Carina Axelsson | The Children’s Book Review | February 12, 2016
Mysteries and London go together like tea and cake or jeans and Converse. They just fit. And although I blame Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew for being the first to get me hooked on mysteries, it was Agatha Christie’s books that made me fall in love with the classic English whodunit and the “Golden Age” of detective fiction. I discovered her when I was about ten, and, from there, my new passion led me to some of the first classic detective stories – wonderfully creepy and atmospheric Victorian books written by, amongst others, Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Although not all of my favourite English mysteries take place in London, many do. And even when they don’t, invariably, some characters are obliged to travel in and out of London to reach the country house destination where a murder awaits them. Here are three (okay, maybe a few more than just three) of my top mystery novels set in London.
Written by Agatha Christie
A few weeks ago I caught a 4:16 train from Paddington Station in London – and even if it wasn’t precisely a 4.50 train, I still couldn’t help but feel excited at the thought that I was tracing the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s character, Mrs. McGillicuddy, in 4.50 from Paddington. The similarity of our trip ends there, however, because while Mrs. McGillicuddy went on to witness a murder from her window seat on the 4.50, I, thankfully, did not.
To be honest, 4.50 from Paddington doesn’t take place in London – the action all happens at a large country mansion just outside of London – but it does kick off from London. Poor Mrs. McGillicuddy just happens to witness a murder after a day of Christmas shopping in London, when she catches the 4.50 out of Paddington in order to visit her old friend and undercover village sleuth, Miss Marple.
I like this mystery because it combines all the classic country house murder elements – a death, a creepy mansion, and a large cast of family members, each harbouring a dark motive. Furthermore, I admire the character Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Miss Marple’s on-location assistant at the mansion. She’s independent and sassy, and not frightened of digging for facts – even with a murderer lurking in the shadows.
If you do want to read an Agatha Christie mystery that is based purely in London, however, get yourself a copy of At Bertram’s Hotel. It’s another Miss Marple mystery, and although the plot is a teeny-tiny bit far-fetched in places, it’s nonetheless a cosy read with lots of Edwardian London atmosphere.
Ages 15+ | Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks | 2011 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0062073662
Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Seriously – how can I not include Sherlock Holmes, the quintessential London detective, on this list? I know that he’s everywhere in modern form, on films and TV specials and the Young Sherlock books (which I have yet to start reading, but I hear are fab!). But, frankly, Sherlock Holmes was the first superstar detective – and he’s always been London based. I can’t not include him!
I first started reading the original Sherlock Holmes books when I was about eleven – although the old black and white films were long familiar to me from Saturday afternoon movie reruns. I still love reading them, though. I let a few years go by between readings so that my recollection of the case details are foggy, but they never fail to delight me with their ingenuity and fantastic descriptions of the London cityscape.
I’d recommend starting with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of twelve famous cases. The edition I have is from Penguin Popular Classics. But be warned: you’ll want to visit London straight away! Don’t blame me if you end up buying a pricey ticket!
Ages 15+ | Publisher: Penguin Books | 2009 (Mti edition) | ISBN-13: 978-0143117025
Written by Philip Pullman
This book is the last of four books in the Sally Lockhart series written by Philip Pullman – yes, the very same author of The Northern Lights trilogy. I love, love, love this series, but chose this particular title because it takes place entirely in London. And even though these stories aren’t strictly speaking mysteries, detective work does, nevertheless, play a strong role in the plots. Besides, with thrills, romance, and Victorian London all so wonderfully depicted, who could ask for more? All four books are fast paced and exciting – and written for teens. The combination of a tough shooting and tough-talking heroine taking on baddies intent on world domination is one I can rarely resist – and, furthermore, in this book, Victorian London is so vividly described you’ll want a time machine to take you there!
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Ember | 2008 | ISBN-13: 978-0375845178
About Carina Axelsson
Carina Axelsson is a writer, illustrator, and former model. She currently lives in the forests of Germany with four dogs and a very large aquarium full of fish.
Written by Carina Axelsson
Publisher’s Synopsis: From designer to detective …
Posing as a model gets Axelle the kinds of connections that make her the fashion elite’s go-to detective. Her newest case? The attack on famous fashion photographer Gavin Tempest that’s left him in the hospital. The police may have ruled it a mugging, but Gavin’s sister has special intel for Axelle that points to something more sinister…and when clues start pointing to people in high places, things get dicey for Axelle. Because fashion isn’t the only thing that’s killer in this case…
Carina Axelsson is a writer, illustrator, and former model who lives in Germany
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky | 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-1492620884