Who doesn’t love a good sleuth? We both do, which is one of the reasons we ended up writing a new series together about three kids that solve mysteries together in a hotel for monsters (or, in our terminology, supernormals). In book one of the Supernormal Sleuthing Service, The Lost Legacy, we introduce readers to a secret governing body called the Octagon and culinary alchemy and the Hotel New Harmonia with floors specifically for the undead and a dragon in the basement and, of course, lots of mysteries. Meanwhile one of us (Gwenda) also writes a series of YA novels about Lois Lane as a teen sleuth/reporter. We like a sleuth, is what we’re saying.
What is it that fascinates us about them? It’s hard to narrow it down for the length of a post… particularly when you’re exploring it at book-length. But we’ll give it a shot. For starters, there’s something so universal about a story driven by people solving a mystery—sleuthing, as it were—that we can all identify with, even though we may not be recovering our family’s magical cookbooks, taking down villains, or solving murders (well, at least no one in our house is). What we do all do is puzzle our way through our daily lives, which are made up of endless mysteries as far as we’re concerned. Where do socks go? Why do we have a zillion bookmarks but none where we need them? Why do people eat licorice? And, of course, the heavy, existential crisis type questions: Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? How can we be good people? And though many sleuths end up enforcing the rules, just as often they break them to do it. There’s a sense of being in service to the higher calling of the truth, and so (at least in fiction, if not in life) bending the rules to find out crucial things becomes a part of the sleuth’s art. Sleuths are often outsiders. They often say and do things most of us don’t or can’t.
Not to mention, there’s an exploration to the art of detection that can often be simply fun to go along with as a reader or viewer. It’s a story being made as we watch. (Plus, phrases like “art of detection”! Or “Case of Whatever Random Excellent Combination of Words”!)
As you may have deduced, with our new series launching we thought we’d talk about a few of our favorite bookish sleuths—though there are many, many, oh-so-many we ended up leaving off the list. Seriously. So many.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I loved this book so much as a kid, I got in trouble for carrying around my own secret diary modeled on Harriet’s. To be fair, my observations of my friends and family’s activities and foibles were probably not particularly sophisticated. Or complimentary. But young me found Harriet’s prickly notes and inability to not chronicle what was going on around her—and then to pay the price for doing so—all too easy to relate to. —Christopher
A Spy in the House (and the rest of The Agency series) by YS Lee
Oh, how I love this series! How about an alternate Victorian England where a secret women’s detective agency, with a girl’s school attached, natch, exists? Yes, right. So much yes. Main character Mary Quinn has secrets of her own and like most of my favorite sleuths has a knack for getting in over her head and then coming out on top anyway. —Gwenda
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
We both read these as kids, but only I was a card-carrying member of a junior version of the Baker Street Irregulars. The attraction for me was never the mystery, but the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The interaction of their personalities was always a pleasure. I’m still a sucker for almost any variation on a Sherlock story, and have recently been rewatching Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Elementary. —Christopher
This is a little bit of a cheat, because of course it’s a short story, not an entire book. More’s the pity. Kelly Link is of course one of our most beloved literary lights now (and trivia alert: she introduced the two of us), but “The Girl Detective” was one of her first pieces, published by Ellen Datlow at Event Horizon (and still available online at Omni). Like so many of Kelly’s stories, it riffs on the conventions of and reinvents its subject matter at once. All the girl detective stories I grew up on are evoked by this story in a way that is still so fresh and pleasurable and perfect. “The girl detective has saved the world on at least three separate occasions. Not that she is bragging.” With sentences like this, how can you go wrong? —Gwenda
The Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur and others
We both read a lot of these packaged mysteries for kids as kids, and were drawn in by the creepy nature of many of the mysteries Jupiter Jones and his pals took on, like the whispering mummy. While most of the solutions were realistic in nature, there was the occasional ghost or hint of the “real” supernatural. I (Gwenda) was also obsessed with anything Alfred Hitchcock-branded, as these were in the beginning, with Hitchcock himself showing up in the books, a bonus. —Christopher and Gwenda
Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe are married, and the Supernormal Sleuthing Service series is their first writing collaboration. Gwenda Bond is also the author of several books for teenagers, including the Lois Lane and Cirque American YA series. Christopher Rowe is the author of many acclaimed short stories and his debut collection, Telling the Map, will be released by Small Beer Press in July. They live in a hundred-year-old house filled with monsters (not really) in Lexington, Kentucky. Find them on twitter @gwenda and @christopherrowe.