The Kids Have It: The Best Junior Detectives
There is one big advantage to having children. Sure, there’s the minor stuff – the whole repopulation of the species thing and, to be fair, some of them are cute, some of the time. But for book lovers, having children brings with it one particular bonus: you get to return to the stories you once loved, and pass them on.
I read voraciously as a child, as I think all writers did, and had a natural leaning towards mysteries and books with a really good twist. I’m also a hoarder, so many of my childhood books are still on my shelves. As I have two sons, that St Claire’s collection will probably stay where it is for some time. But there are other books up there that I hope they’ll enjoy really soon. So, as I wait impatiently for the boys to grow old enough to read them, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite baby detectives, and thrown in couple of decent junior thrillers as well.
Sinéad Crowley’s Best Junior Detectives
1. Fatty from The Five Find-Outers (Enid Blyton)
His name stood for Frederick Algernon Trotteville, of course, but even in the days of Enid Blyton that particular nickname must have seemed a little mean. Still, his bulk stood to him when it came to dressing up like an elderly woman to solve crimes. OK, so the books have dated and their attitude towards anyone who didn’t live in a big house with a couple of servants wouldn’t find favour today. But the Five Find-Outers, led by Fatty, were great detectives and they started me on a lovely, twisty road.
2. George from The Famous Five (Enid Blyton)
Yes, there were, famously, five. But George was the star, especially for female readers. Brave, intelligent and headstrong, she was by far the most interesting character in the Famous Five series and a pretty good role model for seven-year-old girls. All she needed to keep her happy was a gang of friendly cousins to solve mysteries with and a loyal dog. And a private island, and a boat. Well, a girl had to have some standards.
3. Jupiter Jones from The Three Investigators (Robert Arthur, Jr)
There were three investigators but only one with a really cool name. I still love reading US crime fiction and books like these sparked my interest many years ago. While British and Irish books featured children and lives you could just about imagine living yourself (apart from the private island), the Yanks took it up several notches, employing cars, foreign travel and, in this case, a chauffeur driven Rolls to solve crimes. I’ve no idea why the series was first published as ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators’ but it made them sound even more exciting. Great fun, and they lead me neatly on to…
4. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (Carolyn Keene & Franklin W. Dixon)
You can’t mention one without the other. Nancy was my heroine – she even had a friend called George – but Joe Hardy may, just may have been my first love. Cars, actual boy/girl relationships and international travel, these books were a world away from Enid Blyton’s lot with their ginger beer, but the mysteries were just as interesting. And although I don’t usually recommend a TV show based on a book, I’ll make an exception in this case as the theme is one of the greatest ever written.
Go on, take a listen. I’ll still be here.
5. Hermione from Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)
Is she a detective? A wonderful wizard? The real star of the Harry Show and the brains without which several of the knottier plot points wouldn’t have been unravelled? Yes, yes she was.
6. Artemis Fowl II from Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
I read this one as an adult, and loved it. From the pen of the mighty Eoin Colfer comes a brilliant mix of Irish folklore, technology and seriously good jokes. I can’t wait for my kids to read it but they’ll have to buy their own copy as mine is signed.
7. Louie the Milkman from Louie’s Lot (E.W. Hildick)
OK, this one is really weird. I had a vague memory of borrowing library books in the 1980s that featured a crime solving milkman and his gang of helpers, and assumed I must have imagined it. But no, a Google search confirmed it. E.W. Hildick really did write a series of books about a chain smoking, taciturn milkman who used the life skills learned on his milk round to solve puzzles, accompanied by a team of boys and one clever American girl. They were really good, too.
To end, a couple of thrillers:
8. Thursday’s Child by Noel Streatfield
Noel Streatfield wrote wonderful books featuring talented children, using the performing arts or sport. But in this case she turned to historical fiction with equal success. Thursday’s Child features Margaret Thursday, an orphan who was left on the church steps with three of everything and everything of the best quality. But who is she really? And who will rescue her from her horrible (and horribly realistic) orphanage? This is a great thriller with a genuinely moving resolution.
9. The Island of the Great Yellow Ox by Walter Macken
An Irish classic, this one, and if you haven’t read it you’ve a treat in store. Conor is persuaded to take two strange children and his annoying little brother out on a boat for the day and adventure ensures. Storms, shipwrecks, buried treasure, scary grown up baddies and a genuine sense of menace makes this a little west of Ireland gem.
10. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
I have to credit my kids for bringing this one into my life. This guy could be a criminal mastermind. He defeats his enemies, fools the baddie, scares him off and is still chilled enough to sit down and eat his nut in peace afterwards. Seriously, I’ve read Robert Ludlum tomes with less complex plots. Needs to be on every child’s book shelf. I’ve read the book and the book was good.
Sinéad Crowley is Arts and Media Correspondent for RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, working for television, radio and online. Her new novel, Are You Watching Me?, is a gripping psychological thriller featuring Detective Sergeant Claire Boyle.
Who’s your favourite child detective? Let us know in the comments below!