Victorian mysteries for grownups have been a staple for ages – but these two are for kids. Sound like it might be too sophisticated? Dropping the age of the sleuths makes a big difference, and while the first ratchets up some good tension to keep kids hooked, the second brings some fun humour to the mix.
The Secret Fiend
ISBN: 978 1 77049 385 8
This is the 4th of the “Boy Sherlock Holmes” series by Canadian author Shane Peacock. Sherlock is, of course, enjoying a revival, but is also a character that has never gone away, so this is by far not the only series about a younger Holmes or the only Holmes material aimed at kids. I like the way this version of his boyhood sets up some of his learning and displays his ambition, but still allows him the limitations of being younger and not yet developed as the detective he would famously become.
The mystery in this installment is set nicely into the time, centering around the apparent return of a character from a Penny Dreadful who is harassing poor people in the city. Sherlock gets drawn in when a young lady he knows is involved, and finds himself in real danger on a few different fronts. The language and setting is for the most part quite well done, Sherlock is credible as a boy who could grow into the man we all know, and the setting up up the mystery is well done.
For my favourite riff on Sherlock, you could also try the Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer, starring Sherlock’s runaway younger sister.
Two Crafty Criminals
Alfred A Knopf
ISBN: 978 0 375 87029 3
This book contains two tales of the adventures of the New Cut Gang, a ragtag bunch of kids who like to hang around, skip school, and try to solve crimes through various flawed schemes that somehow work out in the end. Also set in Victorian London, this one is decidedly working class, and full of fun little escapades, as the problems are not as easily unraveled as the gang hopes.
The crimes are less dangerous in this book – forged coins and stolen silver in their neighbourhood – and the capers they pull in trying to get to the bottom of them include ridiculous costumes, having someone hide out inside a store, a jailbreak, and the like. Somehow, the kids always come out on top, and the ride is a good bit of fun along the way.
Also available as an ebook.