The Mystery at Lilac Inn

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The Mystery at Lilac Inn
Original edition cover
Author Carolyn Keene
Illustrator Russell H. Tandy
Country United States
Language English
Series Nancy Drew Mystery Stories
Genre Juvenile literature
Publisher Grosset & Dunlap
Publication date
  • October 1930 (original)
  • 1961 (revised edition)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Preceded by The Bungalow Mystery
Followed by The Secret at Shadow Ranch

The Mystery At Lilac Inn is the fourth volume in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series. It was first published in 1931 under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Mildred Wirt Benson was the ghostwriter for the 1931 edition.[1]

In 1961, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams extensively revised the novel, creating a completely different story. The original omitted the lead characters from much of the action, the titular inn was only a place where a crime was committed with minor investigatory follow-up, and a domestic help sub-plot was out-of-place in 1961. Ethnic slurs and opinions were removed.

Plot summaries & controversy[edit]

1930 edition[edit]

The story involves Nancy Drew helping her friend Emily Crandall find out who stole her heirloom jewels. Emily's aunt and guardian, Hazel Willoughby, unwisely removes them from a safe deposit box and carries them with her while lunching at Lilac Inn, only to have her handbag stolen while the diners are distracted. In the meantime, Nancy must hire a temporary maid in the absence of Mrs. Gruen, her housekeeper. Nancy uncovers the thief, Mary Mason, one of the applicants for the position of maid. She then tracks Mary Mason to a gang, which includes Mary's brother, Bud. Nancy is bound and gagged and left aboard the gang's sinking cabin cruiser to die, but is rescued by the river patrol. In the end, Nancy captures the jewel thief, exonerates the guardian, and returns her orphaned friend's fortune to her.

1961 edition[edit]

"Nancy Drew! How did you and Helen paddle that canoe up here so fast from River Heights?" cried Doris Drake in astonishment, is the opening line of the book, setting the tone for an evil twin plot. Nancy and chum Helen vacation at the historic Lilac Inn, recently purchased by friend Emily Willoughby. Emily is engaged and the girls are visiting to plan her wedding; Emily and fiance Dick have renovated the historic main building and added modern resort features, including guest cabins, and tennis courts. Nancy quickly discovers a double is operating and forging her signature to rack up bills back at River Heights! In the meantime, Emily gives reports of strange happenings, including alleged apparitions in the lilac grove. Nancy is attacked while scuba diving alone, when Dick's best man, John, fails to keep a date. And Emily's inheritance, a fortune in diamonds, is cleverly stolen during a dramatic blackout! An explosion and cabin fire, an attack from the ghostly woman in the grove, and repeated negative interactions with Inn staffer Maud Potter all add to the building excitement. In the scene illustrated on the original dust jacket, and still featured on the cover, Nancy impersonates the apparation in a flowing gown and dark wig, only to come face to face with the ghost, who looks just like Nancy with titian hair in the same style as Nancy's current haircut. Nancy uncovers an espionage plot, and has a showdown with her evil twin on the river, in the exciting climax to the mystery.

Accusations of racism[edit]

The novel was extensively rewritten when it was re-released in 1961, partially because the original novel featured elements of racism that were considered unacceptable for the time. In the original novel, Nancy uses racial terms as far as describing potential replacement housekeepers who she has rejected (who are black, Irish, and Scotch). Also the character of Mary Mason, the novel's central villain, is described as "impudent," "dark-complexioned" girl, hinting at Jewish or Mediterranean descent. Nancy only realizes that Mary is involved in the theft after seeing her at an exclusive, upscale dress shop that Nancy frequents. Nancy comments in particular, upon seeing the Jewish or Mediterranean Mary in the store, "Surely a girl in her circumstances cannot afford to buy dresses at such a place as this."[2]

Other elements made a revision of the plot necessary: the book is the only one in which secondary characters (not including Nancy, her household, or group of friends) for an extensive passage of action. Further, the mystery doesn't really occur at Lilac Inn---although the theft does. Finally, with the sub-plots involving domestic drama and rather slower paced investigations while Nancy interviews several parties connected, the book did not lend itself well to add the increased action, danger, suspense, and drama by simply reducing the length of the text. Adult collector fans often agree to liking both versions of the book, even though revised stories are often less popular among adult readers.


The book was printed with a navy jacket and four glossy illustrations, all by artist Russell H. Tandy.[3]

In 1950, the cover art was updated with work by artist Bill Gillies. The text was completely rewritten by series owner Harriet Stratemeyer Adams in 1961. The cover art was changed again to reflect the new story, this time by artist Rudy Nappi, and internal plain paper illustrations were added. Only the first two printings of this volume were available in a dust jacket. The book's text and artwork remained the same when the publisher switched to picture-cover illustrated binding editions in 1962.

R.H. Tandy illustrated Nancy spying on the criminals in the original cover art, along with a frontispiece and three internal illustrations showing various elements of the story. He updated the frontispiece in 1943. In 1950, the dust jacket art was changed to show an updated version of Nancy with the crooks behind her. This art was not retained for the story revision in 1961, as the scene is eliminated by a completely different story. Rudy Nappi illustrates a ghostly picture of two girls illuminated by glowing lights in the cuff of their long-sleeved gowns. *The 1961 cover art appears to feature both Nancy, facing, and a mysterious dark-haired girl. In actuality, Nancy has her back to the reader, and is the dark-haired girl in the foreground; the other girl is actually Nancy's impostor.


  1. ^ Lundin, Leigh (1 June 2014). "Secrets of the Girl Sleuth". Orlando: SleuthSayers. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Benfer, Amy (7 October 1999). "What would Nancy do?". Salon. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Lundin, Leigh (28 May 2014). "The Secret of the Ageless Girl". New York: Ellery Queen. Retrieved 23 June 2014.