a heroine, a puzzle, a novel
May 22, 2018 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Looking for books with puzzles, and preferably female protagonists - think Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Westing Game.

Other books I consider in this genre: PopCo, The Ghost Network.

Female-centered is a bonus but will take other recommendations.

Not fussed about adults vs. YA, though should not be fantasy - I want roots in the real world.

Political elements are great - Special Topics and Ghost Network both hearkened to 60s radicalism, PopCo had some anti-consumerism.

Whimsy is a plus.

Learning new skills (like how to break codes with Vignere squares in PopCo!) is a double-plus!
posted by quadrilaterals to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Night Film (successor to Special Topics in Calamity Physics)
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:08 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Maureen Johnson just started a new series that starts with Truly Devious - it's set on the campus of a private school, created by a billionaire with a penchant for riddles. The female protagonist sets out to solve the biggest riddle of the campus. I devoured the first book and can't wait for the next one.
posted by librarianamy at 8:32 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Eight by Katherine Neville is a somewhat older (pub 1988) novel that hits all of your points.
A young woman in "present" day (1970's) is sent abroad for work and gets pulled into intrigue surrounding a historical chess set; parallel story in 1700's has nuns hiding the same powerful chess set.
and hey, looks like it is super-cheap on Kindle right now (1.13).
posted by maryrussell at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Seconding The Eight, which is a very fun book. But weirdly, I'm here to recommend a book called The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket.) I read it a while back and Special Topics reminded me of it a great deal.
posted by PussKillian at 9:01 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:21 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Flanders Panel involves a female art restorer who has to figure out a present-day murder mystery using clues from a 15th-century painting of a chess game.
posted by goatdog at 10:21 AM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you might enjoy Walter Jon Williams' This is Not a Game and Deep State. They are techno-thrillers featuring a female protagonist, Dagmar Shaw, an alternate-reality game designer who uses her crowdsourcing skills to solve real life conspiracies.
posted by subocoyne at 11:33 AM on May 22, 2018

If you like YA SF/F, I'm always happy to plug Suzette Haden Elgin's Ozark Trilogy (Twelve Fair Kingdoms, The Grand Jubilee, and And Then There'll Be Fireworks). I read them around the same time I read The Westing Game, and they scratched the same itch.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:09 PM on May 22, 2018

On reread, I see that I missed your line about fantasy. I can say that, aside from flying mules and a little backwoods-style folk magic, the Ozark books are only mildly fantastic.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:12 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Seconding this!

If you are okay with YA, you can try the Mysterious Benedict Society, which is Middle Grade. It has 4 main characters and two of them are girls. Along the same lines, is the Chasing Vermeer series.
posted by soelo at 2:07 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you like YA, then you might enjoy The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart.
posted by airplant at 3:50 PM on May 22, 2018

Oh oh oh! The Red blazer Girls by Michael D Beil! YA books about a group of tweens who use math (and music, and physics) to solve mysteries. So, so good.
posted by janepanic at 4:51 PM on May 22, 2018

it's a manga, but Liar Game?
posted by Cozybee at 11:44 AM on May 23, 2018

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