Is anyone else watching this show on TBS called Search Party? I don’t watch a lot of television. (Unless you count 6 hours of Gilmore Girls, but that couldn’t be helped. Nothing keeps me from the Lorelai ladies.) Along with periodically catching up on episodes of Atlanta and Nick Cage, Search Party is really the only other show I watch consistently. It’s like HBO’s Girls and Veronica Mars had a baby with Sam Spade! (Yes, I realize that sounds crazy. But the show is crazy – crazy good!)
And, of course, since my mind went to Sam Spade, it then took the not so far leap, where my mind is concerned, to detective novels. Now, I am a fan of classic noir novels like The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett is really the quintessential noir writer. But I haven’t found any modern (more recent not necessarily set in modern day) detective novels that really capture that sense of twisting, turning whodunit mystery. I’m not looking for a crime novel. I am in search of a gritty, quirky detective story complete with femme fatales, seedy underbellies and lots of dark suspiciously motivated characters. I’d also prefer something in the YA genre. (If you’ve seen the movie Brick, that movie in book form would be my reading goal for this exercise.)
So, I decided to do a little detective work of my own and see if I could track down a book to meet my specific requirements. Here’s what my search uncovered.
Profile (ie, what I’m looking for in the book)
- A gritty detective/PI character (anti-hero type, doesn’t have to be literal)
- Gloomy/fatalistic feel
- Teen/young adult genre
- Typical noir archetypes (eg, femme fatale, sad sack, bad seed)
- A crime (preferably murder)
- Typical noir tropes
Name: Dead to Me
Author: Mary McCoy
Story: “Don’t believe anything they say.” Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away. When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first.
Verdict: Young adult protagonist (and female, bonus points), crime, mysterious gloomy feel and lots of hyper-flawed characters. This one is a contender.
Name: What I Saw and How I Lied
Author: Judy Blundell
Story: 15-year-old Evie Spooner’s stepfather, Joe, has just returned from the war and owns two thriving electronics stores. But something is brewing in the air of post-war happiness. Joe is drinking a lot and getting anonymous phone calls that make him angry and agitated. On the spur of the moment, he decides that the family should go on a trip to Palm Beach, Florida. There, Evie meets a gorgeous boy named Peter Coleridge. Evie is immediately smitten. It turns out that Peter isn’t exactly a stranger. He is an ex-GI who knew Joe from the war, and his presence at the hotel agitates Joe further. However, things are hardly as they seem. Evie overhears conversations and sees mysterious notes. Beverly, Evie’s mother, is disappearing, taking long shopping trips on her own. Everything comes to a shocking halt involving tragedy and a web of lies unlike any other, and Evie finds herself smack dab in the middle of it.
Verdict: It has mystery and a seemingly noir-ish feel, but, no classic detective, anti-hero character. Still this one has promise.
Name: The Girl Is Murder
Author: Kathryn Miller Haines
Story: Iris Anderson is only fifteen, but she’s quickly mastering the art of deception. It’s the Fall of 1942 and Iris’s world is rapidly changing. Her Pop is back from the war with a missing leg, limiting his ability to do the physically grueling part of his detective work. Iris is dying to help, especially when she discovers that one of Pop’s cases involves a boy at her school. Now, instead of sitting at home watching Deanna Durbin movies, Iris is sneaking out of the house, double crossing her friends, and dancing at the Savoy till all hours of the night. There’s certainly never a dull moment in the private eye business.
Verdict: Young daughter of a detective, mystery involving a kid at her school, double crossing, anti-hero antics. Getting close.
Name: You Killed Wesley Payne
Author: Sean Beaudoin
Story: He’s come to do a job. A job that involves a body. A body wrapped in duct tape found hanging from the goal posts at the end of the football field. Hard-boiled seventeen year-old Dalton Rev transfers to the mean hallways of Salt River High to take on the toughest case of his life. The question isn’t whether Dalton’s going to get paid. He always gets paid. Or whether he’s gonna get the girl. He always (sometimes) gets the girl. The real question is whether Dalton Rev can outwit crooked cops and power-hungry cliques in time to solve the mystery of “The Body” before it solves him.
Verdict: Well, it uses “hard-boiled” in the description and the cover practically screams detective mystery, that alone puts it on the list.
Name: The Butterfly Clues
Author: Kate Ellison
Story: Penelope “Lo” Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. But in the year since her brother’s death, Lo’s hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. When she discovers a beautiful antique butterfly figurine and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as Sapphire, Lo becomes fixated. As she attempts to piece together the mysterious “butterfly clues,” with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld―a world much closer to home than she ever imagined.
Verdict: An OCD protagonist fits for an anti-hero detective archetype and it has elements of mystery and darkness.
So Whodunit (eg, which one do I think best fits the profile?)
Since I’ve set this up so I have to choose only one, I think I have to go with The Girl is Murder. It seems the closest to my profile. Just added it to my Goodreads ‘want to read’ list! I’ll get to it soon! (And the others too. They all sound close to what I’m looking to read.)
If you’re a YA detective noir novel connoisseur, or just have one you love, please add to the list in the comments. I’d love to get more recommendations.