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Nancy Drew is dead! Don't worry, Hardy Boys are on the case

New York

THE Hardy Boys stand over Nancy Drew's grave. The beloved teen detective, who has survived countless scrapes, cliffhangers and close calls, is dead - or so it seems - killed while pursuing a high-stakes investigation of organised crime. And it's up to the Hardy Boys to solve the mystery of her murder.

What a way to celebrate the 90th anniversary of an unstoppable female hero.

The forthcoming comic book series Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew! was intended to commemorate the publication in April 1930 of the first Nancy Drew book by putting a noirish spin on the classic tale of the roadster-driving, truth-seeking sleuth from River Heights.

But the possibility that Nancy - whose pluck and valour have helped her triumph over villains since the Great Depression - was murdered infuriated some of her passionate fans. It also sent her name trending on Twitter on Friday.

"I'm very surprised" by the blowback, said Anthony Del Col, who wrote the series, which is to be published by Dynamite Entertainment in April.

Del Col said he had envisioned the story as a continuation of a previous series he wrote for Dynamite in which Nancy and the Hardy Boys team up to solve the murder of the boys' father, Fenton, a crime that the boys themselves stand accused of committing.

As in that series, he said, the gritty settings and dark themes in the The Death of Nancy Drew! were inspired by the conventions of film noir.

"What we tried to do is create one of the ultimate mysteries of Nancy Drew," he said. "How did she die? Who killed Nancy Drew?" Perhaps the bigger question on the minds of fans: Is she really dead? Del Col refused to say, adding only that readers of the series would find "more than meets the eye."

Some Nancy Drew readers said the possibility that Nancy had been killed, even if she turns up alive in the end, smacked of crass marketing, particularly for a character who has been embraced as a feminist role model.

Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor are among the women who have cited Nancy as an early influence.

"The idea of killing her really flies in the face of her appeal as a character - if they have killed her, which we don't actually know," said Melanie Rehak, the author of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her.

"As an idea, it goes against something really fundamental about her - which is that she's able to get herself out of situations because she's resourceful and clever," Rehak said.

If Nancy's death is merely a marketing tactic to generate interest in the series, it is a "peculiar choice," Rehak said.

"It certainly reads as silencing her once and for all," she said.

Some Nancy Drew fans also complained that killing Nancy and having the Hardy Boys work to crack the case played into antiquated gender stereotypes, just the kind Nancy herself tried to upend in her books, which have sold more than 80 million copies.

"I doubt Nancy Drew is really dead," Karen Jensen, a librarian and the creator of a website for teen librarians, wrote on Twitter. However, Ms Jensen added: "Taking the lead female out of her anniversary story so boys can investigate her death is an odd and probably misogynistic way to celebrate a profoundly important female character in literature."

Others said they were intrigued by Del Col's plotline.

"I'm excited to see what his take on this is, and how it's going to pan out, and is she really dead," said Jennifer Fisher, who has written about Nancy Drew and hosted Nancy Drew conventions and a fan club.

Ms Fisher said she consulted with Del Col while he was writing his previous series about the death of the Hardy Boys' father and emailed with him while he was developing the early concept for The Death of Nancy Drew!

"Anthony has this great way of getting people talking like he's doing with this, and getting fans fired up," she said.

Nancy has captivated readers since she first sprang to life as the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, the head of a children's literature syndicate who created the Hardy Boys in 1927.

Mr Stratemeyer gave the plotlines for the first Nancy Drew stories to Mildred Wirt, a young newspaperwoman, who fleshed out the books, which were published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Wirt, later Mildred Wirt Benson, wrote Nancy Drew books off and on for two decades.

Rehak said the intense reaction to Del Col's comic book series showed the enduring power of Nancy Drew, even as she has been reimagined over the decades in books, movies, television shows and video games.

"She's still so powerful as a character that it creates an immediate firestorm," Rehak said. "I think that's very significant. There are other characters who would not provoke such outrage." NYTIMES