The accidental sleuth

November 12th 2013

Lately, I’ve been on a hunt for YA historical mysteries and coming up….well, sort of empty-handed. After reading The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, a suspenseful YA historical mystery about a girl uncovering the reason her mother’s grave is encased in a cage, I’ve been wanting more books like it, but I’m struggling. I’m sort of fussy, I guess. The reason I loved The Caged Graves so much was because it mixed my favorite elements of a good mystery — an unusual premise (caged graves?!), a headstrong heroine, third-person POV, forensic science, and an accidental sleuth.

There is something about a protagonist stumbling upon a mystery, a character completely unprepared for what’s ahead of him/her, that I find to be so compelling. I love mysteries, but I’ve never enjoyed the detective story. I don’t have a penchant for a character whose job is to solve crimes for a living. I am much more interested in the protagonist (usually women because they are often underestimated, especially in historical contexts) who tries to puzzle out the mystery because of her proximity to the crime or because a resolution to the crime is important to her own well-being.

Some of the books I’ve read recently are: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee — a YA historical mystery set in 1850s London with a strong female protagonist and a devilishly handsome romantic lead; The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman — a YA historical mystery set in Victorian London featuring multiple POVs and truly wicked villains; and A Place of Confinement by Anna Dean — an adult historical mystery set in 1807 England with a spinster-in-the-making protagonist whose role as companion to her crabby aunt allows her to investigate a woman’s disappearance. Aside from A Spy in the House, these books have accidental sleuths — women who get thrown into a mystery and who must use their smarts to solve a mystery for their own benefit whether it’s to save their own skin or the life of someone they love.

The book I am editing now for my publisher is a mystery and, depending on your opinion of the 1990s, could be considered historical. It’s also, at its core, a romance. I also have two WIPs in the queue that are mysteries. One is set in the 1950s and the other is set in present-day — both with historical elements and all with accidental sleuths.

So, can anyone recommend some excellent historical mysteries (preferably YA) with accidental sleuths and a giant wedge of romance?