I have spent a lot of my reading time this month improving my mystery writing skills. How do you do that? Well, you spend a lot of time reading mystery books. I started with going back to my earlier mystery experience and re-read a Nancy Drew mystery, then binge read a lot of Janet Ivanovich, and finished it off with a middle-grade mystery series. So I’ve lots to share with you in this month’s blog.
The Secret of The Old Clock (Nancy Drew Mystery 1) by Caoline Keene
I can’t remember how old I was when I first read a Nancy Drew book. I know I hadn’t started High School yet, and I thought Nancy Drew was the coolest because she was allowed to drive all over the countryside by herself, and she always wore such smart clothes. Now I realise that the book was set in the 1040’s when the world was slower paced and she dressed appropriately for a teenager in time.
I read the 80th anniversary addition of the first Nancy Drew book, and it’s still compelling reading. Is it dated? Yes and no. I mean there are things that now as an adult I can see date the book, but there are also many things that are timeless.
Nancy is a main character who always wants to do the right thing, and she has a nose for mystery. A smart, intelligent girl, she always uses her brain to get to the bottom of things. There is a little bit of drama along the way, and she does flirt with danger; but it’s not danger as we know today because the everything was just a little gentler back then.
The mysteries to be solved are things people would come across every day, in The Secret of the Old Clock it’s a missing will, which makes it easier to identify with Nancy as a sleuth. The story moves along quickly, and I actually found it hard to put down even though I remembered what happened part way through the book. If you or your children like a good old mystery, then you can’t go past a Nancy Drew book.
The Big Kahuna by Janet Ivanovich and Peter Ivanovich
Janet Ivanovich is the master of the comedic/mystery/romance genre. Her books are fast paced, laugh out loud hilarious and contain a number of outrageous caricatures and always a frisson of attraction between the main characters. Under all of that though, they are in essence great mystery stories. I read a number of her books this month, but have chosen The Big Kahuna because it ends up in Queenstown, New Zealand, a place where I spent many a summer holiday.
FBI Agent Kate O’Hare, and her partner con man Nicholas Fox, are tasked with finding a missing Tech Guru, which uncovers a much larger international plot that will risk world peace. Using a mixture of gold old leg work, undercover activities, and charm, Fox and O’Hare follow the mystery from the USA to Hawaii to New Zealand to Prague.
Along with an internet influencer, a surfing drop out, an ex-marine, and an FBI desk jockey, the couple risk their lives, blow things up, and basically cause mayhem round the globe while they try to prevent an international disaster. The characters in this book are big, the mystery many layered, and the laughs come from the belly.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Ivanovich binge session and no doubt will delve into another one soon, there are still some Stephanie Plumb novels I haven’t read yet.
The Magic Sapphire (A Decoders Mystery) by Alba Arango
I wanted to read a modern middle grade mystery, and the cover of this book caught my eye. Not always the best way to chose a book, but in this instance it turned out to be a positive experience.
Steve, Matt and Jenny find a map to pirate treasure, but they have to solve some riddles to reach find the legendary sapphire. Set against them and aiming to beat them to the sapphire is an international jewel thief.
The children are helped along the way by a friendly cafe owner, and a friend who acts as backup and is intent on writing up their escapades for the public. There is a good mix of danger, problem solving, and adversaries making this a promising first book in a mystery series.
In my mind as I read I was unintentionally comparing this to Nancy Drew, and I have to say it stacked up quite well. The characters were more diverse and modern, and I liked that the three children all had something to contribute to the solving of the case. It did lack some of the real characters we expect from the cosy mystery genre, but the story was fast paced and and kept me hooked all the way through, and had a little twist at the end I didn’t expect. This would be great reading for any middle-grade child.
Apart from having a month reading some really good books, I also learnt that a good mystery is solved by a mixture of brain power, luck and putting yourself on the line. It takes compelling, relatable main characters, a bad guy that is not too sinister and some side characters who are almost caricatures; leaving me to believe that while these books seem simple to the reader, they’re like a Beatles song—more than they seem on the surface.