Nancy Drew sleuths in Baltimore

April 22, 1992|By Wil S. Hylton | Wil S. Hylton,Contributing Writer

George jumped to her feet. "Where do you want to start?" she asked Jackson as she went over to the coat rack and took down the coats.

"How about Fort McHenry?" He pulled on his jacket. "It's just across the harbor, and if we hurry we'll catch the last changing of the guard."

"Sounds good," Nancy said, adding, "We can take our rental car. It's parked in the underground lot of the Lady Baltimore Hotel."

Don't be surprised to find Old Bay seasoning on Nancy Drew's fingers: After legendary escapades in exotic locales such as Turkey, Scotland, Hawaii and Kenya, the fictional teen sleuth is now venturing into Charm City.

Set on and around the Inner Harbor, the recently published "Case 68: Crosscurrents" (Archway Paperback, $3.75) features Nancy and her close friend George Fayne in Baltimore to help the National Aquarium find out who has been sabotaging the aquarium and killing the fish.

In the course of their investigation, the teens are in and out of Baltimore landmarks in both their working and resting hours. They visit Fort McHenry, travel the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in a small boat and stop by Harborplace for a snack. The author of this latest Nancy Drew Mystery captures the spirit of the town with a flair that could be managed only by a hometown writer, someone like author Rosalind Noonan.

Born in Anne Arundel County, Ms. Noonan attended Oakland Mills High in Howard County before heading to Wagner College in New York in 1976. After graduation, she worked as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster and as an editor of Nancy Drew novels, and later wrote several novels in the First Love series for young readers. She was eventually offered a position with Megabooks, which operates a steady pool of Nancy Drew writers, and began writing for the mystery series.

Still a Marylander at heart, Ms. Noonan returns to the area frequently to visit her family -- and Baltimore. "I love to bring people to the Inner Harbor, to Fort McHenry and around Baltimore," she said in a telephone interview from her home in New York City.

"The idea for the book really came from just being in the aquarium and seeing how many kids enjoyed it," she said.

Ms. Noonan is one of several writers who publish under the name of Carolyn Keene, the pen name originally made famous by ghostwriter Mildred A. Wirt in the early 1930s. The pseudonym has been used by countless contributors for nearly six decades now.

Ms. Noonan, who has written three other Nancy Drew mysteries, views the story as a tribute to Baltimore, and she says she enjoyed the chance to learn more about the city's many places as she prepared the novel. Officials at the aquarium are equally ++ proud.

"It's exciting that the aquarium has played such a significant role in a classic Nancy Drew Mystery," said public relations coordinator Amy Woodworth, who added that the new novel was quickly making the rounds among employees.

"Young readers today are very interested in the environment. Hope fully, the environmental theme will be good for the book and inspire readers to think of the aquarium as a place to investigate on their own."

Over the years, Nancy Drew novels have been updated to reflect changing times. The original stories,published in the 1930s, were rewritten in 1959 in an attempt to make the characters more modern. However, in 1990 the books had to be revamped again to continue to keep Nancy in step with her readers.

The changes range from clothing to attitudes. Today, Nancy drives a rental car -- her roadster has gone the way of the dinosaur -- and has been known to make eyes at other guys behind the still-innocent back of longtime boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. But Nancy's character remains intact.

"Some situations seem easier to get Nancy into than others," Ms. Noonan said, noting that the authors try to maintain the young lady's ideals and sincerity that generations of women have used as a model.

Besides maintaining a consistent character, Ms. Noonan had to do research in Baltimore to make the details of the story as true-to-life as possible. With the framework for the book already written, she visited the aquarium for a behind-the-scenes tour and a close look at everything from the habitat-monitoring system to the dolphin show, which inspired her cliffhanger in the dolphin pool.

Ms. Noonan's trip to the aquarium also gave her a better understanding of the link between the animals and the caretakers, she says.

"I changed some scenes around to try to reflect the attitude that the caretakers have toward the animals," she noted. "They really do love the animals there, and I wanted to show that."

Ms. Noonan also drew from her childhood experiences on the Chesapeake Bay inlets to create Terns Landing -- a strip of land in the story that's made up of "patches of sand, rocky coves, small weathered docks leading up to private launches, and gold patches of tall swamp grass" -- and the colorful "bearded man in a hunting cap."

"My stepfather used to share a boat with a good friend of his and they had it moored where that [Terns Landing scene] was supposed to take place," she said.

She added, "A lot of the ambience of the setting was based on what I felt from living in Baltimore. I hoped -- and am glad -- that came through."

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