Michael Dahl's Finnegan Zwake novels were a series of young-adult murder mysteries which started in 1999. They follow the titular thirteen-year-old protagonist and his mystery-writer uncle Stoppard in their attempts to track down Finn's missing parents, who disappeared eight years ago on an archaeological expedition in Iceland. Along the way, they encounter other archaeologists, paleontologists, mystery writers, ice tycoons, pirates, the mysterious Ackerberg Institue
, and, at least once per novel
The series to date consists of:
- The Horizontal Man - Finn and Uncle Stoppard have their first encounter with murder and with the Ackerbergs when Finn discovers a dead body in the storage room where his parents left the gold from their last expedition—and one of the artifacts is missing. Set in Minneapolis. Introduced Jared Lemon-Olsen, Finn and Stoppard's "cop buddy" and a Recurring Character in later novels.
- The Worm Tunnel - Finn, Uncle Stoppard, and Jared go to the central American nation of Agualar—where Finn's parents found the Horizontal Man—to look for another gold statue that was left buried at the site. But the Zwakes' old camp is now occupied by a group of paleontologists, and not very long after Finn's arrival, the leader of the new dig is murdered in his tent...
- The Ruby Raven - Finn and his uncle go to Occo (a country sandwiched between Lesser Occo and Morocco) when Stoppard's latest book—a re-working of Hamlet in which a cross-dressing Ophelia solves the dead king's murder—is nominated for the Ruby Raven award. The prize is the titular raven statue and one million dollars—enough money to fund an expedition to find Finn's parents in Iceland. And on top of everything else, it seems that someone wants Stoppard Sterling dead.... Contains the first on-page appearance of Stoppard's rival author, Mona Trafalgar-Squeer.
- The Viking Claw - Finn and Stoppard go to Iceland to track down Finn's parents at their last dig site—the Haunted City of Tquuli. Soon, two members of their own expedition vanish, and murder seems all too probable.
- The Coral Coffin - Finn and his uncle follow his parents' trail to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, where they quickly encounter antoher dead body. Not long after, they're picked up by a crew of modern-day pirates led by a woman named Blue Jade, who keeps poisonous octopi as pets. Then someone starts poisoning the crewmen, and Finn and Stoppard have twenty-four hours to prove their innocence or face the captain's pets themselves.
The ending of The Coral Coffin clearly sets up a sixth installment
, but the series has remained at only these five books for six years to date.
This series contains examples of:
- Action Girl (Blue Jade in Coral Coffin)
- Acquitted Too Late (particularly in Worm Tunnel and Ruby Raven)
- Backstory (Finn's parents go missing years before the first book)
- Busman's Holiday (No matter where Finn and Stoppard go, death finds them—of course, it does run in the family. On both sides.)
- Clear My Name (Coral Coffin)
- Comic Book Time (Debatably—Finn is thirteen in all five books, which probably couldn't all have happened in one year.)
- Disguised in Drag (Sheridan Shakespeare in Ruby Raven)
- Eureka Moment (Uncle Stoppard and the carnival balloon in Worm Tunnel)
- Everyone Is a Suspect (Especially in Ruby Raven, since every author bumped off is one less competitor for the million-dollar prize.)
- Fair Play Whodunnit (The reader knows everything Finn does, which is usually enough to solve the murder.)
- Horny Vikings (Viking Claw, of course.)
- It's for a Book (Somewhere between inverted and averted—Uncle Stoppard frequently researches rather suspicious things for his books, and he's famous enough to get away with it.)
- Latin Land (Agualar)
- Locked Room Mystery (the man in the storage room in Horizontal Man, Professor Freaze in Worm Tunnel)
- The Men in Black (the Ackerberg Institute, which funded Finn's parents' digs)
- Never One Murder
- Parental Abandonment (the missing Zwake parents)
- Punny Name ("Finnegan Zwake." Seriously.)
- Sweet Polly Oliver (Ophelia in Stoppard's novel, in Ruby Raven)
- The Quiet One (Hror in Viking Claw.)
- Qurac (Occo)
- Race Against the Clock (Coral Coffin)
- Revenge (the motivation for all the murders in Ruby Raven.)