Sam, Thomas, Max, and Pippa are in danger of losing the only home they’ve ever known, in Depression-era New York City.
Their strange, unusual skills are valued at Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders, but the museum is struggling to survive. Several displays have been destroyed, and there is dissention that leads many of the inhabitants to jump ship amid mysterious accidents. When a beloved friend and supporter is murdered, the children are determined to find answers. They employed their skills in series opener The Shrunken Head (2015), but the stakes are even higher now. There are more murders, museum mayhem, skulduggery, kidnappings, and danger at every turn. All the while the four young heroes are concerned that their evil archenemy, Rattigan, is behind it all. A large cast of mostly one-dimensional, mostly white characters moves in and out of the tale, providing clues and hints as well as many red herrings in what turns out to be a distracting subplot. Oliver and Chester keep a somewhat tighter rein this time, allowing some insight into the children’s emotions and growing pains and providing one new character, newsboy Chubby, with a bit of substance. When all seems to be resolved, a very unlikely twist allows for yet another series entry.
Strained and derivative, without sufficient depth to compensate. (Historical fiction. 9-12)