At the recent Ballarat Writers / Sisters in Crime collaboration, DEATH IN JULY, one of the panels was on YA writing and books. It came as a mild surprise that this is now a special category, but it is particularly pleasing to know there are some YA Crime Fiction books popping up. After all, a lot of firmly welded on crime fiction readers would have progressed straight from the likes of Trixie Belden, Famous Five and the Hitchcock mysteries straight to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and the like (allowing for the age category into which the reader falls obviously).
EVERY BREATH is crime fiction based around two teenage protagonists. Rachel Watts and James Mycroft (with an obvious hat tip to Sherlock Holmes going on). It's fiction written for readers around the same age as the two central characters, but it's also very accessible for adults. (Harking back to the panel mentioned above, it seems that there is a very large adult readership of YA fiction now). The obvious conflict of a boy and a girl as partners in detecting, is further enhanced by both of these characters being different from each other, and different from everybody else. Watts is a country girl brought to the city by the problems of family farming in drought, and Mycroft is English, and a city boy, in Australia as a result of the catastrophic death of his family. They are both, for their own reasons, slightly outsiders, although they have a strong core group of a few good friends, and at least for Watts, family support.
Because of their differences, their friendship makes sense and provides a chance for the author to show the power of acceptance. Alongside the investigation enough time is devoted to drawing out each protagonist's problems. Watts being a reluctant city dweller due to family circumstances, it was nice to see a country person who longs to return for the right reasons. Mycroft, in the role of eccentric genius, also has demons of his own, and his oddness is never a barrier to friendship and, as the book ends, a little in the way of romantic attraction. That aspect of the story, coming at the end of the investigation felt realistic, and was carefully handled to suit the age of the potential readership, without coming across as gawky or silly.
All of this personal angst, however, doesn't detract from the investigation and whilst Mycroft's obsession with forensics did, perhaps, bring up a few unexpected investigative elements, not enough to make you wonder how or why. The pace is strong, and the action believable, and ultimately, the desire of these two to explain the death of a homeless man - a nice touch of caring about somebody that nobody else is much interested in.
Never preachy, often funny, and cleverly balancing investigation, personal and teenage challenges, EVERY BREATH is an elegant novel. It does dodge any yawning gaps between YA and adult fiction, and it does provide a really solid crime fiction entry, with its associated exploration of why, as well as who and how in what is reported to be an increasing market.