Mystery novels have often appealed to people with jobs that are never fully resolved (doctors, pastors, social workers). In this cultural era of many-problems-few-resolutions, reading a good mystery can be a refreshing break.
Our 12-year old daughter is the most avid, prolific reader I know! We teamed up to create a list of mysteries for all ages of independent readers. The recos below are listed with increasing age levels in mind, but no specific age parameters (as a mature, well-read, near-teen, she has read up to Agatha Christie on this list).
The Boxcar Children
Like most series I've embraced (and pushed) as a parent, Gertrude Chandler Warner's novels are old and well, kind of precious. Like reading Little House on the Prairie, the kids are living a life of a completely different era that is almost inconceivable to a child of 21st century privilege!
For light intrigue, family cohesion, and good old fashioned fun, this series offers plenty of content! (19 original books; another ~150 written by other authors after Warner's death)
Nancy Drew Clue Crew,
Nancy Drew Diaries,
& Nancy Drew
Nancy Drew is a great character who has stood the test of time. Her likeable family & friends and interesting mysteries have enthralled generations, generating offshoots of TV, film, and (of course) various book series. Here are a few options for different levels of maturity.
Nancy Drew Clue Crew books are appropriate for a younger audience looking for a fun mystery. Examples of their conundrums include: investigating a sea monster at the beach while on vacation; someone stole a friend's ice cream recipe. Sweet, wholesome books perfect for developing readers.
The Nancy Drew Diaries are for an audience in the middle. The problems become a bit more serious: stolen items, seemingly supernatural disappearances & the like. More contemporary (settings & circumstances) than the originals.
Both of these series always have new books coming out, so if a young reader is a fan, there are more tales to look forward to. I had assumed that "Carolyn Keene" was an author who write the original novels, then passed away (with her name carried on with the books). Wrong! I learned that this name has always been a pseudonym for a group of authors who produced the stories.
The original Nancy Drew books (written 1930-2003) are more intense in terms of subject matter. A child's parents have died, and her guardians are not who they claim to be. Kidnapping, drugs, & legitimately threatening foes are dangers in these tales.
In all of the ND books, Nancy is a strong, bold, confident girl with friendships she values. Smart & suspenseful, there is a Nancy Drew for just about anyone!
The Pumpkin Falls Mysteries
Truly Lovejoy has moved with her family to Pumpkin Falls, and begins solving the mystery of an undelivered letter, making friends along the way (and starting a detective agency).
These three books (and counting) by Heather Vogel Frederick are middle grade, cozy mysteries akin to Alexander McCall Smith's adult offerings (more on him below). Less emphasis on the mysteries than Nancy Drew, but more than Harriet the Spy. :)
Eric Wilson’s Canadian Mysteries
Another blast into the past, these short, topical crime capers were written to appeal to Wilson's eighth-grade students. The plots are improbable, but the adventures and intrigue are dramatic & exciting. Each story is specific to a setting in Canada, filled with unique facts & historical data. A blend of Hardy Boys-style adventure and Agatha Christie-style detection (with some red herrings along the way), this series is a deep cut that well-read middle schoolers may enjoy.
Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible! (That’s about 100 million copies, in 100 different languages, for reference). Christie’s mysteries — many centred around two main characters: detective Hercule Poirot (33 novels) and Miss Jane Marple (12 novels) — have captivated masses of curious readers... but, how to tackle her 66-book canon?
Here are some highlights to try:
- Death on the Nile (Poirot)
- Murder on the Orient Express (Poirot)
- Evil Under the Sun (Poirot)
- A Murder is Announced (Marple)
- A Murder at the Vicarage (Marple)
- And Then There Were None
- The Crooked House
- Remembered Death (aka Sparkling Cyanide)
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Following Botswana's leading (and only) female private detective, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is “cozy crime” at its best. Less murder & gore... more deceptive family members & stolen goods. All digested with a slow cup of tea and plenty of wit.
I have not read any of Alexander McCall Smith’s Detective Varg novels, but I suspect that these “Scandanavian Blanc” (as opposed to Noir) -genre books would make for more lazy-day pleasures.
Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series
Penny’s 16-book (and counting) series has captivated readers who are keen on crime fiction with literary depth. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and a cast of characters live in the idyllic Quebec township of Three Pines, a comforting community of quirky people (and a disproportionate number of murders!)
Readers who discover Three Pines seem to be nothing less than enraptured, but FYI: professional reader, Anne Bogel, notes to those new to the series: “Book 1 is leisurely paced. In books 2 and 3 the murders are kind of weird—not graphic, but weird. I think Penny hits her stride with book 4.”