Monday, October 22, 2007

Voice! Characters! Plot! Setting!

I stumbled upon a great new teen mystery series while hunting for third person novels at the library last week. Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams bills itself as "An Echo Falls Mystery," a series about theater geek Ingrid Levin-Hill, a thirteen-year-old suburbanite who would be a mind-numbingly typical child if she didn't have a strong streak of Grampy running through her.

Ah, Grampy. Truly, truly, a beloved grandfather.

Down the Rabbit Hole involves Ingrid's accidentally becoming involved in a murder that no one knows she's involved in and her attempts to find the criminal. Of course, that's what so very many murder mysteries are about, right? Down the Rabbit Hole is a very traditional murder mystery, written around a child and her experiences, and written very well.

Voice. Ingrid has a marvelous voice. And, remember, this book is written in the third person. It's harder to do voice in the third person. Maybe it's not so much that Ingrid has a voice as perhaps the book has a tone. I think that what makes Ingrid so distinctive is that she goes her own way. Sure she's into soccer and theater the way so many kids are. She's into Sherlock Holmes the way so many book kids are. But when she goes after this stuff they seem truly distinctive to her. She doesn't seem like a cookie cutter kid.

One problem that I often have with kid mysteries and thrillers is that it never makes sense why the child detective doesn't turn to an adult for help. It just defies logic. I have never seen that issue addressed as well as it is here. Ingrid has very real and logical reasons for continuing to pursue the murderer on her own.

Characters. This book is so good, I was nearly half through it before I realized how stereotypical many of the characters are. (I'll be doing another post on that later.) But they're really good characters. There are no cartoon heavies here.

The love interest in mysteries almost always ruins the books for me. Love lines are so formulaic and tacked on to the story. The kid love interest here is one of the most believable and touching I can recall. I totally bought that kiss after those awkward, stilted telephone calls. The love interest is integrated into the plot far better than the love interests in many adult mysteries.

Plot. The plot in kid mysteries is often very weak for the obvious reason that the child detective has trouble getting around to do her crime solving. Can't drive, can't go out at night, can't do much. Abrahams, who has been nominated for an Edgar award for his adult mystery writing, does an excellent job with this. As a writer, I was reading along going, Oh, that's smooth how he got her to this house. Great how he got her there. Yes, there were a couple of points that I felt were forced and a bit unbelievable, but, quite honestly, you get that in any mystery. The bad guy might be predictable for those of us who've been reading mysteries for a long time (though I didn't catch on to the why until the very end), and the ending was a bit rushed, but the target readers should find this to be high class work.

Setting. Though Abrahams lives in Massachusetts, he's set his kid series in Connecticut. Echo Falls is an imaginary place, but the Echo Falls soccer and football teams play teams from towns in Connecticut that are real. In fact, they are right next door to me. Echo Falls is bigger than the town I live in. (We don't have a police department, for instance. We have to hope the state troopers will get here before our crimes are yesterday's news.) But a great deal of what he talks about is real for this area.

Personally, I like Ingrid Levin-Hill better than Kiki Strike because I prefer loners, or at least individuals, to posses. But the Echo Falls books do seem as if they could be companion mysteries to the Kiki Strike books. One is a classic, small town mystery, the other an urban scooby gang story.

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Blogger Mary Witzl said...

You've made Down the Rabbit Hole sound excellent, and I will now try and find a copy for my younger teenager. I'd better hurry before she grows out of this genre. But come to think of it, I haven't, so there is probably plenty of time.

8:15 PM  

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