As a voracious pre-teen reader, I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, The Dana Sisters and Encyclopedia Brown mystery series. I loved the idea of someone who was close to being my age solving a mystery that had the adults in the story stumped. I loved them so much that I actually decided to write one of my own, starring a young teen detective that was similar to me. I even had the guts to submit it to Grosset & Dunlop who published the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries. (They rejected it, not seeing the virtue of a mystery set at a sleep-over camp, but I digress.)
But when I hit my teens, I discovered that there were no mystery series for YA readers, apart from Tin-Tin. Or at least, if there were any suitable YA mysteries back then, Sister Mary Paula didn’t know of them! So I plunged straight into the world of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and the gritty police procedurals of George Simenon. Mysteries set in small English towns, country house parties, or the mean streets of Paris were a far cry from taking exams, applying to colleges and worrying about what to wear to the Prom.
So I was excited as an adult to find the Bodies of Evidence series by Christopher Golden. If only I had had these books to read when I was in high school! There are ten books in the series, starring college freshman Jenna Blake who has a part-time job working for the medical examiner in her college town. If you are a fan of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta or the TV series Body of Proof, I urge you to scour your used book stores and libraries for this series. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that there are no more books in the series. Sophisticated and scary, in each book, Jenna has to solve a mystery while juggling exams, getting to know her estranged father better, her job at the morgue, and her forbidden attraction to an older cop.
Then there was the TV series Veronica Mars which ran for 3 seasons on UPN and then the CW. Veronica was Nancy Drew for the modern age. The series was set in the fictional town of Neptune, California, during the series, Veronica morphed from a high school student to college student while moonlighting as a private investigator under the tutelage of her detective father. Now Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game (my personal favorite), based on the best-selling books by Sara Shepard, keep teenagers (and adults) glued to their screen week after week following the twists and turns of the plot.
Teens nowadays are spoiled for choices. There are supernatural mysteries, historical mysteries, and futuristic mysteries. Writers such as Gemma Halliday, Amanda Brice, Bennett Madison, and Linda Gerber have written wonderful YA mysteries. Ally Carter hit big with her young adult thriller series The Heist Society and The Gallagher Girls. Big guns such as John Grisham (Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer), James Patterson (Maximum Ride series), Harlan Coben (Mickey Bolitar series) and Tom Clancy (Net Force Explorers series) have written young adult mysteries. Heck there are are series featuring James Bond and Sherlock Holmes as teenagers. Even the father of the detective novel himself, Edgar Allan Poe, has been reimagined as pre-teen!
While the teen sleuths of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mysteries spent more time solving mysterious disappearances and thefts, today’s YA mysteries are much grittier. In the old days, criminals might have confessed to their crimes while holding Nancy hostage, but readers never really feared for her life. Today’s young sleuths have to deal with potentially more dangerous criminals. The body count tended to be low back in River Heights when Nancy was doing her sleuthing, but teens today get a dose of the strong stuff, and if they’re like me, they’re probably happy for it!
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon loves to write about Scandalous Women & the men that loved them. Her first book, Scandalous Women, was published by Perigee Books in March 2011. Visit her at scandalouswoman.blogspot.com.