I came across a meme the other day that made me smile, because it reminded of a clue I employed in Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space.
In my book, published last year, I wrote the clue slightly differently. Here’s the scene, when Mila discovers the note tucked into a book in a Little Free Library:
A few minutes later, Mila said, “Bingo!” She had found another piece of paper. It was the same size as the other clue.
Mila held it out for us to see.
Danika read the message aloud. “‘LET TOM PICK ON MAY.’ That’s weird. What does it mean?”
I looked at Mila. “It might be a secret code.”
“Perhaps,” Mila said. “Maybe it means exactly what it says. Some guy named Tom is picking on May.”
We didn’t know anyone by either name.
“I’m hungry,” Joey complained.
“Not now, Joey. We’re hunting for clues.”
And so on and so forth. I like how Joey, who is always thinking about food, on every page in every book, accidentally almost leads our detectives in the right direction. I’m hungry. But Jigsaw snaps back, “Not not, Joey.” This is no time to be thinking about food.
Or is it?
Alert readers might instantly recognize this as a grocery list, something you’d bring to the deli when ordering a sandwich for a friend. The trick for a mystery writer is to quickly distract attention, the magician’s misdirection. My characters instantly travel down the wrong train of thought. Hopefully young readers will take that ride with Jigsaw and Mila — or, hey, maybe it’s perfectly okay if the reader is a step ahead of our favorite gumshoes, rewarded by careful reading and critical thinking.
Another favorite moment comes when Jigsaw, zeroing in on his primary suspect, confronts Ms. Gleason. I love the way illustrator R.W. Alley (you can call him Bob) depicts Jigsaw in the drawing, leaning forward in absolute seriousness, while Ms. Gleason leans back, a little stunned by his intensity.
Mila, Joey, Danika and I stayed after class to have a little talk with our teacher.
“Tell me, Ms. Gleason,” I said. “What do you think about . . . MAYONNAISE?”
“Some people like eating it,” I said. “What about you?”
“I, um . . .” She blinked a few times. “It’s fine. I like it.”
“Aha!” I said. I made a note in my detective journal: LIKES MAYO.
“How about pickles? Do they tickle your fancy?” I asked.
“Jigsaw, what’s this all about?” she asked.
FIVE MORE JIGSAW JONES BOOKS WILL BE AVAILABLE FROM MACMILLAN — REVISED AND UPDATED — THIS SUMMER. THAT INCLUDES THE ALL-NEW TITLE: The Case of the Hat Burglar.