Imagining Nancy Drew at 90

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Robert Friedman

Eileen Haavik McIntire recently published the third in a series of mysteries set in a retirement community. The books feature a latter-day Nancy Drew-like character who’s in her 90s. McIntire and her husband Roger, who writes parenting books, manage their own titles through a publishing company they run out of their Columbia home.
Photo by Christopher Myers

Nancy carried the two bags of groceries out to her car, refusing the offers of help that greeted her every step of the way. Really, she thought, you’d think I was over 100 years old instead of just 90…

She reached her new silver-toned Prius, opened the trunk, and lifted the bags into it. Then she closed the trunk and stepped back, looking up into the startled eyes of the man at the next car.

“Watch out!” he shouted, reaching for her arm.

“Get out of the way!” another man yelled.

Nancy looked around in time to see a large sedan barreling toward her…

And we’re off and running — well, walking really fast for a 90-year-old — in Eileen Haavik McIntire’s latest “cozy mystery,” The 90s Club & the Secret of the Old Clock.

The novel is set mostly in the fictional Whisperwood Retirement Village, where Nancy Dickenson and her mentally and physically spry friends solve crimes, from scams to murders, that arise in the community.

“When I started writing the series, many expected my characters to be dribbling and creeping along with walkers,” said the 74-year-old author, who lives in Columbia.

“But I was inspired for the characters in the series after watching a slim, attractive woman gracefully swimming laps in a pool. I found out the woman was 91 years old. She became my model for what it means to be 90.

“Since then, I’ve been collecting articles about people in their 90s and 100s who are running marathons, racing canoes, working, and doing just about anything they want to do.”

One of the author’s goals, besides providing an entertaining story, is “to break the stereotype about the elderly, who are quite invisible,” McIntyre said. “I tell people my characters are 90 and active and alert and able. And readers have told me they know someone, or have relatives, who are exactly that way.”

Channeling Nancy Drew

If the three Nancy Dickenson novels (the first two areThe 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase andThe 90s Club & the Whispering Statue) are titled and read somewhat like mysteries confronting a nonagenarian Nancy Drew, the coincidences are purely on purpose.

“Nancy Drew would be about 90 now,” said McIntire, who “devoured” the girl detective’s tales when both were teenagers. The author noted that she drops clues in her books about the Nancy Drew-Nancy Dickenson connection.

For instance: When a visitor comes to Dickenson’s apartment in her latest mystery, she notices how sloppy a housekeeper the retired detective is. “That’s because Nancy Drew always had a housekeeper,” said McIntire, and you can’t teach old detectives new tricks.

“I bury my clues to the Nancy Drew stories in my books to challenge the reader,” said the author. The Secret of the Old Clock also happens to be the title of a Nancy Drew mystery circa 1930.

For those clueless about Nancy Drew mysteries, the protagonist is a teenage fictional detective who appeared in more than 300 books (sometimes along with the Hardy Boys) from 1930 to 2004. (She made a comeback in 2013.)

The books were ghostwritten by several authors who were handed plot outlines and then wrote the mysteries under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keane. They’ve been translated into more than 45 languages, and some 80 million copies have been sold.

The young sleuth has been cited as a formative influence by, among others, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former First Lady Laura Bush.

Self-publishing empire

McIntire’s career involved working for several nonprofits, including a company involved in agricultural research. “What’s coming out of there would really make good science fiction!,” she said.

She is now is a fulltime novelist, publisher and marketer for Summit Crossroads Press, a publishing house she owns and operates in Columbia with her husband, Dr. Roger McIntire.[See “Creating their own publishing company,” below.]

Roger is a child and family counseling expert, who writes and publishes books for parents. Eileen’s mystery writing wife is published by Amanita Books, the fiction imprint of Summit Crossroads. The McIntires have four grown children.

Eileen McIntire noted that she works on her novels from nine to noon daily, then does publishing company business from 1:30 to 5 p.m., “After that, I have other things to do,” she said.

McIntire is a member of the Chesapeake chapter of Sisters in Crime, which boasts some 3,600 members in 50 chapters worldwide. Members aren’t criminals, but rather women writers of mysteries — as well as readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and others — who band together to network and share advice and support.

The group was founded in 1986 in Baltimore. It also works to promote women writers in the mystery genre, which, until recently, had been overwhelmingly represented by male authors. “I’m really a strong advocate for making it fairer for women,” McIntire said. 

Now living with her husband in a single family home, she picked up some tips on senior villages when the couple lived for a year and a half at Riderwood, an Erickson retirement community in Silver Spring. The McIntires moved to Columbia when they needed more room as their publishing business grew.

In her books, the 90s club members reside in the fictitious Whisperwood Retirement Village in the mountains of West Virginia. The village is upscale and “more like a luxury resort, or like a cruise ship,” McIntire noted. “No one would call it an old folk’s home.”

And since the residents are “well-to-do and tend to be courteous and trusting, and less likely to report a fraud,” that’s where the scammers, and even killers, do their nefarious things in the McIntire novels.

“I had fun imaging a gang of online and telemarketing scanners setting up in one of the apartments,” said McIntire. “The retirement villages with 1,000 residents or more and all kinds of activities are better than Victorian mansions for mysterious possibilities.”

Genteel, not gory

The author is adamant in noting that her books are “cozy mysteries,” by which she means they “don’t dwell on blood or gore or sex or swear words.”

She added: “I stay away from drug deals. I write about a more genteel group of people than your corner druggie.”

Still, there is a murder committed in The 90s Club & the Secret of the Old Clock, and there are scams galore, attempted and achieved. But the crimes are carried out more within the tradition of an Agatha Christie, rather than a Mickey Spillane, mystery.

What is the secret of the old clock? Well, let’s just say it has historical significance, and you will have to take the 282-page literary trip among the non-stereotypical seniors to find out.