A girl and her granddad team up to solve mysteries in this debut children’s novel by a granddaughter-grandfather writing team.
When 12-year-old Keira and her grandfather, “Papa,” a retired CIA operative, discover a “magic hat” giving her encyclopedic knowledge, the Keira and Papa Detective Agency embarks on its first case: the theft of England’s crown jewels. Among the other main characters are Uncle Commish, the head of Scotland Yard; a stiff-necked secretary to the queen; and the queen herself, who is counting on the pair “to solve the greatest jewel theft in history.” The story also includes overt lessons in self-confidence and coping skills, as when Papa says to Keira, “Like you, I have a good imagination. I use it to solve problems, not avoid them, something I am sure you can learn to do as well.” At another point Keira says, “I like to get credit when I do something nice. On the other hand, the idea of just letting the recognition surface without bragging makes the deed more genuine and sincere.” However, the narrative’s momentum moves it quickly past these lessons. The intent of this junior spy adventure isn’t subtle—Martin is an activist for children at risk—but it still has an appealing mix of storytelling, education, and child-focused empowerment, all presented in a framework of humor, colorful detail, and mild action. Sometimes, however, a cloying quality distracts (“Not only are you an amazing spy, but also you have to be the kindest person I have ever known”); it’s also far too babyish for tween Keira hold her doll up for Papa to kiss. In addition, the use of the American Girl brand name, complete with a trademark symbol, reads disconcertingly like product placement. A thoughtful list of ways in which grandparents can be “a great resource, someone you can go to discuss many of the mysteries of everyday life” follows the story’s conclusion. An upcoming second installment, The Case of the Missing Key, will feature a treasure hunt set in Panama.
A good-hearted, educational, and affirming adventure that might have reached its full potential with a few adjustments.