Does the notion of a detective conjure the image of a man in a coat, with a hat and a pipe? If so, you’ve probably missed a lot of great Tween Lit. Today’s best detectives are in middle or high school, and are battling popularity and homework as furiously as Holmes ever fought Moriarty, all while tracking down a killer one step ahead of the grownups and police. Seriously, for tweens through adults who are mystery fans- if you haven’t read any of these mysteries featuring younger sleuths, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams
Detective: Ingrid Levin-Hill
Hometown: Echo Falls
Sidekick: Joey Strade, Police Chief’s son, and former face in the crowd who is starting to grow up, look good, and invite Ingrid to dances and monster truck rallies.
Hero: Sherlock Holmes
Case Notes: Actress, soccer player, Sherlock Holmes worshiper, eighth grader- Ingrid has plenty on her plate before a local eccentric woman is found dead and Ingrid was not only the last person (aside from the killer) to see her alive, but has left her bright red Puma cleats at the murder scene, making her a prime person of interest. She needs to solve the crime before Chief Strade arrests her or the killer learns she’s on to them (or her distraction loses her the lead role of Alice in the local production of Alice in Wonderland…). Highlights of the book include the fully realized supporting characters- Grampy and the Chief in particular- and Ingrid’s constantly reasoning, “What would Sherlock do?”
Books in Series: 3
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Detective: Turtle Wexler
Hometown: Westing Towers
Sidekick: Sandy the Doorman, Baba
Hero: Sam Westing
Case Notes: Mystery or not, this is a fabulous read. And it happens to be a very odd mystery as well. A motley group of seemingly unrelated people are all given the opportunity to move into a high end high rise condo. Then they find out they do have a connection- every single one of them is a suspect in the death of Sam Westing, the Westing Paper Company millionaire. Paired together and given a strange set of clues, the team that solves the puzzle will inherit the Westing estate. 13 year old Turtle (Tabitha to her mother) is determined to be the one to do it.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Detective: Nobody “Bod” Owens
Hometown: Somewhere in contemporary Britain
Age: young teen
Sidekick: Silas ( maybe more a “guardian” than sidekick)
Case Notes: When Bod’s (short for Nobody) family are killed by the man Jack, he is taken in by a family of ghosts in a graveyard, which becomes his home. But Jack and his evil organization are still after Bod, and he has to keep himself protected, and maybe even overcome the men Jack. In a kind of 21st-century ghostly version of The Jungle Book, Bod is raised from babyhood to his teen years by a community of graveyard spirits: ghouls, witches, and ghosts from different historical periods. Bod has a series of adventures as he comes of age and solves the mystery of his birth family’s murder and the villains who continue to search for him. He also learns the skills he will need to take on life beyond the safety of the Graveyard. At times disturbing–with some scary and dark moments–this is definitely an appropriate book for kids grade 5 and up.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Hometown: New York City
Sidekick: (I can’t remember the kids name)
Hero: Meg Murray, or maybe Madeleine L’Engle
Case Notes: Though A Wrinkle in Time may be Miranda’s favorite book, it doesn’t mean she believes that time travel is possible. Or is it? When her best friend Sal stops talking to her and she receives a series of puzzling notes that seem to be from someone in the future, she has to figure out what’s going on, who and what to trust, and if she believes in the possibility of time travel, in order to change events in the future and save someone’s life. All while navigating the challenges of middle school, new friendships (some with old enemies) and helping her Mom prepare for $20,000 Pyramid.
Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison
Detective: Lulu Dark
Hometown: Halo City
Hero: definitely NOT Nancy Drew
Case Notes: “Girl detectives are prissy busybodies…” believes Lulu who doth a bit too much protesting about her disdain for Nancy Drew as she sets about trying to find the thief of her favorite purse. The chase uncovers a Lulu doppelganger who hates her and steals her identity (including her chance to hook up with a rock star) and now it’s personal. While a bit too Nancy Drew meets Gossip Girl, it is a light and fun read.
Books in Series: 2
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Detective: Calder Pillay
Sidekick: Petra Andalee (and Tommy, in the next two books)
Hero: Ms. Hussey
Case Notes: A missing Vermeer. Pentominos. Blue M&M’s. A funny, beloved and suddenly nervous teacher. A mysterious old lady. Coincidences? Calder and Petra come to believe not, and set out to solve the mystery that has adults baffled, and unable to even see the clues that seem so clear to the kids. Fans of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will appreciate the art in this mystery- or the mystery of this art. Any adults who remember the Hawkeye and Amy books will appreciate the drawings with clues… Caution: this mystery will make you suddenly obsessed with getting your own set of pentominos and learning more about Vermeer.
Books in Series: 3
The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer
Detective: Enola Holmes
Hometown: Now residing in London
Sidekick: no one- in fact, her name backwards is “Alone”
Hero: Sherlock Holmes, elder brother
Case Notes: Perhaps you are familiar with Sherlock’s older (fatter) brother, Mycroft? But did you know they had a much younger sister, Enola? After their father passes away, Enola is raised by her (their) eccentric mother, Lady Eudoria, who mostly leaves Enola to her own devices. When her mother disappears, and Sherlock and Mycroft arrive to pack their younger sister off to finishing school, she decides she must take matters into her own (capable) hands, and sets off on her own to find her mother. On the way, she stumbles into another mysterious disappearance (the missing marquess of the title), and discovers she has deductive powers to rival her famous older brother (whom she also happens to resemble). The mystery is interesting, but not nearly so hard to deduce as the problem of how she will stay out of reach of a brother with superior abilities of reasoning, who retains his less than enthusiastic opinion of women (family included).
Books in Series: 6
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers
Detective: Theodosia Throckmorton
Sidekick: often pesky, sometimes helpful younger brother, Henry and Sticky Will
Hero: if she were aware of her, it would be Amelia Peabody
Case Notes: Part Indiana Jones, part Amelia Peabody, part Nancy Drew and part Harry Potter, Theo is an amazing girl. Left primarily to her own devices by an absentminded father who is curator of an Egyptology Museum and an adventuress archaeologist Mother, Theo has the run of the museum. That means that she has ample time to detect the ancient curses embedded in some of the artifacts. She spends her time trying to teach herself enough of the old magic to un-do these curses before they can do any damage. So she has her work more than cut out for her when one of the new artifacts that her mother brings back could unleash the Serpents of Chaos, and if used by the Nazi’s it could destroy the British Empire. Theo has to find a way to get to Egypt and stop them, all while navigating the dangerous world of international secret societies. Can she do it? The publication of two subsequent adventures indicates that yes, she can.
Books in Series: 3
Detectives: Amy and Dan Cahill
Hometown: Northeast United Sates
Ages: Amy-14; Dan-11
Sidekick: Nellie Gomez is their au pair, but acts as their sidekick
Hero: Benjamin Franklin, for one
Case Notes: Amy and Dan’s rich grandmother dies and leaves a will offering family members a choice: they can take a million dollars and walk away or take the riddle and solve the clues to mysteries and learn why their family is the most powerful family in history. Dan and Amy take up the challenge just as their grandmother had hoped-and they aren’t the only ones to opt for the 39 clues. Many of their wacky and villainous family members enter the competition as well. Along the way each family team learns how they are related to many great people in history from around the world. But can they solve the mystery?
Books in Series: 8 currently, 2 more with publication dates in 2010…
Silent to the Bone by E. L. Konigsburg
Detective: Connor Kane
Hometown: somewhere in Suburbia (USA)
Sidekick: Margaret, Connor’s older half-sister
Hero: Definitely not au pairs and babysitters!
Case Notes: Branwell Zamborska, Connot’s best friend, is a lover of words–until the night of a tragedy when he goes mute in the midst of a 911 call. Connor and his sister Margaret must use their detective skills to unravel the events of that night, when Bran’s baby sister was shaken and goes into a coma. The plot unfolds as Connor meets with Bran at the juvenile detention center where he is being held and slowly begins to communicate with his now-mute friend. A psychological thriller as well as a suspenseful detective novel.
The Law of Three: A Sarah Martin Mystery by Caroline Rennie Pattison
Detective: Sarah Martin
Hometown: Muskoka, Ontario
Sidekick: Byron Hopper
Hero: No heroes for this sensible detective
Case Notes: Sarah is a bit of an outsider when she moves to a small town ( Muskoka). When she is assigned long-time resident Byron Hopper as a partner for a project in school, she discovers you don’t have to be new to town to be an outsider. Byron’s sister Garnet is rumored to have committed a murder, and Sarah takes on the investigation to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding this murder. Is Byron’s family part of a witness protection program? Are they devil worshipers? What do their Wiccan beliefs have to do with the murder mystery? Sarah is very much a modern Canadian Nancy Drew!
Books in the Series: 2 so far
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Hometown: London, England
Case Notes: Ted doesn’t think like other people. Obsessed with the weather, and any numerical and statistical ordering, he just thinks differently (though never stated, he exhibits Asperger’s Syndrome symptoms). Which just might make him the only person able to think in the right way and discover what happened the day his visiting cousin Salim got on the London Eye, but never got off. Concocting possible scenarios and assigning statistic probability of occurrence, Ted can use the unusual way that his mind is wired to come to the truth. Finding Salim could prove easier for Ted than decoding the tricky world of personal relationships and overcoming his own unique challenges.