Sleuths in children's literature come in all shapes and sizes. Some characters, like Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko and Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes seem to find mystery wherever they go, while others trip into mystery quite by accident. Whether seeking it out or falling into it, my favorite mysteries are those in which the sleuth takes on the case even though they do so at great risk to themselves.
Now by 'risk', I don't mean danger -- all detectives at some point in their sleuthing will find themselves in some degree of danger. I mean risk to self -- identity, self-preservation, something that, if the sleuth continues seeking, could threaten the very core of who she is -- and yet, she trudges forward because truth is more important to her than outcome.
The perfect example of this, and one of my all-time favorite books, is The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. If you haven't read this -- what? Read it! -- I won't spoil it for you here. But basically it is about Janie Johnson, a girl who thinks her life is pretty normal and boring until she discovers a face of a missing child on the back of a milk carton. . . a face that all-too-eerily resembles Janie herself.
Now Janie doesn't just drop this -- though she could easily chalk it up as coincidence and continue on in blissful ignorance. Instead, she follows this mystery to the very end, searching for the truth, even though that truth can devestate her family and her identity. That's what gives this novel more than just mystery and intrigue -- it gives the story heart and weight; it keeps it grounded in reality which lends validity and immediacy to the story.
It is that notion of risk to self; that mixing of extraordinary mystery with ordinary life and very real consequences that I strive for in my own writing. In my novel Blind Spot, my main character, Roswell Hart, fights with a classmate, Tricia Farni, at a homecoming party. Roswell doesn't remember much after the fight -- but what she does remember she wants to forget because Tricia betrayed her and it hurt pretty darn bad. Then Tricia is found dead, and Roswell has to figure out what happened that night -- even if it means discovering she had something to do with Tricia's death. The truth could be devestating, but she still pushes on.
For me, then, the most intriguing sleuth is the sleuth that takes on the challenge regardless of the risk. The sleuth that struggles with the decision to push forward and yet still does. It's what makes the mystery real for me and it adds a complexity to the story that keeps you intrigued and engaged to the very end.