The Mystery at Lilac Inn – Nancy & her friend Helen Corning travel upriver to Lilac Inn. The dilapidated property has been bought by their friend Emily Willoughby & her fiancé Dick; they plan to remodel it into an attractive summer resort. Soon after Nancy & Helen arrive, accidents, suspicious staff members and anonymous disturbances indicate that someone has it out for the new owners. When a malicious doppelganger starts copying Nancy’s every move & Emily’s inheritance of diamonds (& main source of capital) is stolen, Ms. Drew must use every deductive skill to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The Secret at Shadow Ranch – Nancy Drew is off to Arizona at the invitation of her friends Bess Marvin & George Fayne. When she arrives, the cousins tell her that their aunt’s & uncle’s ranch is in trouble. Long associated with a Western romance gone bad & rumors of bandit treasure, Shadow Ranch is being sabotaged & the Rawleys may have to give it up. A ghostly stallion has been appearing at night, suggesting the ghost of slain bandit Dirk Valentine is the culprit. Also staying at the ranch is another cousin of the Rawleys’ who thinks Nancy can find her father, a bank manager who disappeared during a robbery.
My Blather: Oh, the tangled webs of deceit Nancy falls into. Compared to the other three books so far, these two are progressively more cluttered. Not only does Lilac Inn have all the parts outlined in the summary, there is a larger conspiracy of stolen military parts, black market profiteering & risks to national security. If I stopped trying to follow it now, I don’t imagine it made much sense when I was younger. However, what I really enjoyed about Lilac Inn was that it featured a truly bonkers evil female lead. Building off the actress-as-evil-mastermind idea from Bungalow Mystery (the Aborns are both actors), we now have Gay Moreau, an aspiring actress who was prosecuted by Nancy’s father for check forgery. Now out of prison, her part in the ever-changing conspiracy involves getting back at him. In an early instance of identity fraud, Gay breaks into the Drews’ house, stealing Nancy’s clothes, jewelry, ID & charge card. The really creepy parts come at the end when Gay does the evil villain thing & reveals the entirety of the plot. She praises & reviles her only friend in the same breath; she shows Nancy her different disguises, sliding in & out of each persona effortlessly. She even almost fools Carson Drew into thinking she is Nancy. With an alias of Mary Mason & a hint of West Indies/Spanish ancestry, Gay Moreau certainly made me want to pick up Wide Sargasso Sea again.
Also, Shadow Ranch finally gives us the stock characters of Bess, George & Ned. Now that Helen went off & got married, she can’t hang out with Nancy anymore. Silly wives.
Good Times: The highlight of Lilac Inn is Nancy’s talent for skin diving. She even puts her skills to use, searching the bottom of the nearby river for clues. John McBride, one of Emily’s guests, is a “fellow frogman” & constantly asks her to go diving with him. In a cute moment, they explore the river together & chastely “link hands and walk cautiously along the river bottom.”
As for Shadow Ranch, no Western adventure is complete without going to a rodeo. Nancy & her friends buy “squaw dresses” & take cowboy dates along to teach them how to square dance. When Bess looks for the refreshment stand, George says “Eating really is a very fattening hobby, dear cousin.”
That Was Easy: Despite the fact that Nancy has a perfect double causing plenty of mix-ups, everyone will vouch for her in a heartbeat: the chief of police, the owners of the inn. Anytime Nancy runs into trouble, someone is always nearby to say, “Well, if Nancy says it, it must be so.”
Also, in Shadow Ranch, Nancy stops a robbery in progress at a local store in town. As a reward, the shop owner gives Nancy a former memento of Dirk Valentine’s. Wouldn’t you know it: there’s a secret catch & a clue inside!
Love, Nancy Drew-style: I’ve already mentioned John McBride & his constant aquatic attentions toward Nancy. At one point, when John asks her if she’s ready to go, she says, “Ready to flip!” But we all know our girl Nancy has her feet planted firmly on the ground. The last line of the book has Nancy saying, “For the present, my steady partner is going to be mystery.”
Even though Ned is mentioned throughout Shadow Ranch, he never appears. He’s “traveling in Europe”; Nancy’s making him a sweater for when he gets back. She doesn’t really think about him, but steers clear from getting entangled with Dave Gregory, a farmhand. One interesting passage: when a new herd of ponies comes to the ranch, Nancy stops to pet one. After a nice moment, Dave “slapped the pony on the rump”, sending it on it’s way. Nancy “admired the confidant way he did his job and his kind, firm manner with animals” before sighing, “I do hope he’s not mixed up in the mystery.”
Stratemeyer made it a requirement that the Nancy Drew series never develop toward any “consummation”, as it were, marriage or otherwise. For Nancy to endure as an iconic character, she had to remain unchanged to her readers.
Fabulous Cash & Prizes: Lilac Inn sees Nancy awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal for her help on preserving national security. To even things out, Emily gives her a diamond studded lilac pin as a bridesmaid gift.
In Shadow Ranch, Dave, a descendant of Valentine’s, offers Nancy part of the treasure, which includes hundreds of little gold hearts. She “graciously but firmly declined” saying only, “It was fun.”