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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Crime for Teens

For me, one of the hardest genres in which to find adult books with appeal to teens is mystery, or crime. There is such a plethora of books published in the genre every year that sorting through can be a challenge. And of those many, many possibilities, most have little appeal to younger readers. Too many middle-aged, loner detectives drowning in regrets, perhaps?

So I asked one of our reviewers, Priscille Dando, a past chair of the Alex Awards, high school librarian, and an avid reader of mystery & crime, to offer some of her favorites with appeal to teens. She happily obliged, annotations and all:

Blue Heaven by C.J. Box (St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2007). This stand-alone departure from the Joe Picket series opens with a heart-pounding pursuit as two young siblings witness a murder and flee the scene with the bad guys close behind. A rancher takes them in, then must find a way to keep them safe while the killers are determined to ensure their silence. The tight action and sharp protagonists give this thriller teen appeal.

The Crazy School by Cornelia Read (Grand Central, 2008). Madeline Dare is the new teacher at a boarding school for emotionally disturbed teens. One of the students commits suicide, but Madeline suspects it might have been murder when an attempt is made on her own life.  The teen characters ring true in this intense novel.

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell (Crown, 2008). The Victorian London setting will appeal to historical fiction fans, but the cleverly revealed plot keeps suspense high as a newly hired maid tries to hide her mother’s murderous past, unaware that most everyone in the household has their own secrets.

The Night Gardener by George Pelacanos (Little, Brown, 2006). An inner-city youth is found murdered in a Washington, D.C. community garden, and three cops with varying morals and motivations attempt to tie it to a series of unsolved teenage murders that took place 15 years ago.  The characterization is vivid and affecting in this gritty urban mystery.

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow, 2008). This genre-crossing novel is narrated by a sixth grade boy over one summer in the 1960’s when he and his brother are convinced that they can solve the mystery of the  disappearance of a young boy. When they discover that their younger sister may have an unforeseen role to play, they understand their own safety is at risk. The sense of foreboding builds relentlessly in this atmospheric page-turner.

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, 2007). The first in the series introduces the Spellmans, a quirky family of investigators who spend as much energy countering each other’s interferences as they do actually taking cases. Laugh-out-loud one liners and footnotes combined with the periodic antics of Rae, the youngest in the family, make this a purely entertaining choice.

Thanks, Priscille!  I have a few titles to add to my reading list, not to mention my collection.

Let’s add one more — our review of the day.

HAMILTON, Steve. The Lock Artist. 304p. Minotaur. 2010. Tr $0. ISBN 978-0312380427. LC number unavailable.  The Lock Artist

Adult/High School–Something bad happened to Mike when he was eight-years-old, and he cannot utter a sound. Now he is in jail and has decided to tell his story.  He discovered a natural talent and fascination with picking locks junior year of high school. Unfortunately, he revealed his skill to the wrong group of jocks, who persuaded him to help with an end-of-the-year prank. He was caught and his probation was entrusted to Mr. Marsh, who owed a serious debt to a serious group of criminals. When Mr. Marsh turned Mike over as payment, he was trained as a safecracker and became trapped in the life. Things quickly went downhill until Mike was at the beck-and-call of anyone needing his services. The light at the end of the tunnel was Amelia, Mr. Marsh’s daughter, who shared his talent and love for drawing. Mike tells his story in flashbacks to two different time periods, before and after becoming a professional boxman. This is effective in drawing out the suspense, especially concerning the fate of his relationship with Amelia and the nature of the traumatic event that caused him to be mute. The first chapter is a perfect example of hooking readers. At three pages long, it lays out everything about Mike’s life while creating myriad questions in readers’ minds and providing a good sense of his personality and vulnerability. Fans of mysteries, thrillers, crime novels, and even romance will enjoy this novel. Hamilton delivers on every promise he makes in chapter one, and the ending is completely satisfying.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SchoolLibraryJournal and Christy Hustead, Angela Carstensen. Angela Carstensen said: Great list of mystery and crime novels for young adults on the Adult Books 4 Teens blog. […]

  2. […] list. Memoir, thriller, vampires, post-apocalyptic zombies, mystery, and of course, coming-of-age. The Lock Artist is a good example. This is a mainstream, stand-alone crime novel by a popular mystery author known […]