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Middle-grade mysteries

The following novels show that puzzles can be solved by detectives both seasoned and green. These four sleuth stories — action-packed, suspenseful, and sometimes goofy — will lure in mystery-lovers.

Caroline Lawrence Case of the Deadly Desperados coverCaroline Lawrence’s The Case of the Deadly Desperados is a bang-up series starter told in flashback by young P.K. Pinkerton. P.K.’s story opens when a gang of outlaws, dressed as Indians, kills his foster parents. He escapes to Virginia City, “the vilest place on earth,” with a medicine bag his foster ma instructs him to take before she dies (it holds his “Destiny”). P.K.’s strongly voiced account succeeds as a rousing adventure that promises more action in another installment just around the corner. (8–12 years)

Philip Pullman Two Crafty Criminals coverPhillip Pullman’s Two Crafty Criminals!: And How They Were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang includes novellas Thunderbolt’s Waxwork and The Gas-Fitters’ Ball, first published in the UK in the 1990s. Set in Victorian London, the novellas feature a band of children who fancy themselves detectives. In the first story, the New Cut Gang clears a man of counterfeiting charges; in the second, they add matchmaking to their skills. Both tales contain lots of characters and lots of plot, with everything coming together in complicated, satisfying endings. (8–12 years)

Tom Angleberger Fake Mustache coverIn Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind, a spree of bank robberies strikes the wacky town of Hairsprinkle. Narrator Lenny Flem Jr. knows his best friend Casper is the culprit; it’s only with the aid of has-been preteen TV star Jodie O’Rodeo that Lenny can bring Casper to his knees. Goofy black-and-white illustrations by Jen Wang reinforce the story’s slapstick humor. (8–12 years)

Andrew Lane Rebel Fire coverRebel Fire, the second book in Andrew Lane’s Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series, sends young Holmes to America. He’s in pursuit of a seriously deranged John Wilkes Booth, whose gang has Sherlock’s sidekick Matty in its clutches. The detective’s journeys via ocean liner and train lead to cat-and-mouse games with the bad guys as well as to opportunities for the nascent detective to sharpen his skills. With smart and dignified pacing, there’s more action here than Conan Doyle’s Holmes probably saw in his entire lifetime. (9–13 years)

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is managing editor of The Horn Book Guide.



  1. James Armstrong says:

    Hi Katrina,

    I enjoyed your post looking at an interesting genre for young readers. Do you see the mystery/detective genre for middle grades gaining ground with publishers? Is this part of a larger trend?



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