The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald – 2019

thenancysA small-town murder mystery with lots of suspects, dull police, amateur sleuths, a bundle of local secrets and lashings of glitter.

Tippy Chan is 11 and living in Riverstone, South Otago: “Main Street was busy today … I counted seven people on the footpath.”  Her Uncle Pike and his new partner, Devon, have arrived from Sydney to look after Tippy while her Mum goes on a cruise.  Tippy and her Mum are still having a hard time after the death of Tippy’s Dad.  Uncle Pike is larger than life and has his own demons to face on returning to Riverstone after many years.  This could be a domestic tale of small-town tragedies – but one of Tippy’s mates, Todd, ends up in a coma and one of her teachers is beheaded – and Tippy and Pike are big Nancy Drew fans – so enter The Nancys.

Tippy, Pike and Devon plot and snoop and interview and draw unpleasant conclusions, while the police think they have the right person in custody.  The Nancys not only want to find out who the murderer is in their midst, they want to free an innocent person.  And they partner up with some unlikely allies, such as local journalist Lorraine, who for some reason was loathed by Tippy’s Dad and still is by her Mum.  There are clues galore and the reader can guess, and re-guess along the way.  There are thrills, and there are creepy bits: The murderer seems to be leaving origami flowers dotted around; texts received might not be from who they say they’re from.

McDonald portrays Pike and Devon as flamboyantly gay, “They’re from Sydney” explains Tippy.  “Really living the cliché”, their presence in Riverstone makes a gaudy splash and gives confidence to others in the town who feel they are alone and that they don’t belong.  They certainly help Tippy, who has dressed in grey since her Dad’s death and who still feels guilt that she didn’t cry when he died.  And they literally transform Tippy’s neighbour’s granddaughter Melanie – voted “most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse” by Tippy and Todd – into a contestant in the Show Queen pageant at the local A&P show. Melanie wants to enter to cheer up her grandmother who is in an abusive relationship – and she might have other motives as well …

Tippy is a great character, she is 11, she worries her mates are sexist, Todd sends her text Tits 4 real!!!! Sam, her other friend, laughs when Pike says words like penis, and cheers Tippy up by asking questions such as “do bats poo upside down?”  She is delightfully young; she doesn’t know her apes from her monkeys, Pike and Devon’s innuendo-laden banter just flies right over her head, she has an aversion to the smells of adults.  But she is also mature enough to want to do the right thing and has the heart-breaking tendency to blame herself for things that happen to those she loves.

The Nancys is a romp of a murder mystery.  It is also about just being who you are and feeling OK about that and knowing it is OK to feel sad sometimes, and about celebrating the best of people while being a bit relaxed about their letting us down occasionally, unless that entails unrepentance, abusiveness or cutting people’s heads off.  In some ways The Nancys is a traditional murder mystery, in others it is refreshing and novel – not least by having an 11-year-old main protagonist in a book written for adults.  We learn a lot about Tippy and her family through the story and I felt happy for her in the end when she realises “… that this was my life now. The old everyday normal was gone.”

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