A View From the Library-By John R. Clark

There’s no way of getting around the fact that when it comes to teen books these days, supernatural sells. I looked at several lists of ‘best selling’ and ‘most popular’ lists for 2011 and every one is heavily weighted with titles that have such themes. Probably 80% of the new titles I’ve bought for this age group fit the description. In fact, I just added second copies of all three books in the Hunger Games series, not because the kids were clamoring for them, but because their mothers had discovered the series in light of all the hoopla surrounding the movie version coming out soon.

What might this tell the mystery community? I suspect there’s a golden opportunity awaiting those writers wanting to branch out into the younger markets. First off, I can tell you several things based on observations at the Hartland Public Library. Number one, teens who read are generally voracious readers, checking out bunches of books at a time. Number two, they get and share their ideas for what to read via social networking. If you don’t believe me, look at any young adult author’s Facebook or Goodreads page and note how many younger friends/fans they have. Number three, many of these avid readers have gotten siblings and parents hooked on some of their favorite authors and series. It’s pretty safe to say all this started with the Harry Potter books and thankfully, it has continued unabated.

I’ve noted in previous blog entries that many adult authors have made forays into juvenile and teen literature. I think it remains a very fertile market for other authors. I also think there’s a natural synergy between the supernatural and mystery genres. If you look at the story lines for most YA books, there are several common elements; romance, some sort of threat, friendships, obstacles to be overcome on the way to resolving the threat. These, with the possible exception of friendships, are not particularly dissimilar to mystery novels. I’m oversimplifying things a bit here, but you get my drift. If you, as a mystery writer want to try something new in 2012, give the teen market a thought. Try this: If you have teens or grand-kid teens who know your work, ask them what they’d like you to write based on your existing books. I would be very interested in hearing what they tell you.

I put The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson on my Amazon.com wish list as a reminder I wanted to buy it for the library and promptly forgot about it. My younger daughter, Lisa ordered a copy and gave it to me for Christmas. Well, you must read gift books, right? I was more than pleasantly surprised. Aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum, this book, subtitled Ashtown Burials 1, blends the supernatural and mystery elements extremely well. Dad was lost off the California coast in a fierce storm and Mom went into the water to find him, only to float ashore comatose and with almost no brain function. Two years later, siblings Cyrus and Antigone, along with older brother Dan are struggling to make ends meet while running a decrepit roadside motel far from California. They have one regular tenant, a cranky old lady named Mrs. Eldridge and occasional other paying customers. Things are pretty bleak when a strange man covered with tattoos arrives, insisting on staying in the same room Cyrus calls home. Within 24 hours, the man is dead and the motel a mound of burning rubble. Daniel has been kidnapped and his younger siblings are on the run with a really strange lawyer who claims their parents were members of a secret order.

While some of the plot elements in this one will remind readers of the Harry Potter series, this is no slapped together knockoff. N.D. Wilson, who also wrote 100 Cupboards, has spun a really nice adventure that has enough mystery to satisfy fans of the genre. The lawyer and his driver who is amiably creepy and reminded me of the guy in the James Bond movies who had steel teeth, albeit with a much friendlier attitude, take the siblings on a wild ride in an effort to escape the baddies who have kidnapped older brother Dan and are intent upon getting a set of keys with a dragon tooth fragment back from Cyrus. One of the more interesting plot elements is the invisible snake that acts as a key ring and hides the magic keys around Cyrus’ neck when he needs to conceal them.

Their destination and the setting for most of the story is an estate (the Ashtown referred to in the series subtitle) hidden in plain sight in modern America. Intriguing plot elements include a cook with titanium legs, a boy who is part snake and cannot die, an initiate requirement that reads like the Junior Woodchuck Manual on psychedelics and some really interesting minor characters who are members-in-training of the academy. There are plenty of questions to unravel and high-tech shootouts included. I was very glad I didn’t pass this one by.

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