Nancy Drew has starred in movies, TV shows, computer games, and comics—but it all started with Nancy Drew books. Fifty-six books, to be exact, published from 1930 to 1979 by Grosset & Dunlap and written by many authors under the pen name Carolyn Keene. New Nancy Drew books were published after 1979, including multiple spin-off series, but they had different publishers, creating a dividing line between the first 56 and all the rest.
And so, without further ado (a-Drew?), I present to you the complete and indisputable ranking of all 56 original Nancy Drew adventures, from worst to best.
Wow. This one has rampant racism AND an unforgettably ludicrous villain plot. I didn’t think a Nancy Drew book would make me want to hurl a cactus at someone, but here we are.
In addition to stealing all their black characters from Gone with the Wind, this book has astoundingly bad pacing.
What kind of racist Dickensian nonsense is this.
File this under Most Disappointing. An exciting start gives way to padding and so, so much racism.
This book deserves to be forgotten too. Sloppy sleuthing and sloppy editing combine into one mess of a mystery.
This one’s dull enough that it gets distracted by Ned’s football game three quarters of the way through.
Nancy, stop kidnapping children and go get the cops already.
How do you make a tour of the Hawaiian islands this boring? By using it as padding in your weak, weak mystery.
If you want tips on how to ski or start a mink farm, this is the book for you.
Mysteries aren’t supposed to put you to sleep.
I think they spent too much time faffing about in Amish country and not enough time building up the mystery. A lot got crammed into the last five or so chapters.
If they had dropped the bridge on the dude creeping on Nancy, I’d rank this higher.
Not the weakest note for Nancy to go out on, but certainly not the strongest. Also Nancy pretends to be Japanese for zero reason.
This is not a mystery, it’s five mysteries in a trench coat, and I think they forgot to solve one of them…
I struggled with where to place this one. Such a promising story, but it could have been solved so easily if Ned wasn’t a nitwit.
Ivory Charm: The Redux, this time without the racism and mystical weirdness.
Why would you ever fly through a magnetized cloud on purpose. WHY, NANCY.
For the most part solid, but oh, that last chapter comes RIGHT out of nowhere and slaps you with the stupid stick.
Some of the plot points come out of thin air and the ending felt rushed. Nancy yodels, though.
Some good creepy moments, but the plot relies on everyone being a complete dink.
This one feels like the writer wanted to try a different sort of plot but got hamstrung by the Checklist of Things That Must Appear in a Nancy Drew Book (which was chucked soon afterward, thankfully).
In which we discover that Nancy and Ned have an open relationship. Either that or she cheated on him.
They blinded Nancy with science, kinda.
Yet another “save an inheritance for this nice lady and her cutesy kid” story, now with more ableism!
Both Nancy and the editor were a little sloppy today.
The climax was neat, but the plot and the villain felt pretty weak.
The themes are very similar to The Secret of the Old Clock, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling this one.
It’s fine, I guess? Aside from George being traumatized, nothing about this one really stood out to me.
As far as Anastasia knockoffs go, this one is solid, but a bit slapdash towards the end.
I feel like this could have been put together better somehow? Like they pick up a Scottish girl as a guide, and you can pretty much tell the exact moment she becomes superfluous but they don’t know how to get rid of her.
Needs more ghost boat.
Love the plot idea, but it depends on padding to provide extra excitement and for crying out loud, Nancy, STOP desecrating Native American burial sites, GEEZ.
Please…stop with the racism…I beg you…
A bit slow compared to some future stories, but good first impression.
Lots of twists and turns in this one, so it keeps you guessing.
*blares “Crocodile Rock” really loudly*
I want to love this one, but was the yellowface necessary?
Any story where someone pulls a sword out of the wall is a good story.
Not bad at all, though Nancy makes some weird conclusion hops in this one. Also loses points for wanton lizard murder.
I thought the villain was really clever and I loved Bess’s role in the climax. Now if only Ned would stop making fun of Native Americans.
Stories with hypnosis as a plot point aren’t really my thing, but if you’re into it, this is a good’un.
Starts like a ripoff of Nancy’s Mysterious Letter, but then it just does its own thing, thankfully.
SAVE THOSE KITTIES.
A delightfully daffy adventure about a theater troupe being haunted by a ballerina animatronic.
This one is intriguing and not as racist as I thought it was going to be!
Combines plot elements from The Hidden Staircase with all the fun of cults and old-timey racism.
I’m rating this one so high based on the strength of the shenanigans. There’s a murder bot AND a fire moat.
This is a waaay darker version of the prototypical “save the inheritance” mysteries.
Florida Man Tries to Blow Up Rocket with Exploding Oranges, Is Stopped by Vacationing Teenager
Good plot, and it introduces Bess and George, but loses points for racism.
Kinda racist, yes, but if you can get past that, this one is more intense than your average ND mystery and makes good use of its location.
Good old-fashioned haunted house fun with some kidnapping and crossdressing thrown in.
I loooove the set-up for this one. So much excitement and suspense to be had!
Bombs! Sharks! A Nancy Drew impersonator! What more could you want?
Haunted houses, hidden treasure, and twisty family histories make this one a real treat.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s fingerprints are all over this one, but it’s still got that distinctive flair of the best Nancy Drew books! With so much suspense and an ending worthy of an action film, this is truly Nancy at her finest.