The best YA mysteries that inspire writers (like me) to get to work

The Books I Picked & Why

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery

By Alan Bradley

Book cover of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery

Why this book?

Okay, so I’m cheating right off the bat because many will argue that the Flavia De Luce series, though it has an 11-year-old girl as its central character/narrator, is not YA. And, I admit, the brilliant Alan Bradley series is found in the general fiction section in many libraries. But, I don’t care. Teens who haven’t read the books should read the books. And for those readers who also want to write fiction, Bradley’s creation of the wonderful cast of characters, highlighted by the precocious, brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny Flavia is a creative writing class everyone needs to pay very close attention to. The mysteries are well crafted, the dialogue spot-on, the settings perfectly detailed and alive to the reader, but make no mistake, these books are Flavia and she is one of the truly wonderful achievements of recent fiction, YA or otherwise.

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I Killed Zoe Spanos

By Kit Frick

Book cover of I Killed Zoe Spanos

Why this book?

I Killed Zoe Spanos is absolutely contemporary, even using a true-crime podcast as a (successful) device in the telling of the story. I’m a sucker for false confession stories and in the story of Zoe, the victim who disappears on New Year’s Eve and whose body is found the following August; and Anna, who bears a strong resemblance to Zoe, and confesses to the murder, you have the makings of a potential can’t-put-it-down thriller. And author, Kit Frick, doesn’t miss the mark. A creepy cast of characters, wonderfully spooky settings, plenty of twists and turns—all brought to life by a gifted storyteller—make this one of my great favourites.

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The Leaving

By Tara Altebrando

Book cover of The Leaving

Why this book?

So, what are the ingredients that make a thriller thrill? Well, let’s see. I’d probably start with suspense. It’s suspense that has us turning the pages late at night long after we should have turned out the lights and floated off into dreamland. Then there’s believability. I have to be able to believe that the things going on in the story actually happened or at least that they could have happened. Otherwise, why would I care? Then mix in characters that matter to me, twists and turns to set the mind spinning, and a well-told story…and that thriller should work. The Leaving works. The story of six kindergarten kids who disappear one day with five of them returning eleven years later—wow, that premise gives me chills just thinking about the possibilities. And Tara Altebrando takes us on a heart-grabbing thrill ride, brimming with suspense, believability, and those twists and turns I referred to, that will keep readers from leaving. This thriller thrills…in spades.

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The Cheerleaders

By Kara Thomas

Book cover of The Cheerleaders

Why this book?

You might get the idea that I lean to books with unexplained disappearances and/or deaths at the heart of the mystery. If you’re thinking that, you’re right. Except this time, instead of kindergarten kids, it’s five cheerleaders and they don’t all disappear at the same time or for the same reason. In fact, these victims don’t really disappear at all. But they are all gone—two killed in a car wreck, two murdered by the man next door (who is subsequently shot by police so no clues there) and the last girl dies by suicide. Five years later, as Monica, sister of the suicide victim, suddenly finds herself at the centre of a series of weird and scary circumstances, the reader soon realizes that Monica herself is in dire danger. What a terrific read.

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None Shall Sleep

By Ellie Marney

Book cover of None Shall Sleep

Why this book?

Think Silence of the Lambs meets Veronica Mars. Same kind of tension with a great premise. The year is 1982. Emma Lewis, a serial killer survivor, and Travis Bell, a US Marshall trainee, are contracted by the FBI to interview juvenile killers to find possible solutions to cold cases. Cue the romantic music. Eventually the duo is asked to work on a current case with a deadly killer who is murdering teenagers and to do so they must co-opt the brutal convicted teenage killer, Simon Gutmunsson. This is a real bad dude and an expert in the art of manipulation. There are some predictable elements to this novel—like the inevitable attraction the ultra-dangerous Simon feels for Emma. But those issues are overcome by some darn good writing and the brilliant layering of the suspense by author, Ellie Marney.

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