Victorian newspaper reporter Nellie Bly is at it again in Carol McCleary‘s latest. Her investigations began in The Alchemy of Murder, and continued last year in The Illusion of Murder (see the AB4T review here). In The Formula for Murder she is joined by none other than H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Conan Doyle.
Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting in on a conversation about mysteries with 12 students, the members of the literary magazine club at my school. They devote one meeting each month to discussing a genre of writing. I was most struck by how few of them read mysteries, and the narrowness of their interpretation of the genre. Sherlock Holmes came up, as did Hercule Poirot, P.D. James and Dorothy Sayers. One thought back to Nancy Drew as her last great mystery read, and another made a strong argument for Harry Potter as a mystery series after reading a recent interview with J.K. Rowling.
Where were Zoe Ferraris, Rosamund Lupton, and Lisa Lutz? Laura Lippman and Alan Bradley? It made me realize once again how much the teens we serve need us and our recommendations. I also sent out a survey to grades 9 – 12 at the beginning of the week to find out how they learn about new books, and whether they read or write reviews. I was surprised to learn that most of the students in my school still find new books by browsing bookstore shelves — 71%. Less surprising, even more learn about new books from their friends — 86%. Few read or write reviews themselves, so buzz is it. And cover art, I suppose. (School library — 32%. I’m trying not to take that personally!)
Now, about browsing bookstore shelves. First, how many teens will find adult titles that way? Not if they head to the teen section. Second, how many teens who live in more rural areas even have a bookstore in which to browse? The area of Pennsylvania where I grew up lost its Borders last year. Now the closest bookstore is a 45 minute drive from my hometown. Where are those teens finding new books? Hopefully they visit their school and public libraries.
I’ve only just started to analyze the implications of my survey (there are some ebook questions in there too), and I still hope to receive more responses (so far about 40% of students have responded). Initially, I created it as part of my preparation for the YALSA YA Lit Symposium and a panel I am part of — The Future of Review Guidance — coming up in a mere three weeks. Hope to meet some of you there!
Adult/High School–Historical fiction, murder mystery, The Formula for Murder moves easily between the two as real-life New York reporter Nellie Bly searches for the truth behind her friend’s death in London at the turn of the 20th century. Sent to close up the work of her friend, reporter Hailey McGuire, Nellie finds more questions than answers when the proclamation of suicide doesn’t seem to jibe with the facts. After Oscar Wilde introduces her to important people in the “best of circles,” she heads to Bath where high-society matrons retreat to beauty spas at the Roman runs. The death of one of these matrons seems to be linked with Hailey’s, and Nellie is certain that finding the answers to one of them will provide the answer to the other. Discovering that she is being followed, Nellie pairs up with H.G. Wells and Conan Doyle, with whom she follows the clues into the wilds of Dartmoor. Literate teens will appreciate the appearance of the real-life authors as they all use their wit, powers of observation, and writer’s imaginations to solve the case. The juxtaposition of history and fiction confuses the truth just enough for readers to head to the encyclopedia for more information. This is the third in McCleary’s series of “Nellie Bly” mysteries and while it stands alone, it definitely prods readers to head back to the library for the others. Recommend this to mystery, historical fiction and literature readers.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA