When you’re dealing with a murder mystery set in a possibly haunted high school, you need a practical, analytical lead investigator whose sense of humor is solidly intact. Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur is my methodical queen, her assessments of characters both living and dead as sharp as a jagged piece of glass, her self- deprecation just the right amount of wicked. She’s been underestimated enough in her life—and experienced enough prejudice—to gain a significant chip on her shoulder, which is more pronounced now that she’s been called back to her alma mater to investigate a murder in Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries. A line from fictional gothic author R.M. Holland’s most famous story is found with the body, so Kaur pays special attention to English teacher Claire Cassidy. Scenes from Kaur’s family life (she lives with her Sikh parents) provide a soft place to land after her most biting appraisals, such as when she’s considering the inanity of celebrity dancing shows. Why do people like dance competition shows? DS Kaur knows many things, but she hasn’t got a clue there.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
She may not wear a trenchcoat or carry a magnifying glass, but novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro can investigate a mystery with the best of them. In her 2019 blockbuster memoir, Shapiro does an at-home genealogy test on a whim and accidentally uncovers a 52-year-old family secret: Her late father was not her biological father. This revelation kicks off a search for the truth that winds its way through all manner of thorny questions. What role did the emerging field of fertility science play in Shapiro’s conception? Were her parents aware that she was conceived using donor sperm? Did they intentionally keep this a secret? Were they duped by their doctor? Is her biological father still alive? Shapiro’s chops as a novelist shine in Inheritance, which is plotted as well as any mystery, with enough twists to keep you guessing about what detail she might uncover next. Determined to get to the root of her family tree, she is as indefatigable, dogged and determined as any fictional gumshoe.
—Christy, Associate Editor
The ursine protagonist of Jon Klassen’s debut picture book, I Want My Hat Back, is an exemplary detective. Faced with the mystery of his hat’s location, he immediately begins questioning potential witnesses. He’s polite and thanks everyone he meets for taking the time to speak with him, even though they offer no useful leads. He stays focused on the task at hand and isn’t waylaid by existential meanderings, such as when an armadillo asks, “What is a hat?” He’s helpful to his community, as we see when he offers assistance to a turtle who’s been trying to climb a rock all day. He believes the best of everyone, even rabbits wearing familiar red hats who claim they would never steal a hat. When he hits an investigative wall, he does exactly what I would do: He lies down and despairs until the solution comes to him. And he would never, ever, ever eat a rabbit. Not even a rabbit who stole his hat.
—Stephanie, Associate Editor
In Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water, Samuel “Sammy” Pipps is basically a globe-trotting, 17th-century Sherlock Holmes. When a mysterious, seemingly demonic force begins to haunt Saardam, the ship he’s sailing on from the Dutch East Indies back to the Netherlands, you’d think that Sammy would immediately be on the case. There’s just one problem: Sammy’s locked in the Saardam‘s brig, where he is to remain for the entire voyage. Enter his bodyguard, Arent Hayes, an enormous former mercenary and all-around nice guy who’s deeply grateful to Sammy for giving him a purpose beyond body-slamming anybody dumb enough to face him in battle. As Turton gleefully tilts things into Grand Guignol horror, Arent is the down-to-earth port in the storm: humble to a fault, instinctively feminist when faced with a few female passengers who might be better at this whole sleuthing thing than he is and possessed of an unshakable (but still somewhat flexible) sense of justice. Turton maintains that he never conceived of Arent as being, well, sexy—but rather tellingly, many readers insist that he very much is.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
None Shall Sleep
To catch a teenage serial killer, the FBI recruits Emma Lewis and Travis Bell, who are teenagers themselves, for their capabilities as well as their atypical circumstances: Travis lost his father to a serial killer, and Emma is the sole survivor of one. The heroes of Ellie Marney’s thriller None Shall Sleep are remarkably refreshing as their personal and professional involvement in the investigation builds genuine tension and inner conflict. However, despite the novel’s many plotlines, Emma is at the heart of it all. I felt attached to her early on, especially when witnessing her navigate her sense of duty toward solving the case while grappling with the crime’s triggering nature. Her unique perspective and talents provide forward momentum, as she comes to conclusions that people who lack her insight would never think of. At the novel’s end, I wanted to keep following her as she drove away.
—Jessie, Editorial Intern