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Thomas Taylor on his Favourite Children's Mystery Novels

Posted on 1st June 2020 by Mark Skinner

Thomas Taylor's Malamander was one of the breakout children's books of last year and now the author and illustrator returns with the second in the Legends of Eerie-on-Sea series, Gargantis. In this exclusive piece, Thomas reveals his passion for a good mystery novel and selects his favourite examples of the genre.   

I’ve never believed that reading is a passive pursuit. As a reluctant reader turned library-lover, I found out first-hand how a passing acquaintance with reading can become a passion with the discovery of the right book. And perhaps the genre that did more to turn my head – and keep me turning pages too – is also the one that demands the most reader participation: mystery. Because with a well-written mystery novel, it almost feels like the reader is there, beside the hero, detecting crimes, uncovering secrets, and trying to be the first to piece together the clues.

Here are a few children’s mysteries I have loved recently.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong form the entire membership of the Deepdean School for Girls Detective Society. But their sleepy casebook is tragically enlivened when Hazel finds their science teacher’s dead body! Daisy and Hazel have to pull out all the stops in this classic ‘Golden Age’ whodunnit mystery to uncover the truth. Not least because the body itself disappears, leaving our intrepid schoolgirl duo on a race to not only uncover a murderer in their midst, but also prove that a crime was committed at all. Charming, exciting, and surprisingly fresh despite the 1930s setting, this is a very fine opener to a brilliant series.

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The first instalment of the hugely popular Wells and Wong detective stories for children, Stevens’s note-perfect pastiche of Golden Age crime mysteries is a brilliantly realised and compelling boarding school adventure.
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Potkin and Stubbs by Sophie Green

Aspiring reporter Lil Potkin has a nose for secrets. She lives in the deliciously imagined ‘film noir’ world of Peligan City – a place of hotdog stands, raincoats and puddles, and flickering neon beneath an Art Deco skyline.  Oh, and ghosts. Or one ghost at least – the ghost of a boy called Ned Stubbs who vanished years before and who’s fate may contain the key to a wider mystery. Lil teams up with washed-up police detective, Absolom Mandrel, whilst also partnering with the ghost of Ned who Mandrel cannot see, leading to tension and humour as the mismatched trio work the case. 

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Unsolved mysteries and journalistic ambitions meet in this spooky and spellbinding story about friendship, determination and setting wrongs to right. Lil Potkin, her newly acquired ghostly friend and a once-famous detective come together to investigate some past crimes, embarking on an adventure where wits, bravery and having an invisible team member will come handy.
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The Mysterium by Julian Sedgwick

Danny Woo is trained in sleight-of-hand, stage magic and the circus arts, giving him a cocktail of abilities young readers must surely admire. Yet what he has in ability, he lacks in knowledge of his past, of the circumstances of his parents’ death and of the mysterious organisation known as The Forty Nine. Danny teams up with strong-man dwarf – and one-time member of the Mysterium Circus – Major Zamora, as he embarks on an investigation that will take him from England to the gang-haunted streets of Hong Kong, in search of the truth.

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Gripping, pacy and utterly addictive, The Black Dragon invites you on an extraordinary adventure with a mysterious circus at its heart. Jam-packed with action, tantalising puzzles, sinister twists and unexpected turns, these pages pack a journey of epic proportions.
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The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Ted has Asperger’s syndrome, and a fascination for details. This aptitude for observation comes to the fore when his cousin Salim vanishes in extraordinary circumstances. How can a boy climb aboard the London Eye and disappear from a sealed pod? Working with his older sister, Kat, it’s the little details Ted notices that allow him to not only crack the case and discover the truth behind Salim’s disappearance, but also save a life. Brilliant story-telling in sharp, crystal-clear prose.

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The late, great Siobhan Dowd’s ingenious ‘howdunit’ combines a meticulously constructed plot with a brilliantly memorable juvenile sleuth to create one of the standout children’s books of the twenty-first century. Engaging and rewarding, The London Eye Mystery is a junior crime novel par excellence.
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A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

Not every mystery is a who-dunnit, of course, though when the Widdershins sisters start to investigate the mysterious curse that ties them and their family to the island of Crowstone, they uncover dark deeds in their family’s past. With the help of three powerful magical heirlooms – and against the wishes of a very cantankerous Granny – Betty, Charlie and Fliss are up against witchcraft, injustice and two escaped convicts as they try to uncover the truth before the curse destroys them at sunset.

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A spell-binding story from the award-winning author of One Wish and The Thirteen Treasures. Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse. Three magical objects with the power to change their fate. Will they be enough to break the curse? Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger?
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