Set in the 1930s, this third book of the Curiosity House series continues to follow four orphans who are performers and residents of Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders.
In the previous book, the orphans, Sam, Max, Thomas, and Pippa, only barely escaped capture by the mad scientist Nicholas Rattigan, who vanished after murdering Sam's parents. Under the protection of their new caretaker, Mr. Dumfrey, head of the museum, the children are rallying to move on from their grief when a mysterious string of robberies hits close to home. After someone poisons and kills all of Gen. Farnum's fleas from his world-famous flea circus, Farnum is arrested for murder. Knowing Farnum is incapable of such an act, and after the occurrence of a second murder while he's in jail, the orphans suspect that Rattigan may be lurking about yet again. These events lead the orphans to discover the tragic origins of their exceptional abilities, and they find themselves racing to uncover a deadly plot that could lead to the destruction of New York City. The plot is somewhat engaging in building suspense as the orphans attempt to unveil the hidden traitors, but the delivery of a dark reveal about the orphans is derailed by repetitive foreshadowing that establishes a predictable outcome. In the end, whimsy and a quick pace fail to compensate for the plot’s shortcomings.
Continued reliance on formula makes this third outing too much like the first two. (Historical fiction. 8-12)