book: The Black Widow (1988) by Carolyn Keene


My first experience of a Nancy Drew novel, this is #28 in the spinoff Nancy Drew: Files series featuring a rather older Nancy (she’s 18 here). The Black Widow was published in 1988, long after the original Carolyn Keene, Mildred Wirt Benson, had ceased contributing to the saga.

And, to be honest, I found the book rather fun. This is the kind of novel that’s ideal to have with you if you get stuck in an airport or on a long bus journey . . . although you might have to invest in two or three from the series if that bus journey is of any significant duration, because the book’s pretty short.

Nancy and her dad Carson go on a cruise that will take them to Rio in Carnival season, where they’ll be met by Nancy’s regular fella, Ned. Almost as soon as they board the cruise liner it becomes clear there’s something awry. Fellow-passenger Nina da Silva, a widow but not the widow of the title, gets an anonymous gift of a box of chocs containing also (the box, not the chocs) a writhing mass of black widow spiders. (I can’t remember if the Monty Python team included this flavor in their selection.) Nancy herself finds a spider-related puzzle pushed under her cabin door, then later a bouquet of flowers with a note suggesting these are for her funeral. Of course, Dad for the longest time is convinced there’s a perfectly natural explanation for all this, especially since his real interest seems to veer toward romancing the lovely widow.

Meanwhile Nancy has romance-related hassles of her own, being caught up in rebuffing the attentions of a handsome young ship’s officer who makes plain that his hopes go beyond the merely platonic. The name of this smooth-talking stinker is, I kid you not, Randy Wolfe.

Most of the chapters end in cliffhangers and appropriate exclamation marks, as Nancy is threatened in darkened rooms, gets trapped snooping in places she oughter not to be, has a knife put to her throat, discovers a motorcyclist riding at full-tilt down the street toward her — all that sort of stuff. There’s a bit of breathless hysteria about some of the writing — we’re not talking Anita Shreve here — but that’s not in any way out of place: very in place, in fact. The focus is less on mystery and detection — the spider cypher is solved rather easily in the end, and in a sort of offhand manner — and more on thrills and spills, with a cablecar finale that has its genuinely exciting moments.

So: More fun than I’d expected. In the unlikely but not inconceivable event that I decide to read further Nancy Drew tales, I see I have plenty to choose from, with 175 novels in the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series and 124 in this spinoff series. There’s also a whole bundle of other, non-Nancy Drew novels by Mildred Wirt Benson on Project Gutenberg. And I have a biography of Mildred Wirt Benson somewhere on the shelves that I’ve been planning to read for years . . .

10 thoughts on “book: The Black Widow (1988) by Carolyn Keene

  1. I think I read some of these around the age of 10 or 11 — do they have a cast list in the front telling you everyones role in the story? I remember a girl I was at school with putting me onto them, and then pointing out that the guilty party always turned out to be the same person in the cast. After that, I found them pretty hard to stick with…

    • The original series may feature cast lists, I dunno. This novel didn’t, but it’s part of the Files series, whose novels followed, I gather, different rules.

      • Yeah, it’s definitely not the original series that I’m thinking of here,they were much more “modern” books and settings than my reading of the first actual Nancy Drew book leads me to believe that run represented. It may, in that case, not even be Nancy Drew at all, of course…doubtless she had her imitators…

  2. Project Gutenburg is a great resource and I too have availed myself of some of their re-prints. Lately I have been collecting series books (Ken Holt, Biff Brewster, Rick Brant, Hardy Boys, Dig Allen, Roger Baxter, Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew) so this post is rather just as the doctor ordered. Presently I am reading the first Brewster – “Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery”, but I’ve read several by Ms. Keane in that famed series. Fabulous post here! And yes these are much more fun than you’d think!

    • This is the first time I think I’ve read any of the juvenile series books you’re referring to (although I read the Pocomoto [Western] and Kemlo [SF] series, both I think UK- rather than US-originated, in childhood). I really should try to fill in a few gaps!

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