Ask any mystery author what books she read as a kid, and there’s a 99.79 percent chance she’ll answer, Nancy Drew. But after everyone else grew up, I was still hanging out—every day—with the intrepid girl detective and her chums. It was my job, because I was a Nancy Drew book editor.
Nancy was the perfect crime solver. Maybe a bit too perfect: uber-intelligent, brave, clever, popular, and stylish in that polished way. She also had a wealthy, doting father who consulted her on his legal cases, a cool car, a handsome, Ken-doll boyfriend, and a housekeeper who never let cooking or dirty laundry suck up Nancy’s valuable investigation time. But off the case, I’m not sure Nancy was a ton of fun. That’s why she needed her best friends George (“Go-for-It!”) Fayne and Bess (“Let’s-Not-and-Stop-for-a-Donut”) Marvin.
When I created my odd-couple sleuths, Summer Smythe and Dorothy Westin—aka The Ladies Smythe & Westin—I wanted them to be equal partners. Sure, Summer is a twenty-something party girl camping out in an upscale Florida retirement community, and Dorothy, her friend and neighbor, is a seventy-something widow. But when it comes to solving murders, they pool their strengths and weaknesses.
Summer acts before she thinks. The daughter of a LA movie mogul, she’s had some recent bad luck, and she’s camping in her late grandma’s condo while she figures out how to fix her life. A confirmed sun-and-surf girl, she’s athletic and effortlessly pretty, with a knack for attracting men and trouble. But sleuthing is something she’s good at, and those who think she’s clueless are dead wrong. (Detective role model: Cameron Diaz, if she switched careers.)
Dorothy Westin thinks before she acts. Practical, fit, and neatly-dressed, she’s also well-read, sharply observant, and unfailingly diplomatic—a handy skill to balance her dry sense of humor. Dorothy misses her late husband and daughter, and found life rather dull at ritzy Hibiscus Pointe, until she teamed up with Summer to solve murders. Dorothy has a head for puzzles and a strong sense of justice. (Detective role model: Jessica Fletcher.)
In Permanently Booked, the Ladies’ second case (Book One is Cardiac Arrest), Summer and Dorothy start a book club to lure the killer of a dedicated librarian. At the start, Summer isn’t much of a reader, but she knows how to throw a party. Dorothy prefers to focus on the more literary aspects of book club. Neither is perfect, and they take turns rescuing each other from sticky situations and nefarious villains. I like to think that Summer and Dorothy both grow personally, as well as sleuths, with every shared case. But together, the Ladies Smythe & Westin make a kick-butt detective team—because crime solving with a fifty-fifty partner (no offense, Nancy) is just plain fun!
(An extended version of this post also appeared at freshfiction.com on April 11, 2016.)
Readers, do your favorite sleuths work alone, or are they team players?