In 1859 Chicago, 11-year-old orphaned Nell strives to make herself indispensable to her mysterious aunt.
How else can she avoid being sent to an orphanage? But Aunt Kitty seems eager to be rid of her unexpected charge, and Nell soon discovers why: Aunt Kitty is actually Kate Warne, the first female private eye employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. A series of mishaps keeps Nell firmly at her aunt’s side, until Nell herself becomes a key player in madcap investigations involving disguises and false identities. Nell and Kate solve one mystery after another, even successfully protecting the new president, Abraham Lincoln, from an early assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Nell’s correspondence with her best friend, Jemma, helps her to uncover the mystery of her own family, their involvement with the Underground Railroad, and the tragedies that estranged Aunt Kitty and orphaned Nell. As unlikely as all these scenarios are, Hannigan’s quick pace and Nell’s spunky voice successfully suspend readers’ disbelief, and the author manages to pack an amazing amount of historical tidbits in along the way. A key to the playful ciphers embedded in Nell’s letters follows the story.
A rousing fictional account of the remarkable career of a pioneering woman. (author’s note, sources, further reading) (Historical fiction. 9-12)