Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tahleen's Favorite Mystery Series

There are a lot of great mystery series out there, as I'm sure many of you know. I'd like to call your attention to two particular series that I'm a huge fan of—one is written for middle grade readers, but I highly encourage you to check them out. They're fast reads, and completely entertaining. The second series is written for adults, but they have great appeal for younger readers as well.

1. The Sammy Keyes Mysteries by Wendalin Van Draanen

I started reading this series in 6th grade, and haven't really stopped since. Sammy is snappy and sarcastic and very clever, especially when putting together clues that I can't fit together at age 24, let alone age 12. She's just really curious and will sort of spy to get the answers she wants, though she only does this in the name of justice. And this might annoy other people, but I absolutely love how she uses vocabulary that not many 7th-graders would—phrases and words that seem out of place but add so much to her character. Plus she names people according to how they appear to her if she doesn't know their names, which I think is hilarious.

These books do not shy away from tough stuff, either. In the 10 books I've read in this series, Van Draanen has included issues like homelessness, gangs, domestic abuse, underground meth labs, illegal gambling rings, and of course, murder attempts. These are no light mysteries with Scooby Doo endings; Sammy often gets herself into dark situations and narrowly escapes death a number of times. And yet, Van Draanen manages to keep the tone light throughout each book.

Also, did I mention she's secretly living with the Grams in an apartment complex for senior citizens because her mother is trying to make a name for herself in Hollywood? And that she has an archenemy named Heather who is hell-bent on sabotaging her? I still love these books. There are 12 in the series at this point in time, and I hope Van Draanen will continue to write them.

2. The Flavia de Luce Mysteries by Alan Bradley

Flavia is just a delightful character. Eleven years old and very precocious, this is a great mystery series with crossover appeal. Technically written for an adult audience, I've seen these on a number of lists for young adults as well. Flavia is the youngest of three sisters, with a single father trying to raise them alone after their mother's death when Flavia was just a baby. Fascinated by chemistry, Flavia has her own lab in their large estate, Buckshaw (despite her father's lack of funds—Flavia lets us know it was her mother who had money, not her father), and has a particular penchant for poisons. Though there are only three books in this series, Bradley will continue to add to it over the years. The fourth book is due to come out in 2012 and will be called I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. Oh yes, I forgot to mention: each title is a quote from some sort of literary piece, and I just love that. It looks like there will be six books altogether at this point. Jess reviewed the second in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, on The Broke and the Bookish not too long after its release—you can read it here.

Not only are the mysteries engaging and have unexpected endings that aren't always simple, they are a little portait of life in rural England just after World War II. Anyone who likes reading about small towns will love Bishop's Lacey.

If you get the chance to listen to these, please do. The narrator, Jayne Entwhistle, is just perfect and I love listening to her. You can hear the relish in her voice as Flavia recounts particularly juicy tidbits. I'm eagerly waiting for book three, A Red Herring Without Mustard, which I requested on CD from the library.

So what are your favorite mysteries? Are they series, or do you have a standalone you love?


  1. I've passed by The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a few times from newbooks magazine's sale....if it's still there on the next issue I'll grab myself a copy!

  2. I think my favorite mystery/detective novels are the Sally Lockhart series by Philip Pullman...they're set in Victorian London and are pretty awesome. :)

  3. I've heard a lot of good things about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I didn't know it was a mystery series! I will definitely check it out.

    I love the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie. I also remember Encyclopedia Brown from my childhood.

  4. Since mystery is my favorite genre, I have quite a few favorite series.

    Elizabeth George's Thomas Lynley
    Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs
    Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire
    Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone
    Bill Pronzini's Nameless

  5. I just had to comment! I LOVE Sammy Keyes! Skeleton Man is my favorite, but I love them all! I am soooo pleased to hear that someone else loves them too! I used to read them to my kids, now I have brought them into the middle school/high school media center where I work and so many more kids get to love them! Happy reading.

  6. Thanks for mentioning the audio version! I love audio books, always listen on my iPod/player to something. It is very nice to hear from you that the narrator is just perfect, going to give it a try...

    ~ Sorilla

  7. Totally agree. I'm listening to the Weed that Strings... after listening to the first one several months ago. Wonderful narration, and Flavia is one of my favorite characters EVER. I think I wanted to be her when I was 11 ......

  8. Those are both series that I intend to try in the future. Nice picks!

  9. Thanks all! And Beverly, I'm so glad you like them too! I don't meet a lot of people who've read them, but they are just outstanding.