Book Review: Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald, Allen & Unwin

A rollicking coming-of-age mystery, full of sincerity and humour.

Nancy Business is R.W.R. McDonald’s second Nancys novel about 12-year-old Tippy Chan and her uncles, Devon and Pike. Set in the small town of Riverstone in rural New Zealand, Tippy’s uncles are visiting from Sydney in her school holidays. The previous year (and in the previous book) the trio founded the Nancys, an amateur detective group based on Tippy’s love of the Nancy Drew books, and together they solved the murder of Tippy’s teacher. At the beginning of this book, Tippy’s uncles have just arrived back in town and they’re holding a memorial for the first anniversary of Tippy’s Dad’s death in a car accident. Then, not 24 hours later, a bomb explodes in the main street of Riverstone, destroying several buildings, including the town hall, and killing three people.

Before they know it, the Nancys are back on the case, trying to find out if the well-liked and apparently harmless Mr Tulips really did commit such a terrible crime. But in between trying to get to the truth, Tippy’s uncles are fighting, her Mum is preoccupied, and everyone seems to be keeping secrets from her and each other. Can they solve the mystery of the bombing before anyone else gets hurt? Can her uncles work out their differences… or is this the end of the Nancys?

This is a fun, enjoyable read with loveable characters, excellent one-liners, and brilliant humour. With the story told from Tippy’s perspective, the world of her small town and her loving but sometimes incommunicative family is given an innocence and a sincerity that would not be achieved by telling it from an adult’s perspective. It is this sincerity and humour, together with Tippy’s gradual coming-of-age, that makes this story special.

The mystery, although an interesting thread to keep the story together, is secondary to the characters and their dramas and shenanigans. There are times when the story relies a little heavily on what was set up in the first book, but not so much that I couldn’t immerse and enjoy myself in its sequel. The ending certainly sets it up for another installment, so I would expect a third Nancys book at some point in the future.

I’d recommend this book to lovers of cosy mysteries (although it is not strictly a cosy mystery), coming-of-age stories, and stories of inclusive, joy-ridden queer families.

Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760878870
Pages: 368pp
Publication date: June 2021
RRP: $29.99

Jemimah is a Gippsland-based writer and editor working in fiction, creative nonfiction, and newsletters. She reads and reviews books, edits work for other writers, and publishes the fortnightly Substack newsletter The Brew. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.