Word Wednesday: ‘High Rise Mystery’ by Sharna Jackson

Books Columns Geek Culture Reviews Word Wednesday

This Week’s Word Is “Mystery.”

One of the small advantages of lockdown is that I’ve been able to share more books with my children. Bedtimes have stretched out as we read extra chapters. Lack of evening clubs, means that pretty much every night there is time for a bedtime story. One of the books we’ve read is High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson.

In my book reviews, I’ve often mentioned that my middle son does not enjoy reading. His exclamation of “Books are trash,” a year or so ago was like a dagger to my heart. Yet, as I pointed out to him, he still loves to be read to, even though many children, by his age, have stopped wanting to hear their parents read. He loves stories but didn’t enjoy decoding them himself. Lockdown and Sharna Jackson have helped us overcome this problem, as well as some investment in the Pokemon manga series). We read High Rise Mystery and both very much enjoyed it.

A few weeks after we finished High Rise Mystery, Mic Drop, the next book in the series came out. I had planned that we would read it after we finished our current bedtime book, but before we had a chance, my son had taken it, read it, finished it, loved it. He even voluntarily went to bed early so he could read more.

I could probably stop there. I can’t really give the books a higher recommendation.

What is High Rise Mystery?

At its heart, High Rise Mystery is a kids detective caper, a genre that seems to be evergreen in children’s fiction. This one takes place on a tower block estate in London. “The Tri” is a community built after WWII, but like many of the community projects built in that time, it’s faded and broken. Elevators (lifts) don’t work, the stairwells smell of pee, and the community hall is barely used. The Tri desperately needs money for a much-needed rejuvenation.

Enter Nik and Norva, two girls who live on the estate; daughters of the site’s caretaker. They have run their own detective agency for a while. Minor stuff; missing bikes and lost cats. As the novel opens, though, things are about to get real. Their friend, antiques-dealer Hugo, has gone missing, which is most unusual. When Nik and Norva finally find him, Hugo is a dead body.

The police arrive, and tensions run high. Nik’s keen powers of observation mean she and Norva are able to construct a timeline of events. Neither can shake the uncomfortable feeling their dad is in the frame. He was seen arguing with Hugo hours before he disappeared. Can the girls find out who did the murder before the police jump to the wrong conclusion?

Why Read High Rise Mystery?

High Rise Mystery is a breath of fresh air in a crowded room. As well as being about solving the crime, it’s a book about the power of friendship, the importance of family, and how vital community can be.

Nik and Norva are great characters. Nik works on evidence and logic, whereas Norva likes to go with her gut. It’s a tried and tested crime-duo recipe and it works again in High Rise Mystery.  Nik and Norva’s dialogue is snappy and inviting; you want to get to know the girls better, and of course, we are willing them to succeed. Whilst the novel harks back to the golden age of children’s literature, we’re far cry from lashings of ginger beer here.

This is a book with modern sensibilities. Conversations are captured on phones, some of its players want to be YouTube stars, and the lack of funding for poorer communities is evident. It reminded me of Nikesh Shukla’s Run Riotthough High Rise Mystery is aimed at younger readers. Both highlight the difficulties of urban living, whilst also extolling how good it can be.

The central mystery is light, despite there being a murder involved, but it also touches on real-world problems, particularly arguments centered around money. There are lots of twists, turns, and moments of inspiration as the girls hurry to solve the mystery.

We rushed through High Rise Mystery, reading long after we would normally stop, as we tried to keep up with its relentless reveals. My son informs me that Mic Drop is really good too, but he refuses to tell me what happens. “You’ll just have to read it yourself,” he says, with the ghost of a smile on his lips. The tables have turned. Sharna Jackson has turned my son into a reading legend; he consumes book after book now. I can’t promise Nik and Norva will do that for your children, but their adventures are definitely well worth a look.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of High Rise Mystery, you can do so here, in the US (this is the audiobook link the novel doesn’t seem to be readily available in the US) and here, in the UK. (The US link is an affiliate link.)

If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other Word Wednesday posts, here.


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