Monday 6 November 2023

A Medley of Middle-Grade Mysteries...

Whether it's a book aimed at adults or children, mystery stories never seem to go out of fashion. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that, although they tend to follow a specific set of rules, mystery stories can be presented in a plethora of different ways. Fancy a mystery that will make you laugh? Or maybe a mystery set in an historical setting? No? Then maybe a spooky ghost mystery is what you're after? Whatever is on a reader's wishlist, they're bound to find something that fits the bill.

This medley of middle grade mysteries is only a very small selection of what's currently on offer in the children's book market but they are all books we've recently enjoyed. Each story contains the elements we love in a classic mystery story and yet they couldn't be more different from each other in tone and style. This is why we will never get bored of this versatile genre.


Montgomery Bonbon by Alasdair Beckett-King, illustrated by Claire Powell

If you're after a mystery series that has an hilarious main character, complete with an endearing sidekick, then the Montgomery BonBon series is a must-read. A spoof of the famous Agatha Christie series, Poirot (I think it's even funnier for adults who are familiar with David Suchet's depiction of this astute detective), it follows a young girl with a mystery-solving alter-ego...

Bonnie Montgomery is a brilliant detective. But no one has a clue who she is because children can't be detectives...can they? Maybe not! But Montgomery BonBon can. 

Disguised as a gentleman, complete with moutasche and hat, Bonnie looks nothing like a ten-year-old girl. Only her Grampa Banks knows her secret and, with his help, BonBon is on a mission to solve as many cases as possible...cases that might involve priceless artefacts and...onions.

This is a brilliantly written, laugh-out-loud series which combines murder with mayhem...bonkers mayhem. Bonnie's alter-ego, BonBon, will keep you giggling while the plots in both books will keep you guessing. Grampa is the perfect pairing for Bonnie and it is their relationship which gives both books real warmth and heart. We particularly enjoyed the setting of book two and the fact that it was even more bonkers than the first.

It's hard to talk too much about the stories without leaking spoilers. However, everything about the series oozes personality; from the larger than life characters to BonBon and Grampa's unusual set of wheels to the scenarios they find themselves in. We particularly loved the chapters where Bonnie was as stumped as we were and yet we knew the small details would lead her to the correct conclusion. Bonnie - or BonBon - should I say is endearing, charming, smart and one step ahead of the constabulary. You really don't want to miss her - er, him - in action. 

2. Historical

The Body In The Blitz by Robin Stevens

Link to author website

Published by: Puffin, 12th October 2023

Following on from the Murder Most Unladylike series, Robin Stevens has continued her success of writing mysteries by introducing readers to Hazel's younger sister, May. In the second of The Ministry of Unladylike Activity series, May, together with her new friends Eric and Nuala, are plunged into a baffling mystery set in the terrifying but fascinating backdrop of The Blitz...

When the ministry calls May, Eric and Nuala back to London, the three spies-in-training find themselves staying in a street full of eclectic people thrown together by the war. But there's more than the nightly air-raids to contend with for, when they find a body in the wreckage of a bombed house, they find themselves in the middle of a strange and complex mystery. Will they ever begin to fit the pieces together or will their suspicions collapse like the houses around them?

Told in first person, in diary format, this second release switches the narrative responsibility to Nuala, rather than the previous dual narrative of May and Nuala. This allows readers to see things through the eyes of a wonderfully gentle and earnest character whilst also giving us all the best - and humorous - bits of strong-willed May. Eric is the calm, practical and tender link between the three, making them a great trio to get on board with. 

Although the novel is on the longer side in terms of length, it is so tightly and brilliantly plotted that it bounces along at a terrific pace, keeping us guessing until the very end. The atmosphere and tension of the setting made this mystery particularly electric and, thanks to Robin Stevens sensory and detailed description, I almost felt like I was in the midst of war-time London myself.

The cast of characters is large and yet compelling. Each one - both on and off the page - is distinguishable and the street where the mystery is set is practically a character in itself. This is a classic mystery centred in a city full of bombs and rubble and offers a huge amount of historical accuracy as well as the fictional element. This might just be the most atmospheric mystery I've ever read. 


The Witchstone Ghosts by Emily Randall

Link to publisher

Published by: Chicken House


Halloween might have been and gone but this story has stayed with me. Creepy and unsettling, it combines all the thrills and chills of a ghost story with a corker of a mystery. But can Autumn solve it before the darkness comes for her..?

Autumn sees dead people - they invade every part of her life. But when her Dad dies very suddenly and mysteriously, he is the one ghost who doesn't appear. Then his will sends Autumn and her mum to live on an isolated island called Imber and Autumn finds herself in a race against time to work out how Imber and her father's death are connected.

This mystery kept me guessing. It's highly original plot builds slowly to an incredible ending with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Once again, there's a cast of fabulously memorable characters - Fred and Jack being my personal favourites - and it's unsettling and haunting atmosphere offers a darker take on this popular genre, making it perfect for the higher age-range of middle grade or those who just want to be spooked. 

The setting in this novel, as with Robin Steven's The Body in the Blitz, is also incredibly atmospheric. The fictional island of Imber is located just off the coast of Cornwall and Emily Randall taps into the wild, and often brutal, coastal nature of my home county, giving it a timeless and almost historical feel. Whereas some mysteries are quite linear and progress logically, the supernatural element of this story means that a lot of unusual events and characters collide together like waves in an ocean, creating intrigue, suspense and an outcome that is much harder to predict but which makes perfect sense when all is revealed...

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