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In 1999, 13-year-old Virgil McCormick disappeared without a trace while waiting for the 43 Masonic bus. Thus, the Harriet Club was born, with 8-year-old Harriet, and her friends Nikki, Dahlia, and Casey, each longing to find out what happened to Virgil. Especially Harriet.

Ten years later, new leads in the cold case have emerged, including suspicious sketches by city graffiti artist Blinky, and the “Spatterer,” someone eager to erase all Blinky’s creations. Harriet’s obsession with the case hasn’t waned, even amid her life with her two moms, two dads, and their sometimes unpredictable lifestyle. The question now is whether The Harriet Club is up to the task of closing the Virgil McCormick case once and for all, as the teenagers face college applications, neglectful parents, substance abuse, and sexual advances from older men. With a complex and diverse cast of characters and incongruous developments at every turn, The Harriet Club definitely has their work cut out for them.

Kathe Maguire brings a dark, twisted humor to this mystery/thriller, demonstrating that in seemingly idyllic San Francisco, the city’s shadows can run deep and sinister. Maguire also does a great job of inserting local culture and color through realistic settings and dialogue. For example, Virgil’s fictional mystery is intertwined with San Francisco’s real-life cases of kidnapped children in the area, including Kevin Collins, Jaycee Dugard, and others, adding a dark and suspenseful element.

This is a well-written and well-paced novel that will capture readers from the opening pages all the way until the end. With exquisite description and visceral imagery, the story definitely tends more on the literary rather than the commercial side, but the break-neck pacing won’t leave genre readers disappointed. There are lots of moving pieces and plots that Maguire skillfully weaves together into a compelling read.

Although the main players in this story are teens, each with different shades of diversity, a much-needed trait in YA literature, this is not a typical YA mystery, and parents should be cautioned that the inclusion of graphic language, talk about sex, scenes of drug use, and themes makes this gritty story a selection for teens at least 16 and older. Dog lovers should also be cautioned of certain scenes involving animal violence. Regardless, this is a must-read for those looking for a compelling mystery that incorporates razor-sharp wit. Those from and in Northern California, and those who wish they were, will also relish in the book’s authentic setting and textures.

Obsession and dedication go hand in hand in Kathe Maguire’s The Harriet Club, a hard-core Y/A mystery thriller set in the shadow of San Francisco.