Sick of playing car bingo? Mini-mysteries offer a challenging diversion to keep families occupied while on the road. These quick reads are a natural development in a world full of speed dating, Sunday dinner made in a microwave, and a condensed language created by modern man’s love of text messaging.
Yet, despite worldwide sales that amount to over a million books sold for Jim Sukach, author of “The Quicksolve Mysteries,” and over two million for prolific mini-mystery author Ken Weber, this genre is still not widely available in local bookstores.
Rick Walton’s “Mini-Mysteries” in the American Girl Magazine were so popular that the company had Walton write several full-length collections of short reads, including “Mini Mysteries: 20 Tricky Tales to Untangle” (American Girl, 2004). American Girl Library recently released “The American Mystery Puzzles: Solve Four Mini Mysteries Piece By Piece!” (2005), a collection of mini-mysteries featuring the American Girl doll personalities Kit, Samantha, Kaya, and Molly.
Weber’s “Mini Five-Minute Mysteries” (Running Press, 2005), containing approximately 30 mysteries of three to five pages each, is typical of the genre. Although each story is only a few pages long, the plots involve recurring characters and settings so readers can immerse themselves in a familiar world.
“People tell me they like them because they don’t have the time to commit to full length,” says Weber, whose mini-mysteries generally take up less than an afternoon to play.
The Genre’s Short History
Ken Weber and Hy Conrad were the modern-day pioneers in the field. Weber and several other authors began writing mini-mysteries for their students or children before moving on to commercial publishing. Although early detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot had deductive powers to be envied, contemporary detectives have become more familiar and down to earth, taking the form of innkeepers, suburban moms, and nosy business owners.
Young detectives such as Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown have been turning young readers on to mysteries for years. Mini-mysteries take it one step further by featuring detectives that all readers can identify with – themselves. The interactive component keeps readers engaged.
Both Sukach and Weber are former educators familiar with “reluctant readers” who, as Weber explains, “thought they couldn’t read – or who pretended they couldn’t.” After originally writing their stories for that audience, they (and other educators) quickly found they could improve the thinking, reading and listening skills of readers of all levels with mini-mysteries.
Unlike traditional mysteries that conclude with one of the story’s characters revealing the solution, mini-mysteries end without supplying an answer, only a question: “Who stole the racehorse?” “How did George sneak into the office?” “Why did the cook burn the stew?” Readers then have a chance to mull over the story and come up with their own answer before turning the page to read the solution.
“The reader is involved in the story when he tries to answer the question at the end,” Sukach says. “Students have to pay very close attention to their reading and remember what they have read in order to sort out the facts and draw conclusions.”
The books appeal to readers of all ages and abilities for one simple reason: “Everyone likes a puzzle – it’s like a reward at the end when you solve them,” says Susan Jevens, senior public relations associate at American Girl.