The tightly guarded secrets of the Stratemeyer Syndicate have been the subject of several tomes in recent years. The time-honored company...

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The tightly guarded secrets of the Stratemeyer Syndicate have been the subject of several tomes in recent years. The time-honored company (bought out by Simon & Schuster in 1984) was once responsible for the creation of numerous beloved juvenile-book series, such as “The Hardy Boys” and — of course — “The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.”

Peering through the lens of Nancy’s magnifying glass, poet Melanie Rehak explores the history of this once mysterious company, as well as some of the principal characters who kept it afloat, overcoming the struggles of the Depression and World War II, a time when metal and paper were scarce.

“Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her”

By Melanie Rehak
Harcourt Brace, 364 pp., $25

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While many of Stratemeyer’s series did quite well during those decades, the Nancy Drew books kept the syndicate alive. Nancy, herself, would not have remained so wildly popular without the nurturing of two independent women, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, who took over the company after her father died, and Mildred Wirt Benson, the ghost writer for 23 of the first 30 original volumes.

In recent years, the press has cast Adams as the villain, the ruthless shark who lied about the true authorship of the Nancy Drew books. Benson has been portrayed as the feisty journalist whose original characterization of Nancy was truly responsible for capturing the imagination of millions of young readers.

Rehak debunks certain aspects of this version, offering a more balanced depiction of Adams and her role in the creation of Nancy Drew — not to mention her personality, which was often quite magnanimous. Unfortunately, Benson’s life — fascinating in its own right — often takes a back seat to Adams’ personal history. Indeed, Rehak could have gotten more deeply inside the heads of both women. Still, she clearly culled numerous details gleaned from stacks of newspaper articles and other primary sources to document this fascinating chapter in the history of publishing. Fans should enjoy the refresher course.