The enduring mystery of Nancy Drew

Illustrator Ruth Sanderson at the Nancy Drew Sleuths convention, with one of her paintings.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff.
Illustrator Ruth Sanderson at the Nancy Drew Sleuths convention, with one of her paintings.

SOMERVILLE — On her first try drawing Nancy Drew, for the cover of “The Triple Hoax,” Ruth Sanderson painted the fictional teen detective in a simple pink dress, staring blankly into space.

Simon & Schuster, the publisher of the iconic mystery series, rejected the image of Nancy.

“She kind of looks like a tentative girl,” said Sanderson, 61, displaying a copy of the sketch she drew in 1979 to an audience of about 70 people who gathered in a hotel ballroom for the 13th annual convention of the Nancy Drew Sleuths, a fan club.


The second time, Sanderson drew Nancy still dressed in pink, but with her right hand raised to her chin, as if pondering her next move.

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“This time I nailed her,” Sanderson said, drawing laughter from the rapt audience. “She looks like she’s going to go out and figure things out.”

Sanderson, who lives in Easthampton, said she drew black-and-white illustrations for four Drew mysteries and 18 color drawings for paperback covers until the mid-1980s. On Saturday, she was the honored guest on the fourth day of a five-day convention that attracted Nancy Drew aficionados from Canada and Germany, along with California, Texas, and other states.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Sisters Megan and Lisa Crowley of Tewksbury browsed books at the convention.

Most fans were middle-age women who share a love for the timeless heroine who carried a magnifying glass and drove a roadster, coupe, and later a convertible.

“Nancy Drew was such a bold, spunky, independent person,” said Jennifer Fisher, 39, the fan club’s president, who lives in Queen Creek, Ariz. “She was determined to get to the bottom of things. She always strove to do right from wrong.”


Fifteen-year-old Tori Eye, who traveled from Palm Desert, Calif., with her mother, discovered Nancy Drew in a video game while in middle school. Shortly afterward, her mother gave her a book and she was hooked. “I was really awkward in middle school,” said the bespectacled Eye, dressed in a Nancy-inspired peach-colored skirt and white-collared blouse. “Reading her stories, really opened my eyes. . . . I’m a leader now.”

Eye, who started a Nancy Drew book club, said many of her peers dismiss Nancy Drew as a kids’ book, in favor of such popular series such as “The Hunger Games.”

“A lot of kids don’t think it’s cool to read her,” she said, “but they don’t realize how far [ the storyline] can go.”

Nancy Drew Sleuths originated as an online fan forum. The group holds its annual convention in a setting for one of the hundreds of mysteries.

“The Secret of the Wooden Lady,” a ghost story first published in 1950, is set in Boston and Provincetown; and “The Case of the Vanishing Veil,” published in 1988, is set in Boston, Salem, and the fictional village of Duncan’s Cove on Cape Cod.


“We’ve followed in her footsteps,” said Fisher, who writes about Drew and collects memorabilia. “It’s just been a fabulous . . . to see where the action of these books took place.”

They rode the Swan Boats and visited the Tea Party Ship & Museum. (Unlike Nancy, no one got thrown overboard, Fisher reported.) They traveled to Salem and Provincetown, to hunt for familiar clues in “The Case of the Vanishing Veil.”

During the daytime on Saturday, they listened to presentations about Nancy Drew collectibles, rival mystery characters in literature, and the unpublished works of Mildred Wirt Benson one of the first ghost writers of the books, which were published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.

Megan Crowley, 21, of Tewksbury, who attended with her sister, Lisa, 24, said the gathering was a rare chance for local Drew fans.

“She solved very few crimes in New England,” said Megan, who said she is majoring in English at Framingham State University. “This was a good chance for us to learn more about Nancy.”

Some fans wore T-shirts printed with their favorite book covers. They shopped for hard-to-find titles, or the earliest books in the series.

“The first 11 books are the hardest to find,” said Richard Mori, a book dealer from Milford, N.H. “One of those can go for $300 to $800.”

Vendors hawked Nancy Drew pocket watches, purses, earrings, and other novelties.

“Look at these rubber stamps,” Nancy Lauzon, 56, of Canada, said of the $15 stamps, one of which featured a silhouette of Drew holding a magnifying glass. “I could stamp all my books with them.”

Lauzon said her mother named her after Drew. Her beloved character inspired her to write a series of mystery e-books. “My heroines want to be like Nancy Drew, but they don’t quite make it. Their father is not rich. They don’t have a fancy car. . . . There is only one Nancy Drew. “

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.