I got the idea in April 2012 when a friend told us her teen was a volunteer with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue. Our local SAR does what all SARSs do—find people lost in the wilderness—but ours is unique in two respects. First, it is an all teen-led organization. Adults can volunteer, but they can't be elected to leadership positions. Second, about 30% of what these teens do is search for evidence at crime scenes. Evidence they have found has been credited with helping solve dozens of murders. The more I learned, the more I was sure I had found what I had long sought: a realistic hook for a teen mystery series.
The teen volunteers receive about 300 hours of training. They meet every Wednesday evening as well as go on weekend outings once a month. I have gone to trainings with them, most recently a unit on "man tracking," which is what they call it when you follow someone's tracks. It's a real art, and the only clue that someone might have been there can be as small as a broken twig or a few grains of sand on top of a leaf. (I told folks at my kung fu school that I was learning to man track and another lady said, "Oh, don't worry, honey, I can set you up with somebody!")
How to write about something you
I stared first where I always start: at the library. I checked out books about Search and Rescue. I even bought a few manuals (which were expensive, even if they weren't that much bigger than a book. I don't understand why textbooks and such always priced so much higher.)
I interviewed the girl who was a volunteer, and she showed me all the things you have to carry in your pack and on your person when you are called out for SAR. After signing a criminal background check, I started going to meetings, including an orientation meeting, where I took notes and talked to people. But the best thing I did was to make the acquintance of Jake K., a guy in his early 20s who had volunteered for SAR since he was a teen. Like many SAR volunteers, SAR is Jake's passion. But he's also willing to answer a million questions by email.
And slowly I found my way to a story. Actually I found my way to ideas for about a dozen stories, but i picked one and worked on that.
First up: the Body in the Woods
Next in the series: Blood Will Tell
In Blood Will Tell, Nick, Alexis and Ruby are well on their way to being full-fledged members of Portland’s Search and Rescue—and to being friends. When a woman is found stabbed to death, their team is called out to search for evidence. Suspicion begins to fall on a guy who lives nearbyr, an awkward kid who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks: Nick Walker. As the evidence against their friend mounts, Alexis and Ruby must decide where their loyalties lie—even if it puts them in danger.
- A Junior Library Guild selection.
- Kirkus: "A fast-moving and well-constructed mystery... A quick, thrilling read that doesn’t skimp on characterization."
- Publishers Weekly: "The author’s expertise at plotting a murder mystery and knowledge of police procedure are evident."
- School Library Journal: "A pervading sense of threat and danger."
- VOYA: "Henry has created not only a gripping mystery, but rich and detailed characters as well."