An Introduction to Young Adult Crime Fiction

For Robin Stevens, Children’s Fiction Graduate Trainee at Orion, crime fiction has always offered something that no other genre can, and she was delighted to discover a new generation of authors bringing crime fiction to the next generation of readers.

When I was asked to write a blog post to introduce Murder Room fans to YA crime fiction, I jumped at the chance. Classic detective fiction was a huge part of my reading when I was a teenager. Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and many more – I read them all, again and again. I loved the way crime fiction gave me both a question and its answer at the same time. I was being set a test, a puzzle to solve, and if I did (or even if I didn’t) there was a reward waiting for me at the end of the book.

I was delighted. Here, at last, were adult books in which something happened. Crime novels have a strong, fixed plot, they go somewhere in a safe and measured way, and that makes the experience of reading them immensely satisfying. I felt that they offered me something no other genre could – and nothing’s changed in the fifteen years that have passed since I read my first Christie. No matter how many other genres I read in, I always find myself coming back to crime fiction.

Today’s teens are even luckier than I was. Not only do they still have the classics (which, thanks to projects like The Murder Room, are more widely available than ever) but they’ve also got access to a truly excellent range of YA detective novels and thrillers. Intense, fast-paced stories with intricate plots, shocking twists and exceptional characterisation – these books have the same broad, age-defying appeal as the best of crime’s Golden Age. Today’s YA market is so exciting that even writers like Harlan Coben, already known for their adult crime novels, are now writing specifically YA crime. Shelter and Seconds Away, the first books in Coben’s Mickey Bolitar series, are Coben at his best: thrilling, deftly plotted rollercoaster rides with real heart.


The YA writers on our list – Cliff McNish, Marcus Sedgwick, Alan Gibbons and many others – handle tough, dark issues, in ways that sometimes seem even more sensitive and thought-provoking than the novels of their adult counterparts. In many ways, in fact, YA thrillers are able to be more nuanced and groundbreaking than crime novels written for the adult market.

YA’s fantastic tradition of bending genres opens up a lot of unique opportunities for writers of crime fiction. Readers of YA accept that a single title might blend horror, crime, romance and fantasy – and this gives a YA thriller leeway to do incredibly exciting things with its basic mystery plot.

There’s Kate Harrison’s Soul Beach trilogy, which deals with stalking in the internet age and combines elements of magic, ghost stories and social networking – with a compelling beach romance thrown in for good measure.


Then there’s James Dawson’s Hollow Pike, a cool, high-concept mix of witchcraft, superstition, murder and the worst terrors of high- school life.

There’s real horror in books like Marcus Sedgwick’s White Crow and Cliff McNish’s The Hunting Ground, but it’s suggested rather than explicit, left to worm its way into readers’ minds and seed something far more haunting than a lengthy description ever could.

With these short descriptions, I’ve barely scratched the surface of our Indigo backlist, or of what the genre has to offer as a whole – there’s so much great YA crime to discover that I couldn’t hope to cover it in a single blog post.

Just as Agatha Christie and her contemporaries produced some of the best writing of the early twentieth century, I think that YA authors are producing some of the best writing of the early twenty-first. As a crime connoisseur myself, I can promise you won’t be disappointed.


Visit Indigo for more information on Orion’s Young Adult Crime Fiction.