Two detectives, one shocking incident, no chance of walking away from the crime.
Last year, one of the best new debuts in the YA mystery genre, The Agathas, proved a pleasant surprise to readers. The book, set in a sleepy Californian town, follows two mismatched teens – the formerly popular Alice and the troubled geek Iris – as they team up to solve the murder of one of their classmates, paying huge homage to Agatha Christie herself, still the Queen of Crime almost a hundred years on.
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It’s pleasing, therefore, to see the sequel, The Night in Question, follow so quickly, tracking Alice and Iris as they navigate the perils of high school, as well as the shocking crime that befalls a costume party at the home of a fallen star of the Golden Era of Hollywood. In short, one of their classmates – a former BFF of Alice’s – is found stabbed, with another girl standing over her, and it’s up to Alice and Iris to work out what really happened.
It’s a success on all fronts, both as a mystery and as an ongoing developing friendship between the odd-couple leads. The former develops with noir-like twistiness as the pair, helped by Iris’ ragtag group of friends-slash-forensic-enthusiasts, work through the list of suspects, uncover hidden histories and secrets, and try to piece together not only the culprit behind the recent crime, but also behind one of their town’s most enduring mysteries, one steeped in the kind of classic Hollywood lore that inspires a million-and-one true-crime documentaries.
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In the latter, writers Lawson and Glasgow, stalwarts of young-adult writing themselves, aren’t afraid to work through the pain, awkwardness, and angst that comes with teenagehood. Alice is a privileged rich girl with absent parents and a deep-seated pain buried within her, trying to evolve and become a nicer, better person, but unable to contain the rage within. Iris is far less affluent, but at least has a circle of close friends, even a couple of love interests sparring for her attention, but carries the trauma of an abusive father like a second skin. The pair are unafraid to tear into one another, pushing each other in a way that’s beyond standard teenage spikiness, which makes for uncomfortable yet thrilling reading, knowing that they’re the catalyst for each other’s growth.
To say more about the plot or characters would spoil the hidden heart of The Night in Question, and indeed the Agathas series, but it remains a triumphant novel that pays homage to the whodunnits of decades past, while keeping things fresh and vital for the modern day YA reader. Closer in tone to Holly Jackson’s Little Kilton trilogy than the prolific Sarah M. McManus’ oeuvre, The Night in Question proves that The Agathas is one of the best new YA mystery series, balancing page-turning whodunnit mysteries with engaging characters. Iris and Alice are set to return for more adventures, as tantalising teased in the book’s final chapter, and this reviewer for one, can’t wait to join them once more.
The Night in Question is out now from Rock the Boat.