It’s 4 months on from the last The Nancys caper, and a year since Tippy Chan’s father died, when his car mysteriously veered off the road – Tippy’s “tattooed Santa on steroids” Uncle Pike, and his partner “unmanageable” Devon, are back in Riverstone from Sydney. Tippy is now 12, and the pair will keep Tippy company during her school holidays, while her mother, Helen, works all hours at the Riverstone Medical Centre. Tippy is looking forward to hanging out with the crazy caring duo; most of her friends have left Riverstone, and the one who remains, Todd, is still recuperating from a brain injury sustained during the last outing of The Nancys.
Tippy knows both Pike and Devon’s businesses are doing well over the ditch, and they are still full of banter, but something is wrong – especially with Tippy’s ‘Sissy’: “Devon didn’t seem to be his usual sparkly self”. Surprisingly, Pike and Devon have bought the “murder house” – a crime scene from their previous case – to renovate as a ‘pied-à-Riverstone’, and Tippy is given the job of Devon’s P.A. for the job. The trio settle into a decrepit downtown Airbnb, and although she is chuffed to be made a PA, Tippy wishes there was a case for The Nancys to investigate: “Nancys’ business is nobody’s business”, it would distract her from thinking about her Dad, and Devon from whatever is worrying him. And then a large section of the Riverstone CBD explodes.
The trio arrives at the scene of the massive explosion to find Helen tending to the injured, and Devon joins her to help. Tippy is distraught, as well as knowing there are injuries, and probably deaths, Riverstone’s founding tree is gone, “the beautiful old macrocarpa, alive since 1854” – “My town was ruined”. In the aftermath, Tippy realises The Nancys have a job to do – the Riverstone Police have the case almost immediately done and dusted – but The Nancys “don’t listen to what we’re told to believe. Like Nancy Drew, we investigate and we find out the truth ourselves”.
The mystery and investigation in Nancy business are great, The Nancys making slow progress using CCTV footage, old photo collections, interviews, observations, and lots of writing on the walls of “The Nancys room” in the under-renovation house. There are lots of suspects, and motives, and clues, but they are working under pressure – there has been a note emailed to the local police station threatening another explosion in 6 days’ time, and the number of days keeps reducing at an alarming rate. “I needed this case: besides stopping a bombing it was an escape from my blown up life” – also rising at an alarming rate is Tippy’s anxiety levels: she feels “Surrounded by something invisible, like a cushion of air; a kind of darkness you could feel if it wasn’t just out of reach”, “Was anywhere safe?”, “What if it happens again?”
And this is what is so good about Nancy business, despite being funny and with larger-than-life-characters, many of those characters are under stress. Devon has a form of PTSD. Unbeknownst to Tippy, Helen is barely holding things together. Tippy is dealing with the explosion, losing her friends, her father’s death, and her mother being a workaholic. She is finding that people under stress fall apart, and, as she is in many respects still a child, she blames herself when they do. Nancy business shows that whatever your style, all joy can get buried under memories, worries, and fears. Serious issues are handled well, for example suicide: “You get help, you always ask for help, no matter how hard it is.”
Tippy is taught lessons about the tension between people’s privacy and trying to protect others. And when someone breaks the rules to give her information about her father’s death, she starts to grasp the complexities of right and wrong: “I guess sometimes doing right feels really wrong”. Nancy business is a compulsive read, but despite the snappy pace, The Nancys’ progress on the case is glacial as the days tick by, and then things go ballistic, with a hair-raising car chase – Tippy in a truck with a less that compos mentis driver.
Nancy business is written in the first person, from Tippy’s point of view, and through the book she works towards adolescence. By the end of the book she has become a young woman. She realises what her mother has been dealing with, and that she herself is not the centre of the universe. And she starts planning the next case for The Nancys – which is good news for all of us.