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Characteristics of Good Mystery Literature

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Plot and characters are very important in both mysteries written for young adults and the adult mysteries that adolescents read. In true young adult mysteries, the protagonist is usually an adolescent who assumes the role of the amateur sleuth, sometimes following in the footsteps of a parent or adult friend who is a P. I. or police officer. The characters should be engaging, interesting, and multidimensional; and most of them, with the exception of the protagonist, could be the murderer or perpetrator of the crime.

The plot usually begins with action, intrigue, or suspense to hook the reader. Then, through a series of clues, the protagonist eventually solves the mystery, sometimes placing himself or herself in jeopardy by facing real or perceived danger. All information in the plot (clues) could be important in solving the case, yet in some cases, the author presents misleading information (a red herring) to challenge the reader and the detective. With foreshadowing often used to heighten the suspense, there usually will be several motives for the crime, lots of plot twists, and plenty of alibis that must be investigated. The solution to the crime must come from known information, not a surprise villain introduced in the last chapter of the book; however, the clues must be cleverly planted so that the mystery is not solved too easily or too soon. In a suspense novel, the setting often becomes very important with violent storms, a deserted island, an abandoned mine, or a spooky old house playing an important role. Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature: Mystery summarizes some of the characteristics of a good mystery. Then, Suggestions for Collaborative Efforts 5-1 shows an example of teachers who used good mysteries to develop an interdisciplinary unit.

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