It’s not every day you get to be part of a project that is exciting and fun.  My wife, borg contributor, and author Elizabeth C. Bunce has been writing her Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series for a few years now.  Prompted by a quick utterance of “premeditated murder” and a cat that showed up one night in the rain, a character and an idea took hold and before we knew it she had created and sold the first four books in a new series of mystery novels.  But as Tom Petty said, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  Tomorrow, after the obligatory pandemic delay, not only does the first book, Premeditated Myrtle, arrive in bookstores, but the second installment, How to Get Away with Myrtle, too (available in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook).  How often do you begin a new series and can hardly wait that next year for the second installment?  Solved! 

It’s been exciting to watch Elizabeth build the story from the ground up, featuring 12-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, an irrepressible and tenacious heroine living in England in 1893 as the sciences of criminology and forensics are taking off.  Her father is a local prosecutor, and with her governess Miss Judson she forms a sort of dynamic duo, solving crimes as she faces the pressures of Victorian society and growing up with other kids whose interests are less… morbid.  And the team is only complete with Peony, a truly opinionated neighbor cat, who joins her on her sleuthing.

“Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune…the book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures.”  —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 

Premeditated Myrtle is currently an Amazon Best of the Month Editor’s Pick and #1 Amazon New Release, and last month How to Get Away with Myrtle was a #1 Amazon New Release (and is currently a #3 New Release).  Last week Netflix Life and Fansided included the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series on its list of “7 Books to Read if You Like Enola Holmes on Netflix.”  

“In the tradition of heroines like Flavia de Luce and Harriet the Spy, Myrtle is a fine example of the Victorian scientific female—smart, inquisitive and fearless,” says Rhys Bowen, the New York Times bestselling author of the Her Royal Spyness series. “Written with a terrific mixture of humor and suspense, Premeditated Myrtle is a perfect read for any budding detective.”

Elizabeth’s first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the American Library Association’s inaugural William C. Morris Award for a young adult debut novel and was named a Smithsonian Notable Book.  Her high fantasy Thief Errant series includes the novels StarCrossed, A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best book for 2010, and Liar’s Moon, one of Kirkus Blog’s Favorite YA Novels of 2011.  StarCrossed and A Curse Dark as Gold have appeared on Oprah’s Kid’s Reading List.  Her novels have been named to the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and she is a three-time Kansas Notable Book winner.  Elizabeth completed her third novel in the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series, Cold-Blooded Myrtle (her eighth overall) last month and it is slated for release next year. 

Myrtle Hardcastle’s adventures take me as a reader back to some of my favorite reads in grade school, specifically From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler, Encyclopedia Brown, and The Secret Garden.  Readers here at borg will know I also read and review a lot of crime noir, and Myrtle’s twists and turns–and red herrings–are every bit as fun as reading some of my favorites from that genre’s classic works.  Elizabeth grew up on a steady diet of Sherlock Holmes, Trixie Belden, and Quincy, M.E., (and A Nero Wolfe Mystery, and Murder, She Wrote, and Law and Order, and Father Dowling Mysteries, and Forensic Files, and The X-Files, and Without a Trace…) and Gothic mysteries like Jane Eyre and Rebecca. Elizabeth is also a fan of series like Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so keep an eye out for Easter eggs and pop culture references (both modern and Victorian) throughout her novels. I don’t know anyone who is a master of worldbuilding like Elizabeth–her re-creation of Victorian Britain and the legal aspects of the day are impeccably researched, and her use of language is guaranteed to expand anyone’s vocabulary. Teachers, especially those looking for something to perk-up their virtual classrooms, should check out the free extensive teacher’s guide (tied to common core standards), available via her website. Here are some publicity descriptions of each novel:

In Premeditated Myrtle, readers will meet the quick-witted and fearless Myrtle Hardcastle, a twelve-year-old girl with an unseemly obsession with forensic science and criminology. When Myrtle’s wealthy neighbor dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle is the first to notice anything amiss. With the help of her unflappable governess and opinionated cat Peony, Myrtle takes it upon herself to follow the clues investigators overlooked. As more evidence emerges, she begins to believe that the town prosecutor, her own father, is pursuing the wrong man. Myrtle pores over toxicology textbooks, interrogates suspects, and does the one thing no Young Lady of Quality is ever supposed to do: she Goes Outside Alone After Dark. Myrtle Hardcastle may be just a twelve-year-old girl, but she is not the type to sit by while grown men botch a murder investigation. 

It’s no surprise that Myrtle can’t stay out of trouble for long, even when her father sends her off to the English seaside for some relaxation. In Book Two, How to Get Away with Myrtle, Myrtle, her governess, her insufferable Aunt Helena, and, of course, Peony the cat are loaded onto a private railway coach where Myrtle makes the acquaintance of Mrs. Bloom, a professional insurance investigator aboard to protect the priceless Northern Lights tiara. But before the train reaches its destination, the tiara vanishes and Myrtle discovers a body in the baggage car. The trip is derailed, the local police are inept, and Scotland Yard is in no rush to help. What’s a bored aspiring detective stranded in a washed-up carnival town to do but follow the evidence to discover which of her fellow travelers is a thief and a murderer?

Elizabeth “gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge” (Booklist, starred review). Readers are certain to be captivated by this “saucy, likable heroine” (Kirkus Reviews), and will “yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures” (BCCB). 

Elizabeth will be appearing at several virtual events in the coming weeks beginning with a virtual book launch tomorrow evening at Watermark Books. Sign-up here or join via the Watermark Books Facebook page here.

The Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series is published by Algonquin Young Readers, a division of Workman Publishing Company.  Cover artwork for the series is created by Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events). 

I’ve been ecstatic to see all the major industry book review sites praise this series and Elizabeth’s writing.  Here are more kudos for the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series:

For Premeditated Myrtle:

PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY
Channeling classic Victorian whodunits, Bunce’s detective series opener features a quirky, winning narrator and a lively secondary cast… A generous, well-wrought relationship between governess and charge complements tightly plotted twists… Myrtle is as clever as she is determined, and her expertise—seen in evidence collection and courtroom antics—is certain to delight genre stalwarts and mystery novices alike. 

BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW
There is something afoot at Redgraves… Myrtle’s above-average intellect, passions for justice and science (an endearing blend of her parents’ professions), fondness for detective stories, and predilection for asking questions make her the perfect person to investigate what is obviously a crime most foul. Written very much in the style of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, Myrtle’s spirited investigation—aided by her governess, who champions the Socratic method of learning—is a joyful thing to behold. Well-crafted red herrings throw Myrtle and readers alike for a loop or two…Set in Victorian England, this mystery gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge.

BOOKPAGE STARRED REVIEW
Premeditated Myrtle is a book young readers will love and adults may well sneak out of backpacks and off of nightstands for their own enjoyment… Myrtle has an investigator’s tool kit and access to her prosecutor father’s law library; she is curious to a fault, brave and persistent. Bunce keeps secondary characters grounded in reality as well—even a cat has an interesting character arc—and the quest to determine who killed Miss Wodehouse is as keenly plotted as the best adult cozy. Here’s hoping for more adventures with this delightful, heroic protagonist. 

KIRKUS REVIEWS 
A saucy, likable heroine shines in a mystery marked by clever, unexpected twists. 

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
A well-plotted mystery, a stubbornly brilliant yet fallible female protagonist, and adorably clever footnotes make this novel shine. The vocabulary is massive, with many potentially unfamiliar terms left undefined… it is a fantastically large jump from many mystery novels in this target age range to Myrtle Hardcastle, in both lexicon and depth of historical reference.

BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune. Miss Judson and Myrtle work as a power duo, with Myrtle offering up big ideas and Judson giving those ideas practical applications. Myrtle is an entertaining protagonist, not afraid to get her hands dirty, sneak into mansions after dark to find a clue, or call out sexism of men toward her scientific interests or the racism toward her governess… the book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures. 

HORN BOOK MAGAZINE 
This clever and lively Victorian English village murder mystery starring precocious twelve-year-old fledgling detective Myrtle Hardcastle has all the trappings: households with cooks and governesses and groundskeepers; church luncheons and afternoon teas; mysterious newcomers; missing wills. Also, poisoned elderly ladies… Bunce does an excellent job of making Myrtle the lead actor but gives her a strong set of (mostly female) supporters… Myrtle’s narration is Arch with a capital A (“Dear Reader, kindly permit me to pause to properly introduce one of the Key Players in this narrative”), but it suits the novel’s setting and subgenre to a T.

For How to Get Away with Myrtle:

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Readers who enjoyed Premeditated Myrtle will rejoice in this second installment featuring the plucky protagonist, her beautiful and multitalented governess Miss Judson, Peony the cat, and a whole new cast of strong female characters. References to Scotland Yard and investigative techniques will delight young Sherlock Holmes aficionados. The advanced vocabulary will send even the most sesquipedalian readers scurrying to the dictionary… VERDICT This deeply plotted sequel is an additional purchase for collections serving the most precocious readers who long for a fast-paced mystery where women shine.

KIRKUS
Morbid Myrtle, plucky aspiring investigator, must solve a dastardly railroad murder in late Victorian England. Poor Myrtle. Father thinks she should have a holiday, because a 12-year-old girl needs some time away from solving murders. Horrors! He’s sending her off for “Family Amusements” at the seaside with Aunt Helena… When their train to the seaside is robbed, Myrtle is thrilled by the mentoring of a wonderful lady investigator… In the forbidding, unwelcoming coastal town, Myrtle uncovers myriad disquieting mysteries. Each new revelation builds upon the prior discovery until the tense, wonderfully eerie climax on a ramshackle amusement pier. The sleuthing is heartwarming and funny, featuring strong women and girls, packed with characters who genuinely care about each other.

BOOKLIST
Bunce fully utilizes the story’s classic mystery settings (the train, a grand hotel full of unusual guests, and a small town of memorable characters) as she spiritedly chucks red herrings at readers and Myrtle alike. Humor and wit make the narrative sparkle, and, happily, Myrtle is as irrepressible as ever.

Today is your last day to pre-order Premeditated Myrtle from Amazon here in hardcover and eBook and here in audiobook, and How to Get Away with Myrtle here in hardcover and eBook (audio forthcoming!).  Look for them in bookstores and libraries everywhere starting tomorrow. From our house to yours, I truly hope you, your family, and readers of all ages get a chance to enjoy Myrtle’s sleuthing adventures this fall!

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg