Girl Detective, Hard-Boiled Variety

What do you do when you’re playing with your grandmother’s binoculars, looking out the window at the hotel across the street and you see a burglary in progress—wait, don’t answer yet—and the burglar looks up and sees you watching him?

Samantha Keyes waves to him. So begins Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, the first book in Wendelin Van Draanen's series about the persistently curious and feisty Sammy, who doesn’t want to report the crime to the police, because she’s living in her grandmother’s seniors-only-no-children-allowed apartment and she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself and her living situation. Her mother, “Lady Lana,” as Sammy refers to her, has run off to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a film star, and left thirteen-year-old Sammy with her Grams. So Sammy has to be resourceful, and she is.

Sammy is also someone you don’t want to cross. Heather Acosta did on the first day of junior high school, and then she made the mistake of snatching something that belongs to Samantha’s best friend Marissa in the shopping mall. As Sammy describes the action,

I don’t care how much fun Heather Acosta’s made of my high-tops, she was wishing for a pair right then. She saw me gaining on her, and I think her nose was starting to remember what happened the last time she tried to mess with me because all of a sudden her stupid grin disappears and she yells, “Help! Help!”

People are staring but that doesn’t stop me. I chase her all the way to the escalator and tackle her so that she winds up with her face a little over the edge of the top step. I get on top of her, grab her hair, and say, “Give me Marissa’s money!”


I know I don’t have much time before some security guard comes and hauls me off, so I push her face down toward the moving steps and say, “Give me Marissa’s money”

There go those steps, thunk-kathunk-thunk-kathunk, just skinning her nose, and all of a sudden she’s very quiet.

I let her get a good whiff of the escalator and then I lean down and whisper, “I’d love to grind that snotty little nose of yours completely off, Heather. It’s your choice – your nose or Marissa’s money.”

A second later her hand comes around and opens up. She chokes out, “Get off of me!”

 I grab the money, step right over her, and go flying down the escalator.

The hotel thief doesn’t do much better in his encounters with Sammy, and by the end of the book justice is served. But Sammy’s sparring with Heather (verbal and otherwise) and with the suspicious Officer Borsch continues in the next books in the series. And, along with the aid of her friends Marissa and Dot, so does her knack for uncovering criminal behavior.

    Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man

It’s Halloween, and what if the scariest house in town contains a secret and an old man that needs your help?

    Sammy Keyes and the Sisters Of Mercy
Some very suspicious nuns arrive in town in an RV just when a valuable object disappears from the church. But the priest thinks Sammy is the culprit.


    Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf
Sammy gains a younger and, at first unwanted, sidekick.


    Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary
This time the case is arson, a stolen skateboard, and a 200-pound pet pig.

Sammy Keyes and the Hollywood Mummy

Sammy and Marissa pay a surprise visit to Lady Lana in Hollywood. Lana doesn't want anyone to know she has a daughter as old as Sammy, but there's not much time to deal with that after one of her mother's fellow actor is murdered.


    Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes
The abandoned baby of a gang member can certainly complicate your life, even on the softball field.


    Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception

This time Sammy foils an art heist—fans of Blue Balliett’s art mysteries take note—and the reader leans more about Grams's romantic past.


    Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen
There's a cat-killer loose in town and Sammy get to turn thirteen again. Only Lady Lana can explain a second thirteenth birthday. Sammy has to catch the cat-killer.


    Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway
Are the hometown urban renewal plans on the up-and-up, or are they as corrupt as Class Personalities election at school?


    Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things
Sammy takes to the wild to save an endangered condor, and finds herself endangered by flies, scorpions, poison oak and poachers. (Note: Not to be confused with the similar title by Maurice Sendak)


    Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash
Here's an ethics question to ponder: if you catch someone sneaking down the fire escape with three bundles of cash, and you scare him to death, do you get to keep the loot? And there’s another something to ponder: can you find happiness with the brother of your worst enemy?