Allen’s debut children’s mystery, the first installment of a planned series, introduces a likable kid detective as she takes a case involving unwanted jack-o’-lanterns.
As the story begins, the narrator, 10-year-old detective Samantha Green, mentions a series of previous neighborhood cases that she and her yellow Labrador retriever, Murphy, have solved, including one involving a missing bike and another a lost cat. These successes earn her a new case: Samantha’s spooky neighbor, Mrs. Finkel, has been receiving threateningly carved pumpkins on her front porch, sometimes with even more alarming notes attached. At the same time, Mrs. Finkel finds that broken items in her house are being mysteriously repaired; the home’s familiar creaks and cracks have somehow disappeared. She attempts to enlist Samantha’s help in solving the mystery, but the unkempt woman’s reputation as a witch—suggested by her shapeless black clothing and bloodshot eyes—makes the young detective hesitant to take on the investigation. The Halloween-themed narrative brings to life the novel’s detailed setting and richly developed characters, including Samantha’s goofy little sister. Samantha’s teenage babysitter encourages her to never to judge people by their appearances. After the detective accepts this sage advice, she begins to unravel Mrs. Finkel’s mysteries—including the true story behind her witch-like appearance. Samantha eventually solves the case, but the resolution has no major twists or shocking revelations and may not surprise serious young readers. However, the novel’s emotional depth, engaging prose style, appealing characters and witty protagonist overcome the story’s predictability.
A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.