Investigate mysteries for young readers

"No One Else Can Have You," by Kathleen Hale (HarperCollins, January 2014). Photo Credit: HarperCollins

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One of the reasons mysteries are a pleasure to read is that they follow a formula: A puzzle is introduced, investigated and solved. The combination of familiarity and suspense is thrilling yet satisfying. Schools introduce the mystery genre early, and the very youngest readers grasp the conventions and styles of the form: Close observation and thoughtful deduction lead to the truth. The detective may be bumbling or clever, tough or timid; the atmosphere may be cozy, noir or tinged with horror.

So it's no surprise that mysteries, even those for young readers, often refer to the classics in the genre. Kippy Bushman, the reluctant-until-riled investigator in Kathleen Hale's "No One Else Can Have You" (HarperTeen, $17.99, ages 14 and older) reflects on her role: "I mean, every good crime drama has some dame slowing the whole thing down, right? And yes, I guess technically I'm the dame." Detectives in noir mysteries always seem to be kissing people they shouldn't, which makes the role a natural one for teenage girls. Kippy Bushman could be the hormone- addled teenager in any young-adult novel, but she kisses her first bad boy between prison bars.

"No One Else Can Have You" belongs to another subgenre, too: the Midwestern Gothic, as established by the film "Fargo." Midwestern Gothic pulls back the chintz curtain on neighborliness. Kippy discovers that the drawback to a town like Friendship, Wisconsin, where everyone knows each other and people end half their sentences with "you betcha," is that the law may easily be "a sheriff whose first thought after a murder is maybe I can pin it on that guy I don't like."

Teenage girl detectives inevitably compare themselves to Nancy Drew (or are compared unflatteringly to her by snarling suspects). Millicent, the intrepid high-school newspaper reporter in Beth Fantaskey's "Buzz Kill" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, ages 12 and older), takes Nancy Drew books out of the library for inspiration while investigating the murder of an unpopular football coach. This mystery becomes deliciously entangled with the mystery of an intriguing quarterback and his shady past. True to the Nancy Drew theme, "Buzz Kill" offers a fetching combination of adventure and wholesomeness, and any bookworm will love the subplot in which the crisis is betrayal by one's librarian (this is not a spoiler!).

As in adult mysteries, allusions to Sherlock Holmes are by far the most common. The detecting duo of Rohan Gavin's "Knightley and Son" (Bloomsbury, $16.99, ages 9-11) hit the London streets with the cry: "The game is afoot!" There are other references here, as well; Darkus Knightley and his dad prefer their sandwiches cut in "triangles, not squares," an instruction that, when repeated, comes to sound like James Bond's martinis ("shaken, not stirred"). Humor is a large part of the appeal of this book, not least because Darkus' dad, recently awakened from a coma, has a tendency to fall asleep at crucial moments.

The team of sleuths in Kate Messner's "Manhunt" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 8-12, third in the Silver Jaguar Society mysteries) are children whose parents form a secret society devoted to the protection of cultural artifacts. But the glamour of international travel and being on a first-name basis with thugs from all over the world doesn't prevent these detectives from experiencing the usual childhood concerns, such as: Why can't my parents leave my newborn sister's side for a moment and help me fight crime? Or, what is the correct way to address a letter that begins, "I have the Mona Lisa"?

Sherlock Holmes' legendary skills in observation often are translated to other odd skills in detective stories. In "Mystery on Museum Mile," debut of the Eddie Red Undercover series by Marcia Wells (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, ages 9-12), the sixth-grade sleuth's photographic memory and talent for drawing what he remembers help him hunt art thieves known as the Picasso Gang. Eddie is African-American, but he'd be the last to want that pointed out. Ever since his parents got obsessed with discovering their heritage, Eddie complains, it's been "Egyptian-goddess-this and Hausa-warrior-that and things have reached an extreme barf level around here."

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Ollie, the funny sidekick in last year's "Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking," has graduated to hero of his own book in "Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting," by Erin Dionne (Dial, $16.99, ages 10 and older). Although he has gone to a wilderness camp for relaxation after the excitement of Moxie's adventure, his ability to find hidden objects embroils him in a hunt for pirate treasure.

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