it's another book recommendations question
September 11, 2021 8:37 PM   Subscribe

I know, I know, do we need another book recs thread? But I'd like to read books about treasure hunts or puzzle solving.

I'm in the mood to read treasure hunts, group puzzle solving, epics quests, that sort of thing. Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was just right. The Westing Game was lovely. I've read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler more times than I can count (though it may be up for a comfort reread soon). On the other hand, I tried to reread the first Dan Brown book this summer and bounced off it after like page 5; I know too many Robert Langdon types, and they're all insufferable and often sleeping with their students, if that helps to calibrate.

Queer characters a huge plus (poly characters done right will actually make me weep with joy), BIPOC characters a huge plus, folks with d/Disabilities a huge plus (in other words, people that look like me and my friends, just out doing things in the world). Books with a strong sense of place warm this geographer's heart. Unreliable narrators are okay as long as the reader doesn't feel gaslit (so ergo, I really enjoyed The Supernatural Elements). I need sexual assault to not be a major plot point (like, I've read all the Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson books, and what happens is so weirdly described that I honestly didn't clock it as SA until it came up in the next book). A happy ending is a plus but tidy resolution will do. Adult, YA, kid's chapter books, I don't care. My more read authors are Seanan McGuire, Deanna Raybourn, and Gail Carringer, so I like strong personalities, witty dialogue, lots of plot, big universes (though one-offs are great too!) and geeks. I did read all of Kristen Lepionka's books in a three week jag last summer, and they were great too, I'm just burned out on murder mysteries.

Thank in advance for helping distract me when I can no longer stand to look at my dissertation and don't want to do laundry either. :)
posted by joycehealy to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Not to abused the edit window: non-fic that tells a compelling story is good too. :)
posted by joycehealy at 8:43 PM on September 11, 2021

Best answer: The Mysterious Benedict Society books scratch this itch for me - they are kids books but long and clever and puzzle-y!
posted by fleecy socks at 8:47 PM on September 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might enjoy York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby, set in a version of New York.
posted by mogget at 10:42 PM on September 11, 2021

I recently enjoyed Rabbits by Terry Miles, about a strange conspiracy/mysterious ARG-like game. There’s also a podcast set in that world, by the same name.

You didn’t mention if you’ve read it, but Ready Player One covers some of that ground, too—a young man in a near-future setting solves a series of puzzles in a virtual world.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is about monks in the 1300s solving a murder in the abbey, with a mysterious library that features codes they must solve.

As far as non-fiction, I just published a book about the history of immersive entertainment and escape rooms—I’ll put the info on my profile if you think you might be interested in that. I also liked The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography—there are a lot of interesting historical stories in there that might be jumping-off points for further reading.
posted by lhall at 12:45 AM on September 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright is a lovely children's book about a treasure hunt. No diversity representation as far as I recall. I would say there is a sense of place, though mild. It is the fourth of a series but you don't have to have read the others first. The School Library Mystery by Agnes Furlong is another, more obscure, children's book with a treasure hunt, enjoyable, no diversity. I'm sure I have read more, may come back. I think some biographies where the writer is a descendant of the biographee and is hunting through family papers might fit. And thank you for asking this, I will also look forward to the answers.
posted by paduasoy at 1:53 AM on September 12, 2021

Best answer: There can never be too many book recommendation AskMes. They’re my favorite.

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is an outstanding YA mystery/ treasure-hunt kind of book, with a strong sense of time and place (New York City, late seventies). I don’t typically read YA, but I think I kept hearing how good it was so I picked it up and was not disappointed. It won the Newbery Medal. I’m surprised it’s not recommended more often on this site.

Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage is an amazing and well-written puzzler starring computer geeks and hackers. It’s non-fiction that reads like fiction. Written over 30 years ago, but so so good.

I read each of these quite a while ago but think fondly on them often.
posted by SomethinsWrong at 2:50 AM on September 12, 2021 [6 favorites]

Two YA recs: seconding Mysterious Benedict Society. Also, the Deltora Quest books are not great literature but do have puzzles and mysteries sprinkled throughout.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:59 AM on September 12, 2021

Not ticking many of your inclusion boxes but . . .
An Instance of the Fingerpost 1997 historical mystery novel by Iain Pears.
Cryptonomicon 1999 two-timing novel by American author Neal Stephenson
The Gold-Bug 1843 treasure-hunt by Edgar Allen Poe
Masquerade 1979 illustrated treasure-hunt by Kit Williams
The Daughter of Time 1951 Josephine Tey rehabilitating Richard III
In Code by Sarah Flannery with David Flannery. This is the true story of 16 year old Sarah Flannery who won the 1999 RDS Young Scientist’s Competition for her new and original take on internet encryption.
posted by BobTheScientist at 4:59 AM on September 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

I feel duty bound to report that Ready Player One is absolute garbage and I've seen better prose in the content listing box of your average Wikipedia article.

I am halfway through Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum as we speak, and it might suit what you're looking for.

Big nth to the Mysterious Benedict Society books, I read them all last year and they nearly got to that Westing Game sweet spot. But not quite.

Newbery Honor book Doll Bones by Holly Black wasn't exactly a puzzle book, but the story unfolded in a satisfying way.

Also the Gregor the Overlander books have some puzzly bits to them. I thought the series started well but didn't really like how it wrapped up, but they're kids books and read fast.
posted by phunniemee at 5:11 AM on September 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Failed to preview and would like to very heartily second When You Reach Me. It's lovely.
posted by phunniemee at 5:12 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bet you’d enjoy Cemetery Boys, a YA book that has queer, BIPOC teenagers of color solving some major supernatural problems while sorting out issues of family and identity. I love it so much.
posted by corey flood at 6:43 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Will hopefully come back to this, but off the top of my head, I just reread the first Trixie Belden book (my favorite detective series as a kid) and it was surprisingly good. Definitely has the group puzzle solving and treasure hunting aspect, though it’s a lot more character focused than most of the kid detective series (I reread the first Nancy Drew book shortly after and it was mediocre). It’s not explicitly queer but Trixie and Honey have such a strong butch/femme dynamic that I kept quoting parts to my partner until they finally said, “Sweetie, I get it. You were Honey. I was Trixie. Please let me go back to my book.” So, uh, there’s that?

I’m also currently reading A Master of Djinn which has some mystery in it and I’m enjoying it a lot. The protagonist is a queer woman of color and the story is set in steampunk Cairo.

Seconding Cemetery Boys and Doll Bones.
posted by brook horse at 7:09 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I adore the novels about Peter Grant, a contemporary London policeman who discovers that magic is real -- which lands him a job in the tiny police office responsible for crimes where magic is involved.

They are cop stories so there is a dash of the procedural about them, but the author Ben Aaronovitch has written lots of Doctor Who -- and he spins a smart, funny tale.

And the narrator of the audiobooks does this positive rainbow of voices which are not to be missed.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:49 AM on September 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here's a really odd book I enjoyed: A Lost Mine Called the Virgin of Guadalupe. It's about a small group of guys searching for a legendary cache of Spanish silver in Nevada.
posted by SPrintF at 8:40 AM on September 12, 2021

Piranesi , highly recommended around these parts, is kind of puzzle-y. Sense of place/geography is a big theme/plot point. The narrator is a POC, but it doesn’t make much difference to the story. Likewise, there are queer characters mentioned casually.

You’d likely enjoy the episode of the podcast Criminal called Episode 169: Masquerade, about a real-life puzzle hunt.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:07 AM on September 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Peter Grant books - I particularly like Aaronovitch's picture of a mythic London where the primary river gods are mostly incarnated as members of an extended, fractious British Nigerian family. They're a rich, hugely readable, occasionally genuinely eerie love letter to street-level, unpretentious multicultural England.

If you haven't read them, I love John Bellairs' YA gothic mysteries - the first one, The House With a Clock in its Walls (vastly better than the loud, stupid Jack Black movie adaptation) has a strong puzzle-solving element. While we're never told anything explicit about the adult characters, the protagonists are all outsiders in their 1950s Michigan small town - a confirmed bachelor, an elderly witch, a tomboy, and an overweight kid struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of his parents. They're deeply kind and compassionate books, but not treacly or sentimental.

The later books in the original series are also the first ones I encountered, as a kid in the 80s, that had a strong, smart young female character who was treated as an equal.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:07 AM on September 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

Book Scavenger is an MG novel set in San Francisco, about kids who start off hunting for hidden books, and end up getting involved in a bigger (but still treasure-hunt-related) mystery.

Greenglass House has a lot of fun stuff going on, and it's not exclusively a treasure hunt book, but it definitely ticks that Westing House vibe of a fun mystery with strong treasure hunt elements.

Both books have equally delightful sequels so if you like them, you can keep the fun going for a while.
posted by yankeefog at 10:13 AM on September 12, 2021

We ALWAYS need more bookfilter.

You may enjoy Poe's "The Gold Bug," which is a very early version of this sort of "finding a puzzle" story. No diversity here (or anywhere in Poe's work, really) but it's a great story.

I generally enjoyed "Truly Devious," set in a boarding school where secret passages hide perhaps treasure but also perhaps murder...

I understand "The Eight" by Katherine Neville is very much along these lines. Ancient treasure associated with a legendary chessboard, I think?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:43 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I read The Eight a few years back and I think it definitely fits. National Treasure except with ladies instead of Nic Cage and chess instead of the Declaration of Independence. (Note that the author is weirdly obsessive about a main character's weight and every scene with her drops a soupçon of fat shaming. Throughout an 800+ page book. So there's that.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:52 AM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

While it’s a bit of work to read (at least it was for me), the Georges Perec novel Life: A User’s Manual involves puzzles in a lovely, encyclopedic way. The book creates a strong sense of place through an apartment building in Paris.
posted by ponibrown at 12:10 PM on September 12, 2021

Best answer: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and the sequel just came out!
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I meant also to mention David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, a book put together like a puzzle with a maze at its center. I don’t typically read fantasy, but it was recommended to me and I’ll never forget it. It’s an investment at over 600 pages.
posted by SomethinsWrong at 12:58 PM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I liked the Rule of Four, even if it is about a group of Ivy League room mates, so it won't meet your BiPOC or queer criteria. It's like a smarter Dan Brown thriller (that's a pretty low bar, I know). I smiled a bit to see this reviewer's quote, but it is actually a pretty good summation: "One part The Da Vinci Code, one part The Name of the Rose and one part A Separate Peace . . . a smart, swift, multitextured tale that both entertains and informs.”—San Francisco Chronicle"
posted by seasparrow at 2:10 PM on September 12, 2021

This may be off base, but I feel like Susan Orlean's nonfiction-- The Orchid Thief, and The Library Book, in particular-- feel like real life detective stories to me with very deep senses of place. They start with a strange and unbelievable event, then Susan dives in and wanders through books and real life, meeting (and sometimes, semi-inventing) colorful characters, in trying to unravel the mystery of how and why the event came to happen.
posted by holyrood at 2:18 PM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might like "The Tightrope Walker" by Dorothy Gilman. It is a young adult novel about a shy young woman who encounters romance and a murder mystery.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 2:35 PM on September 12, 2021

I feel duty bound to report that Ready Player One is absolute garbage and I've seen better prose in the content listing box of your average Wikipedia article.

As your librarian, I should mention that many people like this book but the ones who don't really don't. You'll know early on if you don't like it or not. I like this kind of book too.

Also seconding

- The Eight (sequel not as good)
- The Rule of Four (very cishet but yes, like smart Dan Brown was my take)
- Rabbits (NB lead character I think?)

I found the Fingerpost book a little long and snoozy but many people like it a lot. Also liked The Starless Sea but know a lot of people who found it too vague and ethereal. The Last Treasure by Janet Anderson is a nice straightforward YA example of this genre that I liked.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 PM on September 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to chime in to put in a vote against Rabbits.

I found it too caught up in its own conceits--layer upon layer (upon layer and layer) of mostly the same kind of new plot/redirect. It got really tough to stick with after about halfway through.

I did enjoy Jeff Vandermeer's Borne, though. It contains many of the elements you describe.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:25 PM on September 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Claire Kann's The Marvelous? YA, BIPOC/queer protagonists, they have to try and win the mysterious game hosted by a mysterious famous recluse.
posted by leesh at 11:50 AM on September 13, 2021

Best answer: I assume you've read The View from Saturday given Mixed up Files was in your question, but in case you missed it or forgot, it has all the things that are great about Mixed Up Files plus some diversity.

Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest is more epic journey than puzzle but it ticks a lot of your boxes.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:31 PM on September 13, 2021

Response by poster: Y'all are awesome. Dorothy Gilman is also one of my favorite authors, and y'all are right, sometimes I forget that my favorite writers have indeed... *dramatic pause* written other books. :)

I'm going through and marking best answers -for me- as I check books out, but this is a treasure trove (ahem) of recs and they're all best answers. :)
posted by joycehealy at 6:05 AM on September 15, 2021

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