Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Sammy Keyes

Go To

We live in Santa Martina, remember? This town is full of wackos.
Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen

Sammy Keyes is a series of mystery novels aimed at children and teenagers that, of course, follows the adventures of the titular protagonist. In most of the books, she deals with everyday junior high school life, solves mysteries, and contends with her arch-nemesis Heather Acosta, though there have been a couple of exceptions to the formula.


These works contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Adult Fear:
    • One story (Search for Snake Eyes) centers around Sammy running into a scared, desperate girl, who forces Sammy to take a bag. When the girl is forced to leave, it turns out that there's a baby inside. It's later revealed that the baby was the girl's son and that she was forced to give him to a complete stranger to protect him from her abusive ex-boyfriend, who was hunting her down. The climax of the novel reveals that the ex did catch her, and left her in his basement, tied up and starving. After she's rescued, she wants to see her baby before getting medical treatment.
    • The one time Officer Borsch shows concern for Sammy's safety is when she and her friends manage to temporarily imprison a drug dealer who was making meth in an underground lab. Once she reveals the evidence to him, shortly after said dealer destroyed the bike she borrowed from Hudson and nearly killed her Borsch shouts at her that what she did was extremely dangerous and that you don't confront meth dealers head-on.
    • Advertisement:
    • Considering some of the dangerous situations Sammy gets into and somehow manages to get out of, mostly all of her books contain at least one example of Adult Fear, which can either make the danger more realistic or make her getting out of it more improbable. Grams after The Search for Snake Eyes makes a deal with Sammy that they will have no more secrets between them because Sammy keeps getting into dangerous situations. Sammy still keeps some things quiet, however, like busting a gambling ring late at night with cat-killers.
    • The entirety of Kiss Goodbye, full stop.
  • An Aesop: Most of the books have at least one. Despite being Anvilicious at points, they're handled well.
  • Alliterative Name: Tenille Toolee, the Dragon to Heather's Big Bad.
  • Alpha Bitch: Heather, complete with a one-dimensional, dimwitted Girl Posse.
  • Advertisement:
  • Arch-Enemy: Heather Acosta, to Sammy.
  • Author Appeal: Van Draanen's parents are Dutch immigrants, and so are Dot's. Her husband's great-grandfather crossed the plains in 1850. In Moustache Mary, the eponymous pioneer was part of a group of travelers doing the same thing, and Sammy spends New Years' with Dot's family. It's one of the few cases where the author appeal is educational-as well as delicious.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Sammy lampshades in The Psycho Kitty Queen that during the weekend of her birthday she found dead cats in Dumpsters, found how her mother lied about her birthday, then learned she and Heather had the same birthday, lost her cat for a couple of hours, and put up Lost/Found signs in the dangerous part of town. The only good thing was she won money for taking a back bump, which she uses to buy a secondhand CD player. Ironically, she then starts to have the best week of her life, subverting the trope.
  • Birthday Hater: In The Psycho Kitty Queen Sammy explains to Hudson that she hates her birthday and didn't mention it was the next day because on her twelfth birthday, her mother sat her down and announced that she was going to Hollywood, and then forgot Sammy's thirteenth and called several days later apologizing. Lady Lana also messes up Sammy's fourteenth birthday by revealing that Sammy is actually thirteen, and then accidentally letting Dorito loose because he had caught a mouse.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Sisters of Mercy, big time!
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: In Sisters of Mercy, Sammy and Marissa do this to Monet when they start deliberately going over the wrong softball signals.
  • Book-Ends: Hotel Thief starts and Kiss Goodbye ends with Sammy waving to someone through a window. And both books have the same culprit.
  • Camp Gay: Art gallery owner—and Ren Faire booth-runner—Jojo in Art of Deception.
  • Chekhov's Gun: As is natural for almost any detective story.
    • Sammy's catcher's mitt, a Tragic Keepsake from his Disappeared Dad. In The Search for Snake Eyes she uses it to hold a hose that spews hot water, to incapacitate the titular character.
    • Her homeroom teacher's magnifying glass in The Art of Deception. Sammy uses it to identify a signature on a painting as a forgery.
    • Sammy's jamming the fire escape door latch to get into the Highrise undetected comes back to bite her in Kiss Goodbye. Her attempted killer jams two doors in the hospital stairwell the same way in order to access the room containing an unconscious Sammy.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Darren Cole, a rock musician first mentioned in Psycho Kitty Queen whose fandom includes Sammy, Casey, and Marissa's family. In Showdown in Sin City, it's revealed that he's Sammy's father.
    • Throughout Kiss Goodbye, it's suggested the man who pushed Sammy off the fire escape is a villain from the earlier book. It's the culprit from Hotel Thief, Larry Daniels aka "Oscar the ice cream man."
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Hudson in The Sisters of Mercy teaches Sammy how to crack safe codes. This comes in handy when she has to find proof that the titular characters are the thieves that have robbed a church.
    • Sammy getting unofficial wrestling lessons from Slammin' Dave helps her out when Heather and her posse try to mug her for a horseshoe.
  • City of Adventure: Santa Martina.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: The format all the titles follow.
  • Comic-Book Time: The first installments were published, and presumably set, around 1990ish. About a year and a half has passed in Sammy's world, but the setting has kept pace with the twenty-some years passing on the outside: in recent books, most middle-school kids have their own cell phones.
  • Cool Old Guy: Hudson.
  • Cool Old Lady: Grams has her moments. Notably when she pins Diane Reijden down long enough for Sammy to rescue half a burned painting from a pire and expose Diane as a fraud.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: In Psycho Kitty Queen, obviously. A local former pageant queen named Katherine insistently goes by Kitty, keeps many cats, and harbors a vicious dislike of dogs. She claims to be able to identify a scrap of furry skin as a piece of dog licking it.
  • Cute Bruiser: And again, Sammy.
    • Holly Janquell, her baseball bat, and her troubled past would like to weigh in, too.
  • Darker and Edgier: How many kid detective series involve arson, murder, drugs, and sex, without any loss in quality?
    • As well as having thirteen and fourteen year olds drinking and smoking. While underage drinking and such are handled in other, grittier stories, few of them are aimed at younger children.
    • In the final book Sammy gets pushed off the fire escape and ends up in the hospital, and the one who pushed her keeps coming back to finish the job.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A lot of characters in the series have shades of this, but it's most apparent in Sammy's narration.
  • Debate and Switch: In The Art of Deception Hudson while in a relationship with "Grams" finds himself attracted to Diane Reijden, an artist who does poignant oils of various subjects. Hudson claims that falling in love with Diane is a matter of falling in love with the art, while Grams in Green-Eyed Monster mode claims that the art is shallow and tacky, manipulating emotions. Sammy, caught in the middle, doesn't know what to think since she likes the paintings but she doesn't like seeing Grams hurt. Then she realizes that Diane, aka "Elizabeth," didn't do the paintings but took credit for them after her father left them to her, and Diane was willing to destroy them once lithographs were taken. Hudson has to admit that he fell for Diane's looks since "an old dead guy" actually did the paintings, and Grams acquiesces and says they were lovely paintings, after they've been destroyed.
  • Destroy the Evidence:
    • Sammy does this with the "Crocodile"'s Black Mail book after she succeeds in stealing it, leaving the latter with no hold on her or anyone else because she realizes that so much knowledge about others' personal lives are too dangerous and nasty to hold.
    • Diane burns her father's paintings when they no longer serve any monetary purpose. Sammy barely manages to save enough of Whispers, her favorite portrait, to prove Diane's a fraud and she's heartbroken about what she didn't save.
  • Driving Question: Arguably - Sammy wants to know who her father is, and Van Draanen has stated that the series will end when she finds out.
    • More recently, Van Draanen said on her blog that Sammy will find out who he is with in the next few books, and the series will continue for several books after that. At the time of this edit, that book and a second came out; only one more is planned.
    • Sammy finds out in the sixteenth book, Showdown in Sin City, two before the end of the series.
  • Enemy Mine: Sammy and Officer Borsch help each other out occasionally. They eventually become Friendly Enemies, and then outright friends.
  • Eureka Moment: Again, as usual for the genre.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Diane Reijden's brother Lance, who is a Black Sheep and a "deadbeat" is outright horrified that Diane not only took credit for her father's paintings, but destroyed them via a house fire. In fact, Diane doing such a thing motivates him to clean up his life and stop "running away".
  • Evil Redhead: Heather, as well as her mother, though it's been suggested that they're dyeing it.
  • Fair Play Whodunit
  • Friend or Idol Decision: After Casey reveals that Sammy and Marissa were framed for vandalism, and that his sister Heather was responsible, Sammy is eligible to play in the softball playoffs. She realizes, however that "Snake Eyes" has kidnapped the Teen Mother Lena that gave her baby to Sammy, and gives up paying and gives up the game without hesitation. Vice Principal Caan ends up forfeiting the big game because he doesn't trust Sammy's replacement Babs since she's associated with Heather, and puts Heather on probation.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sammy (choleric), Marissa (phlegmatic), Holly (melancholic), Dot (sanguine).
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Sammy and Casey. No one believes her. Eventually ends with a Relationship Upgrade when he learns that she lives with her grandmother.
  • Hidden Depths: Many, many characters.
  • I Know You Know I Know: In the resolution of Psycho Kitty Queen, Officer Borsch visits Sammy in her grandmother's apartment and thanks her for saving his life. This makes her realize that he knows about her living situation but won't rat about it, and she's okay with it given no one knows two thirteen-year olds saved him from vicious gamblers.
  • Inspector Javert: Officer Borsch, initially.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Sammy and Hudson.
    • Sammy and Officer Borsch, eventually.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Sammy finds an old picture of her neighbor, Mrs. Graybill.
  • Jerkass: Heather, all the way. Until her Heel–Face Turn at the end of Showdown in Sin City.
    • Danny Urbanski, as well.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Amazingly, Officer Borsch.
  • Kaleidoscope Eyes: Father Mayhew is mentioned to have them.
  • Kick the Dog: Heather's character is practically built upon petty maliciousness. Special mention goes to her taunting Sammy about losing her father's softball mitt in Sisters of Mercy.
  • Kid Detective: Sammy herself, sometimes with help from her friends. She calls it "snooping".
  • Masked Luchador: El Gato in Psycho Kitty Queen. He's actually Borsch, undercover on his own time to infiltrate a catfighting ring.
  • Mugging the Monster: Heather and her Girl Posse attempt to steal a horseshoe from Sammy, taking her by surprise. Unfortunately for them, Sammy's been practicing wrestling moves . . .
  • Mystery Magnet: A stranger example than others, as each mystery usually takes place within a month. Other Mystery Magnet stories aren't as regulated.
  • The Nicknamer: Sammy, in regards to practically everything. She has a tendency to give people she encounters (often unflattering) nicknames before she knows their real names. If she likes you, she'll start calling you by your real name once she knows it, but if not, the nickname sticks.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted. Sammy's age progresses as the series goes on. At least, until Psycho Kitty Queen, when Lana reveals she lied about Sammy's age to get her into Kindergarten early. And she tells her this days before her 14th birthday, which is actually her 13th.
  • One Steve Limit: Cassie Kuo, a minor character from Sisters of Mercy, is given the nickname "Cricket" in Wild Things, apparently so as not to confuse her with Casey Acosta.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Meta example. The eighteenth and final book, Kiss Goodbye, is the only book not to be narrated by Sammy, it's the only one with chapter titles, and it has the highest stakes, with Sammy comatose after being pushed off the fire escape and the man responsible trying to finish the job.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Happens in Dead Giveaway. Luckily, it ends better than a lot of examples.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sammy's dad has vanished, and her mother has run off to Hollywood to be an actress. Once her dad learns he has a daughter, he makes an effort to get back into Sammy's life, and is a major character in Killer Cruise.
    • Casey certainly believes this is the case in Wedding Crasher when his dad Warren gets a part in the same soap opera as Sammy's mom, thus forcing him to move in with his mother and sister, both of whom he hates. This causes some angst in his relationship with Sammy. It's also on the Squick side of things for the both of them when they find out that Warren and Lana are moving in together after having dated for a while. However, Warren and Lana's relationship doesn't last through Showdown in Sin City.
  • Retired Badass: One possible interpretation of Hudson.
  • Serious Business: Santa Martina takes softball very seriously, so much so that there's a softball statue in City Hall. It's rumored that the mayor bows to it every day.
  • Shadow Archetype: Explicitly spelled out as Heather's relationship to Sammy, up to having the same birthday.
  • Sickbed Slaying / Vorpal Pillow: Averted and subverted in Kiss Goodbye. The villain plans to murder an unconscious Sammy by smothering her with the pillow from her hospital bed, and plans on it taking three minutes (he got a time of six minutes from the web, then halved it due to Sammy being unconscious). However, he never gets those three minutes, as Sammy's friends and family are always by her side.
  • Street Urchin: Holly, initially.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": When Sammy wants to figure out how to crack a safe in Sisters of Mercy, the advice Hudson gives her is essentially this trope, but paraphrased. Winds up a Chekhov's Skill in the same book when she has to open a safe at the church.
  • Together in Death: Really, really creepy variation in Hollywood Mummy. Sammy's mother Lana, an actress, fakes an ID so she can claim to be 25. Unfortunately, her new birthdate is the day her boss's wife died. He thinks Lana is the reincarnation of his wife, and he tries to kill both of them so they can be reincarnated together.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Officer Borsch, in two separate books. Sammy as a Christmas present provides proof that one cop heckling him is a Dirty Cop and saves his life in The Psycho Kitty Queen.
  • Villainous Breakdown: In the later books, this happens to Heather. She still hasn't really recovered from it. It doesn't help that Sammy saved her from drowning, either.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Heather Acosta - when Sammy realizes this, it forces her to admit that they're Not So Different.
  • Wham Episode: Showdown in Sin City. Grams and Hudson get married, Marissa's family falls apart and decides to move away from Santa Martina, Sammy and Heather team up and overcome their mutual hatred, and Sammy's father's identity is revealed.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Grams and Hudson danced around this for most of the series. Eventually, they did.


Example of: