I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love mysteries. I suspect I was a mystery fan back when I was spitting up strained apricots and wearing onesies. Would the Cat in the Hat get punished for wrecking the house with Things One and Two? Would the Man in the Yellow Hat find George in time to keep him from getting hurt or deported? Where did the Moon go after we said goodnight to it? Granted, the children’s literature my folks read to me didn’t include murder mysteries, but they raised many of the same questions about right and wrong, mercy and justice, finding order in a world that is naturally chaotic. By the time I could read on my own, I was reading books that were explicitly mysteries: Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden. (Nostalgia time out: I also read the Black Stallion series, all the Oz books, Aesop’s fables, Grimm’s fairy tales, the Little House books, and so many others.)
My favorite mystery series, though, the series that made me a die-hard fan, was Cherry Ames. For those of you unfamiliar with the books, Cherry Ames was a nurse who solved mysteries. Written by Helen Wells, and later Julie Campbell Tatham, the books followed Cherry’s progression from student nurse to various nursing assignments around the globe. Looking back, I think the reasons Cherry, rather than Nancy, won my allegiance were her career, her independence, and her travels. Nancy was circumscribed by River Heights and environs, and had Carson Drew and Hannah Gruen to answer to. She could only go so far in her blue roadster. Cherry, on the other hand, was an independent career woman. She changed locales and jobs with every book. Dude ranch nurse in one book, cruise nurse, flight nurse, and ski nurse in subsequent books. (There are 27 books in the series.) For a little girl (moi) raised in a military family, Cherry’s reality paralleled mine—frequent moves and adjustments to new communities.
I can’t say why Nancy seems to have endured better than Cherry. Maybe it’s because Cherry became a student nurse during World War II and some of her adventures seem dated. Maybe it’s because Nancy’s a perpetual teen and attracts a new crop of young readers each year. Whatever the answer is, I’m happy to see that some of the Cherry Ames titles have recently been reprinted and are now available again. I was searching for one last gift for my younger daughter and now I’m thinking a boxed set of the first Cherry Ames books is just the ticket! Too bad my original copies of the books found their way to a garage sale or Goodwill bin long ago . . .
So, mystery fans, what book or series first attracted you to the genre?
Laura DiSilverio spent twenty years as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer—serving as a squadron commander, and with the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as with a fighter wing—before retiring to parent and write full time.