I’ve been meaning for some time to start a series of blog posts devoted to my favourite detectives – and since it’s Children’s Book Week here in Australia, I thought it would be a great time to start with one of the most influential detectives from my childhood reading: Trixie Belden!
I completely missed Nancy Drew as a child – I’m not sure how I managed to do that, given that I spent a lot of my time in second hand bookshops, but I’ve only ever heard of her second hand as the Iconic Girl Detective.
My American Girl Detective was Trixie, instead. I read her books voraciously as a child, collecting bundles and bundles of those yellow jacketed paperbacks, and sighing over the intriguing titles that as yet meant nothing to me (to this day I still don’t know what the Galloping Ghost or the Whispering Witch were up to).
Then when I was in my teens, I left the country with my mother and we sold most of my books. I spent the years after really regretting that! As an adult, I’ve been re-collecting the ones I loved most, and that includes the adventures of Trixie Belden, which now occupy a whole shelf in my library.
I have no idea why Trixie appealed so much to me as a character. She was a farm girl tomboy with short, strawberry blonde curly hair who liked to ride horses and throw herself into dangerous situations – we had nothing in common! But her friends and family all leaped off the page as vivid characters that I grew very attached to: her brothers Mart and Brian, her heiress best friend Honey and the glamorous Diana, bad boy Dan and handsome redhead Jim.
Every book was a Mystery, in true juvenile fiction tradition – Trixie could barely go down to the shops without tripping over burglars, conspiracies, amnesiac brides, hoaxes, blackmailers or missing jewels. So many little details are still lodged in my memory – names, words added to my vocabulary, that time her brother Brian’s new girlfriend almost killed him by leaving the seeds in the apples of the Waldorf salad and feeding him a metric tonne of it…
The part that stuck with me, though, that I always remember, was Trixie’s plan for her future detective agency, with Honey. Like all serialised teen adventures back in the day (exactly HOW many school holidays did the Famous Five get between the ages of 10 and 16? And how many summers did the Babysitters manage during their teen years, because it has to have been at least 20?) time in Trixie Belden land was long, slow and endless – and yet all of the teens had a very strong idea of what they were going to do once they became adults.
I always kind of thought we’d get to see it at the end – Trixie and Honey all grown up, with fedoras and trench coats, solving crimes professionally. Instead Trixie is stuck in my head forever as the archetype of the girl detective (or as her brother Mart always called her, the Schoolgirl Shamus), forever young and getting into trouble and escaping peril in the nick of time.