Bullets Across the Bay


It’s never too early to start reading mysteries. Writers of books for children have often turned to the mystery format to tell stories to younger readers. Many of the themes popular in adult Bay Area mystery fiction also appear in juvenile mysteries set here.


In 1939, popular author mystery and adventure stories for boys Howard Pease (1894-1974) gave a fiery speech in front of four hundred female librarians at an American Library Association meeting in Berkeley, deriding the “feminization of children’s literature” and advocating for more books written by male authors and more realism injected into the plots. Although many in the audience were offended by his misogynistic tone, his provocative ideas did eventually lead to changes in the criteria for the awarding of Newbery Medals. Pease was born in Stockton and educated at Stanford, and many of his twenty-two novels have Bay Area connections.

Howard Pease (1894-1974)
Mystery on Telegraph Hill
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1961.
Bancroft PS3531.E253.M9 1961

Tod Moran, the Second Mate of the Araby, is falsely accused of robbery after being attacked on the fog-shrouded streets of San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill.

Laurence Yep (1948- )
The Case of the Lion Dance
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
Private collection

San Francisco-born Chinese American Laurence Yep is the author of over sixty books, both fiction and non-fiction, for young adults. Many of his books explore the Chinese American experience, in both historical and contemporary settings. In the first entry in Yep’s “Chinatown” series, The Case of the Goblin Pearls (1997), readers are introduced to pre-teenager Lily Lew and her Auntie Tiger Lil, who team up to solve mysteries and learn about racial and ethnic tolerance in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Eve Bunting (1928- )
Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island
New York: Clarion Books, 1988.
Bancroft PS3552.U4735.S66 1988

Ultra-prolific author Eve Bunting (over 250 books and counting) occasionally writes mysteries (she won the 1993 Edgar award for Best Juvenile Mystery) and occasionally sets them in the Bay Area. Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island tells the story of Danny, who tries to elude the toughest gang in his San Francisco school by escaping to Alcatraz.

Marilyn Sachs (1927- )
At the Sound of the Beep
New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 1990.
Education-Psychology PZ7.S1187.A77 1990

Twins Mathew and Mathilda Green’s parents are splitting up and splitting them up too. Unwilling to be separated, the twins run away and hide in Golden Gate Park—a beautiful place during the day but filled with danger at night. Someone is murdering the homeless inhabitants of the park, and the twins may be next.

Kathryn Reiss
The Tangled Web: A Julie Mystery
Middleton, Wis.: American Girl Publishing, Inc., 2009.
Private collection

Published as a tie-in with the popular “American Girl” dolls, this is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Julie Albright, a fifth-grade girl living in San Francisco in the 1970s.

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
Nate the Great, San Francisco Detective
New York: Dell Yearling, 2000.
Private collection

For over thirty years, child detective Nate the Great and his dog Sludge have been solving mysteries. In their first out-of-town case, Nate and Sludge cruise around San Francisco tracking down clues about a missing joke book.

Monica Sullivan
Joey Bear and Yvette, Private Detectives
San Francisco: Steve Rubenstein, 1982.
Bancroft PS3569.U34.J6 1982

In this picture book, Joey, a Teddy bear, and his partner Yvette, a doll, are private detectives in San Francisco. One day Timmy comes into their office to ask them to help him find his friend Miranda, who has apparently flown away with a balloon.

Gertrude Chandler Warner (1890-1979)
The Mystery in San Francisco
Morton Grove, Ill.: Albert Whitman & Company, 1997 (Boxcar Children Mysteries #57).
Private collection

While visiting their aunt and uncle in San Francisco, the Boxcar Children solve a mystery at Fisherman’s Wharf. Like many popular juvenile series, the Boxcar Children have outlived their original creator, with publisher Albert Whitman & Co. continuing to issue new stories under Warner’s name long after her death.

Joy de Weese Wehen
Stranger at Golden Hill
New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1961.
Private collection

This 1960s teen novel follows Melinda Marshall, who is eagerly anticipating her debut at San Francisco’s Debutante Cotillion, as she helps unravel a mystery with origins in the days of the California ranchos. The book is nicely laced with tidbits of Bay Area history.

Jennifer Allison
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Detective
New York: Sleuth/Dutton, 2005.
Private collection

During the summer before ninth grade, intrepid Gilda Joyce invites herself to the San Francisco mansion of distant cousin Lester Splinter and his thirteen-year-old daughter, where she uses her purported psychic abilities and detective skills to solve the mystery of the mansion’s boarded-up tower.

Christopher Reed
The Big Scratch: A Manx McCatty Adventure
New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
Private collection

In this only appearance of hard-boiled cat detective Manx McCatty, “evil lurks along the mean streets of San Francisco—Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, the fog-enshrouded waterfronts [where] hero Manx McCatty is outnumbered by blackguards: low-life hoods, stoolies, extortionists, and Gato Nostro kingpin Tabby Tonelli.”


Early Mysteries
Dashiell Hammett
Anthony Boucher
Mystery Writers of America
Muller & Pronzini
Counter Culture and Diversity
Historic Events
Juvenile Mysteries
Cal Connection
Books on Film
Critical Resources


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