Mystery Roots

Yesterday, I sent a panicked email to a long-time friend, Alex: I need a blog idea for tomorrow, STAT!

She emailed back within minutes: another childhood friend, Kat, was visiting Alex and her first question to Alex upon hearing I was writing something was, “Is it about a detective?”

I told a co-worker the other day that I was an aspiring mystery writer, not just an aspiring writer. Alex emailed back again and said “I think you should write about a favorite children’s book, and how it extends to grown up writing… either style, or inspiration, or love of books.”

Instantly, I remembered that some of my favorite children’s books were Robert Quackenbush’s “Miss Mallard,” “Detective moleMole” and “Piet Potter” series — all mysteries. Miss Mallard was a duck version of a Miss Marple-type character and her cases took her around the world, like “Rickshaw to Horror” and “Gondola to Danger.”


Detective Mole wore a Deerstalker hat, as did Piet Potter, boy detective. (How else would we ever identify them as such if they weren’t wearing that type of hat?!) Piet might have been my first fictional crush, circa 1987. Quackenbush’s Pete Pack Rat/Sheriff Sally Mole were an introduction to police procedurals.

From these, Cam  Jansen books and Encyclopedia Brown weren’t far behind as my reading ability improved.  I wasn’t necessarily good solving Encyclopedia Brown’s cases, but I have fond memories of reading them with my dad.

Other mysteries continued to be on repeat in my reading list: The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The Westing Game. The original Sherlock Holmes stories.  There weren’t a whole lot of YA books that weren’t Sweet Valley High in the late 80s/early 90s, and even as I moved into reading adult books, I remember old Alastair MacLean military thrillers and Robert Ludlum espionage tales in junior high days.

Somewhere around 9th-grade, I went on a years-long fantasy/sci-fi reading jag. Years, through high school and college of epic fantasy and space opera and urban fantasy. I slowly started coming back to mysteries in the mid 2000s, via choices like the early Stephanie Plum novels, and author interviews with the Killer Year 2007 writers like Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover. And now I’m a mystery/thriller expert over at RiffleBooks.

There’s no denying the roots.


2 thoughts on “Mystery Roots

  1. iveyrock says:

    The very first mysteries I remember reading are Nate the Great. He also had the hat, and the books even had a bit of that ‘film noir’ feeling – which is somewhat impressive, since they’re on a beginner’s reading level. I’ve never read Robert Quackenbush, clearly I’m going to have to remedy that with my kids.

  2. Bethany K. Warner says:

    Iveyrock reminded me we may have played Encyclopedia Brown and Sally when we were kids. I think confirming this might fall under the Fifth Amendment…

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