Title: The Nancys
Author: R.W.R McDonald
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 3rd June 2019
Synopsis: A schoolgirl and her uncle and his boyfriend have two weeks to solve a murder in a small town style forgot…
WINNER of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel
Tippy Chan is eleven and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world – the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum’s on a cruise.
Tippy is in love with her uncle’s old Nancy Drew books, especially the early ones where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery. When her teacher’s body is found beside Riverstone’s only traffic light, Tippy’s moment has arrived. She and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club.
But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs into something far more dangerous. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the murderer, and an intervention from Tippy’s mum all conspire against The Nancys. But regardless of their own safety, and despite the constant distraction of questionable fashion choices in the town that style forgot, The Nancys know only they can stop the killer from striking again.
The Nancys is gripping and glorious, a heart-warming novel for anyone who’s ever felt they were on the outside looking in. At its heart it is about the family we make and how we must summon the courage to face the truth, no matter what the cost may be.
Shortlisted Best Debut Crime Fiction, Ned Kelly Awards 2020 AU; Winner Best First Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Novel, Ngaio Marsh Award 2020 NZ; Shortlisted Best Designed Commercial Fiction Cover, Australian Book Design Awards 2020 AU; Highly Commended Unpublished Manuscript, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2017 AU
Tippy’s mother is off on a holiday cruise, leaving her with Uncle Pike and his boyfriend, Devon. Tippy and her uncle love Nancy Drew- and Tippy wants to solve a mystery, but her best friend Sam is reluctant to help, especially after their friend Todd, is tragically injured and left in a coma. But it is the murder of Tippy’s teacher that sets Tippy, Pike and Devon on the journey to solve the crime – and find out who amongst the people living in Riverside is a vicious murderer – and the question of who to trust begins to reverberate through the town and the book.
The Nancys manages to be light and dark, with moments of sharp wit and black humour that encapsulates the tough times Tippy has been going through since the death of her father, as well as the murder she has uncovered, yet there is also something delightfully uplifting and reassuring about this book. It’s a crime novel with a difference – where the amateur detectives – two fabulous gay uncles and an eleven-year-old girl with Chinese heritage – are the driving force in finding out what happened, uncovering things the police were unable to, or that they had not found yet, and following their instincts as red herrings are flung into their paths. Nothing stops them though, not even the markers they use to write on the window and fridge being permanent markers – oops! But this is one of the examples of the humour that comes through the darkness, splicing something fun and human in between the murder and revelations about what happened, and what a witness may have seen.
I loved Pike and Devon – one a hairdresser and the other a fashion designer – quite the stereotype as one character points out yet they embrace it in ways that make them just as unique as characters who refuse to fit into the stereotypical boxes society creates. They are just their jobs, and Pike and Devon are their own people entirely – unashamed about what they come up with in delightful and exciting ways that show you can embrace what you love and still surprise people even if they see it as a stereotype or expectation based on how you might identify. This wonderful juxtaposition of the stereotype and the individuality of these two characters injected fun, humour and a sense of humanity as they solved a crime and helped Tippy’s neighbour prepare for a beauty contest – which at first, just felt like a fun side story that allowed for Tippy to become friends with Melanie and further understand who her uncles are when they’re at home.
I read this book in anticipation of reading the follow-up, Nancy Business, and I love it. I loved everything about it – the mystery, the characters, the diversity – everything that made this book so amazing, and had it win awards and be shortlisted so many times since its 2019 publication. I found myself talking y time with this one, letting the clues fall into place as I tried to solve the mystery with Tippy and her uncles – I like to try and do this with crime novels, balance wanting to find out the resolution with wanting to solve the crime with the characters. The resolution was done well, and left space for the questions we had at the end of the book to hopefully be answered in the next book.
I loved the way the community was unique and a little bit odd – they were truly unique and were unashamed to be themselves, which was beautiful, and encapsulated how we should embrace community and what makes us who we are. This is one of those special books that seems to capture the horror of murder coupled with the beauty of friendship and family and life in a small town. I can’t wait to read the follow-up! A great book filled with heart and one that is exciting in so many ways – there will be something that everyone who reads this book will find they enjoy about it, and there are also too many things to list without this review becoming its own novella!