Solving the mystery: Why Linda Fairstein is writing for young readers

Mystery author Linda Fairstein. —Katherine Marks

In 1930, American children were introduced to Nancy Drew, a 16-year-old sleuth who defied gender expectations. The Nancy Drew Mysteries, written by several different writers under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, found instant popularity and sold briskly. Generations of women, including supreme court justices, a recent presidential candidate, and a former district attorney turned best-selling mystery novelist, have said they were inspired by Nancy Drew. That novelist, seasonal Vineyard resident Linda Fairstein, recently published her first book for middle grade readers (grades 3-7). “The Devlin Quick Mysteries: Into the Lion’s Den” is the first in a new series featuring Devlin Quick, the smart, headstrong 12-year-old daughter of a single mother, who is the New York City Police commissioner. Devlin has the instincts, drive, and connections for crime solving, as well as a coterie of ingenuitive friends who are eager to join her in a semi-secret, and potentially dangerous, investigation. Devlin and her friend Liza are in the rare-map room at the New York Public Library, doing research for a summer course, when Liza notices a man cutting a page out of a rare book of maps. The action ensues as Devlin and her friends attempt to track down the map thief.

In emails with The Times, Ms. Fairstein discussed her new book with children’s book author Kate Feiffer.

I was very excited when I heard you were starting to write for kids, and I am curious as to why now?

My love for books and reading started very early in my life, with weekly trips to the library with my mother. I can’t imagine what it’s like not to love reading and not to discover the joy of losing oneself in good storytelling. I always loved classic novels, but it was at the age of 9 or 10 when I found the Nancy Drew mysteries. The difference was the attachment that I developed to a character who appeared regularly in a series of tales. I wanted to climb into the pages of the stories and run with Nancy and her loyal friends as they solved all the crimes in River Heights. So I’ve long had the dream of writing for young readers, and decided this was a good time to introduce characters I hope they will enjoy much as I did all my favorites.

Devlin Quick is a smart, strong, young female protagonist. How and when did she come to you?

Devlin Quick probably came to me first when I discovered Nancy Drew as a kid. Nancy was 16, had a roadster, an interested single father, and dear friends. She seemed so sophisticated to me as she tried to right all the wrongs in her town. My adult protagonist, Alex Cooper, is a strong woman in a nontraditional role as a felony prosecutor — more common a position now than when I first created her in 1996. So Devlin has many of the same features I admire in my fictional and real-life heroines: independence, fortitude, courage, kindness, and spirit.

How much of you can be found in Devlin?

Devlin is far more independent than I was at the age of 12, and far more courageous. I think she has my curiosity about solving crimes, which has driven both my careers in law and in literature. I put her on the swim team because that kind of participation in a sport did so much to enrich my sense of camaraderie and sportsmanship. I was a public school kid, and she’s at a private school. There are lots of similarities, but at base is — I hope — the desire to see justice done and “do the right thing.”

I understand that one of the first cases you prosecuted was that of a map thief. Can you tell us a bit about that case?

In 1974, when I was a young assistant district attorney, I prosecuted a man named Victor Phillips who had traveled across the country stealing atlases and rare books from university libraries.

This is not the first book you’ve written inspired by a map thief. As some readers likely know, Forbes Smiley, a convicted map thief who was widely written about some years back, has ties to the Vineyard. What is it about map thieves that is so compelling to you?

In my series of crime novels for adults, I did tackle famed map thief Forbes Smiley in a book titled “Lethal Legacy.” It is not the map thief that inspires me, but the fact that these events happened in our great libraries. I always set my novels in backgrounds that are real and familiar — better than just the action of car chases and shootouts — and the New York Public Library is one of my favorite places on the planet. It was so hard for me to think of anyone committing a crime in a library, destroying rare and valuable books, so I wanted to introduce kids to the world of those treasures. The villains are just the vehicles for me to get into the great places that I love.

How was the process of writing for a target audience of 8- to 12-year-olds different from writing a novel for adult readers?

I love the process of writing, and have written 18 books in my series for adults. I enjoy storytelling, so I knew that wouldn’t be difficult. The big challenge was to see whether I could write in the voice of a 12-year-old, and tell the story from a kid’s point of view. So far, the results seem to have met with some success.

Was any of this book written on the Vineyard?

Most of “Into the Lion’s Den” was written on the Vineyard in the summer of 2015. I started the book that spring, sitting at the bedside of a dear friend who had 12 hours of surgery for a very serious condition (doing well now!), wrote a bit in Montana (vacationing there with my “new” husband), and then hunkered down and spent most of August and September telling Devlin’s story in Chilmark, where I have done most of my writing.

What’s next in the Devlin Quick series?

“Into the Lion’s Den” is the first in a series. Devlin will be back next year in “Digging for Trouble,” which starts during a dig for dinosaur fossils in Montana.