She's A Real Amateur

Shaw/Watha T. Daniel LibraryStaff Picks

She's A Real Amateur

Female amateur sleuths who are better than the pros

Sure, sometimes being called an amateur's an insult, but when it comes to mystery novels, amateur detective status usually means you're the one showing the officials how it's done. Or even the only one perceptive enough to realize there's a mystery to be solved. (See: Auguste Dupin and Miss Marple.) 

If you're looking for some new sleuths to match wits with, check out these leading ladies whose daring, luck, and brilliant deductions outstrip those of the professional authorities. They're the ones you'd want to call in when there's a missing heir, a dead body in the library, or a serial killer on the loose. 

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer
Enola Holmes is the younger sister of the renowned consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and shadowy government mover Mycroft, and every bit as clever and observant. When her mother vanishes on Enola's 14th birthday, Enola follows clues she's left behind and travels to London in disguise on her trail. She quickly becomes embroiled in also trying to solve the mystery of the missing Marquess of Basilwether (say that 10 times fast).

While this is a great read for younger mystery buffs, Springer's sophisticated writing, the well-plotted mysteries, and the character development of Enola will grab and keep the attention of adults who are fans of classic mysteries in the Sherlock Holmes vein. 

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
The perfect choice for when you want a cozy, charming, snuggle down with a cup of tea mystery. Our heroine, Lady Georgiana, the very distant and very poor relative of Queen Victoria, easily carries the book with her pluck and engaging narration. 

The mystery, a dead body in the family home's bathtub, is serviceable, but mostly keeps the book ticking along so you can enjoy more of Georgie's run-ins with terrible relatives, misadventures in trying to find work, and chaste encounters with a dashing and mysterious young man.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
A great man is dead, and 16 heirs are called to compete to solve his murder and win his inheritance. Like a more complex and better plotted game of Clue, play along as Turtle Wexler, the young protagonist you'll love to root for, and the other potential heirs sift through red herrings to solve the carefully crafted puzzle clues. 

You were assigned this book in school for a reason: It's a true classic. If you've never read it as a child, or it's been a while, do yourself a favor and pick it up now. This is an old favorite that stands up to the test of time.

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
Take a more realistic Nancy Drew, inject her with some of the moxie and emotional weight of Veronica Mars, and drop her into a 1942 noir-esque mystery full of vivid period details, and you've got Iris Anderson. She might be young, but she's already had to deal with her mother's sudden death. When her P.I. pop investigates the disappearance of a boy from her school, Iris jumps in to help against his wishes.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Children are brutally murdered in Medieval Cambridge, England, so the King, thinking outside the box, gets help from Sicily in the form of a precursor to our modern medical examiner, a Master of the Art of Death. Or, in this case, he gets Mistress Adelia, the medical student at the top of her class. Since England isn't quite so enlightened, Adelia has to operate unofficially and covertly or be branded a witch. 

Set aside a full day and night and keep the lights on. Once you start this intense nail-biter of a mystery thriller, you won't be able to put it down until you find out whodunit. And if you're anything like me, you'll be deliciously terrified as you tear through the book to get to the horrifying end.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie 
Many readers are familiar with Christie's Poirot or Miss Marple, but if you're looking for more of an adventure mystery, try this lighthearted introduction to the winning team of Tommy and Tuppence. Where they lack Poirot's order and method and Miss Marple's village parables wisdom, they more than make up for in boundless enthusiasm. 

Motivated by the need for jobs and egged on by Tuppence's spirit of adventure, the pair of friends put out an ad saying they're "willing to do anything, go anywhere," and when their ad is answered, they get mixed up with spies, a millionaire, the mystery of a missing girl, and an evil supervillain.