeling for the suspect, stranger, villain of the week. It came close to Genre Shift, but not quite.
  • Crossover - the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Super Mysteries series, Spinoffs of the Files/Casefiles and Girl Detective/Undercover Brothers series.
  • Dating Catwoman: Especially during the Files spinoff, a subplot that kept popping up would be that either George or especially Bess would develop a crush on someone that Nancy would view as a suspect, with a rift forming between them when Bess or George would vehemently defend their innocence despite evidence forming against them. They would always reconcile by the end of the book, but it varied as to whether the man was guilty, innocent, or guilty of a smaller, less severe crime (He might have committed a forgery or theft, but not the murder), or had even been strong-armed into participating by the real villain.
    • This also happened in the book Two Points To Murder, where it was Ned who was a friend of the suspect. Much like with Bess or George's love interests, the guy turned out to be involved, but not guilty of the main crime. Only this time at the end of the book, the rift resulted in a pretty brutal, but realistic breakup.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection
  • Extruded Book Product
  • Flip-Flop of God - The series is written by a number of assigned ghostwriters under one pen name, therefore limiting on Word of God.
    • It's gotten really bad in the recent series, Girl Detective. The stories are now spread over three-book trilogies, and it becomes clear that they're written by three different people who don't consult with each other (and don't seem to know much about the series itself.) In one, "Serial Sabotage," Nancy begins to call her housekeeper "Mrs. Gruen," despite calling her "Hannah" for the past 80 years. This was also book two in a trilogy, so she went from calling her Hannah to Mrs. Gruen back to Hannah, all in the course of three days.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: A variant appears in "The Clue in the Crumbling Wall," when George takes an inadvertent "swim" — i.e., falls into a pond — and lays out her outer clothing to dry while she waits in an abandoned stone house. Naturally, a small child steals her clothes. (And since this was written in 1945, chasing him in her underwear is just not done.)
  • Hard Head
  • Hollywood Pudgy: In the original series, Bess is described as "slightly plump". In the "Files" series, while given a "fabulous figure", she is perpetually focused on losing five pounds. Additionally, she is consistently made out to be the weakest of the group--easily frightened, boy-crazy, somewhat ditzy, etc.
    • As of the newest series, Girl Detective, she's over it. She's always described as curvy, but her weight is almost never addressed. Furthermore while she is still very fashion conscious, she has also become a full fledged Wrench Wench.
  • Hot Dad: Carson Drew, Nancy's widower father and handsome defense attorney, is constantly lavishing Nancy with spending money and gifts, such as her sporty sedan.
  • Kid Detective
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Hannah Gruen is portrayed this way, as well as being a Parental Substitute for Nancy.
  • Long Running Book Series
  • Missing Mom: She passed away when Nancy was three years old (Note: In the stories before the rewrites of the 60s, see Orwellian Retcon, she passed away when Nancy was ten.)
  • Mystery Fiction
  • Mystery Magnet: Oh so much
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Though it varies from original incarnations, Nancy Drew's age largely is stuck around 17-19 years old and as such is either a high school student or a college freshman/sophmore.
    • Averted in the Made for TV Movie--The show starts out with Nancy going to college.
      • Well, if it had gone to series, then maybe.
    • The 1995 TV series, however, rarely if ever mentions Nancy's age.
    • Oddly averted in the original series, though: Nancy was sixteen in the early volumes, then suddenly advanced to eighteen so it would be legal for her to drive in every state. (Although as Bobbie Ann Mason has pointed out, she never acted as though she was under thirty.)
  • Official Couple: Nancy and Ned Nickerson
  • Orwellian Retcon: On at least one occasion, new editions of the old stories were revised to update the settings (along with other changes, in some cases to the extent that pretty much everything after the title page was new).
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: You wouldn't think this could happen in book form, but it has. Nancy Drew Files #39: The Suspect Next Door focused heavily on Nancy's neighbor, a girl named Nikki Masters. Not too long after, Nikki got her own spin-off, a romance series called River Heights. It lasted about 16 issues before getting run off the face of the earth and is largely forgotten now.
  • Power Trio: Nancy, Bess and George.
  • Put on a Bus: Helen Corning in the original series, who was eventually replaced by Bess and George (the excuse was that she was either traveling or studying in Europe, a common way to jettison unwanted characters at the time.)
    • In the Files series, the writers sometimes had issues finding something for all four main characters (Nancy, Ned, Bess, George) to do. Usually, it was easiest to get rid of Ned, by having him busy with some major assignment for school. However, either Bess or George would often be "visiting family" or "attending a wedding" or George would be in some kind of sports tournament.
  • Sauna of Death: Appears in the '80s series during Two Points to Murder; Nancy sheds her footwear, sweater, shirt and jeans to keep the heat at bay before managing to escape.
  • Shouldn't We Be in School Right Now??
  • Spin-Off: There have been several:
    • The Nancy Drew Files: Darker and Edgier and Hotter and Sexier series designed to appeal to teen audiences by removing the previous roadblocks of the parent series (No Hugging, No Kissing, Never Say "Die", etc.) Might qualify as a Quietly Performing Sister Show since it had a successful run of 12 years (1985-1997) and 124 issues.
    • The Nancy Drew Notebooks and Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew: Spinoff Babies series which both involve 8-year-old versions of Nancy, Bess, and George solving mysteries in the vein of missing pet cats.
    • Nancy Drew On Campus: An ill-conceived Genre Shift that didn't go over well. This sent Nancy away to college, and tried to be a drama series in the vein of Sweet Valley High. The mysteries became a minor subplot, and Nancy had to struggle with college life and the drama of roommates and student loans and partying (and dumping Ned!)
    • Nancy Drew: Girl Detective: Considered a continuation of the original series by the publisher, it hovers somewhere between the Originals and the Files in terms of storytelling (while more shy about showing death than the Files, it's more liberal in implying death than the Original, using more violent crime such as arson and sabotage.)
    • Both the Files and Girl Detective spin-off had their own spin-off, a Crossover series with the Hardy Boys. Interestingly, they were both titled Nancy Drew-Hardy Boys Supermysteries. (Fans tag them '88 and '07 for the sake of avoiding confusion.) Both shared a lot of similar traits, including hinting at Nancy/Frank and Bess/Joe relationships.
  • UST: Between Nancy and Frank Hardy in the crossover series.
    • As well as Joe and Bess, much to the annoyance of everyone else.
  • Tomboyish Name: George. It's her real name and she's actually quite proud of it.
  • Where The Hell Is River Heights?: The location of River Heights has always been pretty sketchy. The original ghostwriter, Mildred Wirt Benson, put it in her home state of Iowa, but it seemed to keep drifting farther and farther east, going as far as New Jersey when Harriet Adams did her rewrites in the 60's. As early as the Files series, however, it seems to have settled down and tends to stay within driving distance of Chicago.

Tropes in the films include:

  • Fish Out of Water. How the 2007 film plays it. Nancy is a wholesome 1950s girl, all penny loafers and cup cakes, transported to cynical modern LA.
    • This conceit does raise some interesting questions about the in-film mystery, though. The glamorous movie starlet behind the case Nancy investigates in-film seems to have waltzed right out of the 1930s and 1940s, both in attitude, the films she starred in, and reason for dropping out of the public eye. But the age of her daughter means her career had to happen in the late 70s/early 80s at the earliest, which were a very, very different Hollywood, and the "scandal" wouldn't have been nearly such a big deal. It's made some speculate the entire film was originally meant to be a period piece.
  • Honor Before Reason: Nancy will not drive over the posted speed limit, just one instance of her refusing to use the ends to justify the means. "It's important to judge the ends and judge the means independently, in order to do what's right."
  • Mary Sue/ The Messiah: Nancy, in all her depictions, is an unfailingly polite and proper girl who can turn and befriend those who are wary or dislike her and easily excels at all her endeavours.
  • Precocious Crush: In the 2007 film, Corky likes Nancy, and she keeps them at a Just Friends distance, but Ned's insecure enough to think she might reciprocate.

  Nancy: "Ned, he's twelve."

  • Understatement: In the 2007 film, Nancy's reaction to someone trying to kill her?

  "It's so rude!"

  • Wild Teen Party: In the 2007 film, Nancy throws her birthday party which then turns into this (complete with police being called for the disturbance), until Trish collapses due to allergies and Nancy performs first aid on her. One thing to note is that Nancy's father congratulated her on the party because it's a sign of normalcy (for an average American teenage girl).
  • You're Not My Type: In the 2007 Nancy Drew movie, Ned is worried Nancy will fall for someone. Nancy tells Ned (regarding "the guy from Smallville", It Makes Sense in Context), "He's not my type." Ned responds with, "You have a type?"