R.W.R. McDonald – The Nancys

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2019
Cover design by Willow Harrington

I actually read the first two (and we trust there is at least one more) of R.W.R. McDonald’s ‘Nancys’ books in reverse order, but I don’t think I suffered because of it.

In fact I came into The Nancys already liking the cast immensely and feeling that I was across many of the allusions in the story, but without any spoilers. That’s clever writing, I think.

The Nancys are a family threesome investigating unit – Uncle Pike, his boyfriend Devon, and niece Tippy – in small town New Zealand. A bit like Midsomer, Riverstone, a place which is deemed to be boring as all get out and which boasts just one traffic light, seems to be harbouring a nest of vipers.

The Nancy Drew accolytes investigate a murder, at least one attempted murder and an attempt to frame an innocent party; this along with tackling a fair bit of gruesomeness and dodgy business dealings, questionable media ethics and some very unpleasant human beings with unsanitary habits as well as preparing Tippy’s bolshy teenage neighbour, Melanie, for a beauty pageant.

The plot moves quickly, despite Tippy’s sense that she is getting nowhere fast. The dialogue is very funny and well observed and it is a major plot driver as well as a neat way of filling out the details of the characters. 

There’s a lot of hair and fashion in this book, only partly because Devon is a fashion designer and Uncle Pike a hairdresser. Both elements are used to develop relationships, to bring about transformations to both places and people.

The complexity and difficulty of our family relationships is the major theme in this novel. There’s an exploration of how much we should say to one another, of how hard it is to get that right. When Pike assures Tippy that she is worthy and that she is loved, it is a moment for the reader to savour, a reminder that love comes in many guises, shapes and forms. Acceptance, forgiveness and love are the elements of relationship healing and building in this story (and in life, of course).

It would be churlish to spoil things for the reader by giving a blow by blow plot breakdown, and so I won’t. Suffice it to say that Nancy Drew would be proud of the NZ team and particularly of Tippy, who aged just 11 in this book, ventures into dark and dangerous situations that have us screaming, ‘Please don’t go there!’ Her astute observation of her surroundings and her intuitive pursuit of clues make her an excellent literary detective.

The use of the child as ‘unknowing listener’ to Devon and Pike’s and other conversations and double entendres, which we as adult readers are allowed to understand, is a cunning literary device. It works well, generating many laugh aloud moments which are expertly woven into the darker underfelt of this tale. Tippy may be a plucky little detective, but she is, in the end, still a child, and we like it that way.

Do not let the wise cracks and rolling humour deceive you into thinking this is a light weight book. It is serious business, Nancy and other.

Thank you to Terror Australis Festival for my copy of The Nancys. You will find my review and interview about Nancy Business elsewhere on this site:

I am chuffed to be hosting a ZOOM live TAF 2021 book club with Rob McDonald at 12.30pm on Saturday 27 November 2021.

Bookings: https://www.terroraustralisfestival.com/2021-festival-live-and-digital