Of mysteries — both reading and writing them…

a magnifying glass over a selection of wordsI surprised myself this spring when I began writing a middle-grade mystery, and found that I was enjoying the process thoroughly. (Since it’s for middle grade readers, it has no goriness in it. My kind of book!)

When I think about it, though, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Although my mystery reading as an adult has been sporadic, as a child I read the popular kids’ mysteries over and over (and over) again.

I started, as I’m sure many other kids of my era did, with The Bobbsey Twins — extremely innocuous mysteries, but still there was a tinge of mystery in them. It amazes me to learn that the first Bobbsey Twins book was published in (are you ready for this?) 1904. The versions I was familiar with show up in a listing from stratemeyer.org after the questions “Who Rewrote the Bobbsey Twins?”

Does anyone besides me remember the Tuckers? This was a much shorter series than the Bobbseys, written by a couple of women under the pseudonym Jo Mendel. (Of course, when I was growing up, I assumed Laura Lee Hope, Jo Mendel, Carolyn Keene, etc. were real people.) I loved all five of the Tucker kids, especially irrepressible Merry, and serious, deep-voiced five-year-old Tom. When I searched for information on this series, I found a delightful (and truthful) blog post. When you click on the link, be sure to read the comments, as there is… no, I’m not going to tell you. I want you to read the whole post, and then all the comments, so you’ll see what delighted and touched me so.

As so many other girls of my generation (and earlier) did, I “graduated” to Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames (with the occasional foray into the Hardy Boys.) However, once again my favorite of these mass-produced series was a more obscure one — Donna Parker. Although there were mysteries in the Donna Parker books, they weren’t the sole focus as they were in the Nancy Drew books. This was the feature that I appreciated in the Bobbseys and the Tuckers as well.

As I got into my high school years, I discovered Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and in my college years read every one of Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi mysteries — but it was much tamer fare that shaped my thoughts about middle grade mysteries.

Fast forward to this spring, and my surprise mystery-writing project. One of the things I liked about the Bobbsey Twins books is that in what I consider the best of them, such as The Bobbsey Twins in Washington, I learned a great deal while also having fun solving the mystery. This shows up in the mystery I’m writing, as well. I’ve tried to make the learning a part of the story and of the mystery, and I hope that will entertain as well as teach. The book was written in a very organic manner — I didn’t consciously plan out clues and red herrings and such. Now, as I’m thinking further about mysteries, I think it would be fascinating to do this sort of plotting and planning in my next mystery.

What’s that? Next mystery? Yes — I enjoyed writing this one so much that I’m sure I will be writing others. In fact, I can hardly wait!

But right now, I need to get back to reading… a friend has got me interested in the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries. (If you can find the BBC DVD of Gaudy Night starring Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Walker as Harriet Vane, watch it!)

Did you read mysteries as a child? Which ones?

6 thoughts on “Of mysteries — both reading and writing them…”

  1. I wasn’t a big mystery reader but I did read most of the Nancy Drew books. And then, oddly, not having read any of the others you mentioned, I did read and loved Donna Parker books. Hadn’t thought about them in decades though so thanks for the short trip down memory lane. 😉

  2. I was a rabid Nancy Drew fan 🙂 I have the whole series! I also dabbled in the Hardy Boys. I am still an avid mystery reader. Like you I read all of Agatha Christie. I loved the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. I read Sue Grafton and Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner and my brother has recently gotten me hooked on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels… And yet with all that, I’ve never written one!

  3. I too loved the Bobbsey Twins as they combined travel and mystery. I didn’t read much Nancy Drew but have lately. I enjoyed Trixie Belden and Donna Parker. I liked the fact that the girls were clever enough to get themselves out of a pickle. All of these books influenced me as a writer of children’s travel/adventure books. Yes, there is always a bit of a mystery, but nothing too scary for young minds. I’m excited that you are writing mystery books for middle readers. Best of luck!

  4. I started reading mysteries when my English was good enough to read Agatha Christie in English, In fact, I learned a lot of English from her books. Later came Dorothy Sayers, Ngaoi Marsh, Josephine Tey, Conan Doyle, Robert van Gulik, Harry Kemelman, Ellis Peters. And some classical Dutch ones, like Ivans (who started writing because of a boast of his that he could write as good Sherlock Holmes stories as Conan Doyle; and they are indeed very nice). All good, old-fashioned mysteries. I don’t like most of the modern ones, too much gore, too much sex, and too much so called ‘psychology’.
    Thanks for the Gaudy Night tip, Beth. The book is one of my favourite Dorothy Sayers.
    And good luck with your mystery. I woulkd love to read it.

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