The Beekeeper's Apprentice, one of the two books I'm stuck on this week, is as much a character study as it is a mystery. But it most defintely is classified as a mystery. It is spun off from the Sherlock Holmes mystery classics, after all. While my second book, The Dead Father's Club, is main stream fiction (its original material is Hamlet, remember), for me it developed a mysterious element. While I accepted the truth of what dead dad had to say at the beginning of the story, I began to wonder if he was all that reliable. Did Uncle Alan really do him in? Is he really a bad guy?
Child readers are notorious mystery lovers, and adult mysteries are often bridge books into adult reading, as Jen Robinson has said. (I kind of like the expression "gateway books," myself.)
Why the attraction to mysteries?
I think kids find mysteries comforting. At the beginning of very traditional mystery novels, the social order has been disrupted. A body has been found in the library. Jewels have been stolen. Someone has disappeared. At the end, the social order has been restored. The perp has been tracked down. Justice has been done. Things go back to the way they are supposed to be. What a relief.
Kids are instructed to stay in line. To be fair. To follow the rules. They have been taught to maintain order. They're comfortable with order. This may be a factor in tattling. What, exactly, is wrong with tattling? Why do we dislike it so much? All the tale bearers are trying to do is restore the order we've taught them to maintain.
With a mystery novel, kids can safely explore a disordered world because it's not the world they actually live in. The detective restoring order at the end of the story provides a satisfying conclusion. The world goes back to the way kids have been taught it should be.
An adult mystery that follows that pattern provides young readers with familiarity--the pattern itself. It also gives them the impression that the adult world is orderly like theirs. Grown-ups aren't supposed to do certain things, just as children aren't supposed to do certain things. If adults do them, justice will be done, and the adult world will go back to the way it's supposed to be.
A lie, of course, but that's beside the point.