The latest installment in the endless carnival of crime at sleepy La Porte, Md., involves still another return to the storied past.
Now that she’s untangled the mystery of exactly which members of the Queen family killed which other members (Cold Flat Junction, 2001), Belle Ruin waitress/cub reporter Emma Graham, 12, is confronted by an even more vexing case: the disappearance 20 years ago of Baby Fay from the loving embrace of Morris and Imogen Slade. Or not exactly, since the infant was being minded, not very vigilantly, by babysitter Gloria Spiker, who returned from an extended phone conversation with Prunella Rice to find her charge gone. The setup echoed that of the famous Lindbergh kidnapping, right down to the telltale ladder, but there was never a ransom demand, and never a sign of Baby Fay since then. Rumor has long maintained that Imogen’s father, Lucien Woodruff, kept the police investigation at bay for the first crucial hours, presumably in order to conceal some family secret. Now Emma, provoked alike by kleptomaniac spinster Isabel Barnett’s claim to have seen Baby Fay after the abduction and the recent return of Morris Slade to town, is determined to get at the truth. Other 12-year-olds would be daunted, but Emma, who’s already confronted armed killers and survived her brother’s production of Medea, the Musical, methodically begins interviewing possible suspects, who just happen to be her friends and neighbors, and pondering possibilities. Is Baby Fay still alive, or was she killed in the course of the kidnapping, like the Lindbergh child? Did the kidnappers somehow lose her? Was she a changeling whose fate was intertwined with that of some other baby, or a hallucination of Isabel Barnett’s? Was there a conspiracy to cover up the real facts of her disappearance? In fact, how many people actually saw her at Belle Ruin?
Emma is as enchanting as the eccentric cast of her hometown.