The Secret of the Old Clock

Although Don is the only one of us three siblings who has written a detective series (so far, anyway), all three of us grew up reading the original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. There’s nothing quite as much fun to read as a good mystery story, and these old classics top the list of our favourites. So naturally, one was sure to show up on Reading and Refreshments sooner or later.

We settled on the first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of the Old Clock, written in 1929. (Two girls vs. one boy in the family meant Nancy was awarded the honour over Frank and Joe.) We’ve all read The Secret of the Old Clock many, many times, but it’s always a pleasure to re-visit it and experience the thrill of meeting Nancy all over again. Nancy, with her iconic blue roadster and pretty frocks, her keen sense of justice and her insatiable love of sleuthing.

There was something about a mystery which aroused Nancy’s interest, and she was never content until it was solved.
– The Secret of the Old Clock

We meet her father, Carson Drew, the widely respected criminal lawyer.

As Nancy told the marshal her name and address, he glanced at her with new interest.
“So you’re the daughter of Carson Drew! I see you’re following in his footsteps. Starting in young, aren’t you?”
– The Secret of the Old Clock

Although Mr. Drew initially cautions his enthusiastic daughter about looking into the case of Josiah Crowley’s mysterious second will, he really is a partner in her efforts to uncover the missing document.

“Just a minute,” Carson Drew stopped her. “I wonder if you realize just what you are getting into, Nancy?”
“Why, what do you mean?”
“Only this. Detective work isn’t always the safest occupation in which to engage. I happen to know that Richard Topham is an unpleasant man when crossed. . . I didn’t want you to march off into battle without a knowledge of what, undoubtedly, you will be up against.”
“Yes, battle. Rest assured the Tophams won’t give up the [Crowley] fortune without a bitter struggle. However, if they attempt to make serious trouble, I promise to deal with them myself. I only wish I had the time to help you find the will.”
“And if I find it?”
“I’ll take the matter into court.”
“Oh, thank you! There’s no one like you in all the world.” [Nancy] darted from the room, permitting the office door to bang behind her.
– The Secret of the Old Clock

When a vicious storm forces Nancy to take refuge in an old farmhouse, and leads to a chance meeting with Allie and Grace Horner, two orphans that Josiah Crowley promised to provide for in his new will, she is more determined than ever to keep the fortune from falling into the grasp of the greedy, stuck-up Topham family.

“It would be a shame if all that money went to the Tophams! They will fly higher than ever.”
– The Secret of the Old Clock

Nancy receives a valuable “hunch” about the will’s hiding place from Abigail Rowen, another friend that Josiah Crowley had promised to see to in his will, and then it’s a race against time for Nancy to recover the document before the Tophams get their hands on it—and the fortune as well.

“Even if another will does turn up, we can trust dad to take care of it,” Isabel commented dryly.
“You mean he would—”
“Never mind what I mean,” Isabel insinuated darkly. “Mother and dad wouldn’t be simple enough to let that money get away from us.
– The Secret of the Old Clock

And it’s not only the Tophams that Nancy has to fight in her quest to uncover the old clock with its clue to the will’s hiding place, there are also over-attentive friends, balky motorboats, and a gang of robbers standing in her way. But Nancy, with characteristic determination, level-headedness, and ingenuity, overcomes it all in her resolve to bring justice and happiness to the Horner girls and Josiah Crowley’s other deserving relatives.

Eagerly, Nancy Drew tore the little notebook from the hook. The light was dim, but by holding the book directly under the dashlight, she could make out the words on the cover: “The Property of Josiah Crowley.”
“I’ve found it at last!” she cried.
– The Secret of the Old Clock

Although Nancy doesn’t often take time off to eat when on the case, she does agree to enjoy a slice of cake when visiting the Horner girls.

In a few minutes Grace returned to the living room bearing a tray which had been covered with a clean white napkin. She poured the tea and served the cake with as much poise as though she were gracing an elegant drawing room.
“I never tasted more delicious cake in all my life,” Nancy said warmly.
– The Secret of the Old Clock

Slicing up the Brownie Cake

So, of course, our refreshment for this month had to be cake—and this chocolate brownie one that Alexandra updated from a recipe she found in a 1929 recipe book may well prove to be the most delicious cake you’ve ever tried as well!

Eggless Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

If you decide to hold your own “Reading and Refreshments,” please let us hear about it! Tell us how your family enjoyed the book and whether or not you made the cake to go with it. If you can, send us a photograph as well. You can contact us at

The next instalment of “Reading and Refreshments” will be coming out in December. Read and enjoy!

Enjoying a Slice of  Eggless Chocolate Brownie Cake

Grace’s 1929 Chocolate Cake


2 cups (440 g.) brown sugar
½ cup (50 g.) cocoa powder
¼ cup (60 ml) hot water
1 tablespoon (15 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (290 g.) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 ml) cold water


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan, preferably one with a removable bottom.
  2. Place the brown sugar in a large bowl. In another, smaller bowl, mix together the cocoa powder and hot water to form a smooth paste. Stir in the butter.
  3. Add the cocoa-butter paste to the bowl with the brown sugar and beat well, until the mixture is smooth and cohesive.
  4. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  5. Dissolve the baking soda in the sour cream. Add the sour cream and the flour in alternating additions to the creamed mixture, stirring thoroughly and scraping down the bowl between each addition.
  6. Gradually stir the ¼ cup cold water into the batter and mix well.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and transfer to the oven.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F/160°C.
  9. Continue to bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out almost clean, with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
  10. Place the cake on a wire rack and cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
  11. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan, and lift off the outer part of the pan, if using one with a removable bottom. If your pan does not have a removable bottom, simply allow the cake to finish cooling completely in the pan before removing it.
  12. Allow the cake to finish cooling on the wire rack before lifting it off the inner part of the pan.
  13. Transfer to a serving platter and cut into thick wedges to serve.

Yield: 10 servings


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