The protagonist makes a remarkable, cool, and likable detective despite some literary dead weight.

THE BODY UNDER THE PIANO

From the Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen series , Vol. 1

A fictional version of young Agatha Christie, a bloodthirsty writer, is in an excellent position to solve a gruesome mystery.

It’s 1902, and 12-year-old Aggie is a strange child in her largely white, English hometown. She’s overwhelmingly shy yet gifted with a cutthroat imagination. Thanks to her “Morbid Preoccupation,” Aggie is nearly unfazed when she discovers a corpse at her dancing lesson. But when two of Aggie’s favorite people are suspected of the murder, she is determined to learn the truth. With the help of a Belgian refugee boy named Hector Perot, Agatha must find the real killer even if her mother, the constables, and an eager journalist all get in her way. A classic anonymous letter made of letters cut out of newspaper must be a key clue, surely. Fictionalizing both the author Agatha Christie and her famous creation as characters in the same mystery is an infelicitous choice at best. Within the world of the tale, Hector adds little; Aggie is the real detective of the pair. Nonetheless, myriad little touches keep this both exciting and enjoyable. Aggie’s grandmother is funny and quite saucy. The girl’s grief over her recently dead father manifests genuinely: as sudden flashes of grief, as irritation with his financial mismanagement, and as fond recollections of the delicious cake that had appeared in the wake of his death.

The protagonist makes a remarkable, cool, and likable detective despite some literary dead weight. (author’s note, sources) (Historical mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73526-546-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tundra Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Superb storytelling.

FRANKIE & BUG

When Bug’s traditional summer routine is shaken up, her entire life changes.

It’s 1987, and 10-year-old Beatrice “Bug” Contreras has a plan: spend her summer months with her brother, Danny, on Venice Beach as she has for the past two years. But when 14-year-old Danny—who has matured into the name Daniel—wants more time to himself, Bug learns she will be instead hanging out with 11-year-old Frankie, the nephew of Phillip, her mother’s best friend and their upstairs neighbor. Frankie, who is visiting from Ohio, is trans at a time before this identity was well understood and has not been treated with kindness or acceptance by his parents. Frankie and Bug become fascinated with trying to solve the case of the Midnight Marauder, a serial killer who has been striking in the area. When Phillip is attacked, ending up in the hospital, their investigation swivels, and the titular characters uncover a few untold family tales. Bug and Daniel’s late father was a professor from El Salvador with Indigenous ancestry who spoke Nahuatl as well as Spanish and English. Biracial identity is explored in part through the differences in the siblings’ physical appearances: Their mother is implied to be White, and Daniel—who resembles their father more than Bug does—experiences more overt racism and dives into an exploration of his Salvadoran heritage. Readers interested in complex emotional development and relationships will appreciate each character's subtle nuances.

Superb storytelling. (resources, author’s note) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5344-8253-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Comical and clever in spots but overall, a sad follow-up to Mystery on Museum Mile (2014).

MYSTERY IN MAYAN MEXICO

From the Eddie Red Undercover series , Vol. 2

A free trip to the Yucatán pitches Edmund, a young artist/sleuth with a photographic memory, and his OCD pal Jonah into a new investigation involving an unsolved old crime and disappearing gold.

Edmund opens his account sitting in a jail cell, clad in a wet Darth Vader costume, covered in scratches, blood and barf (“I smell awesome”), his wrist in a cast—and really not looking forward to calling his parents. Following this magnificent lead-in, though, the tale goes downhill rapidly, from the disappearance of an ancient gold mask to the climactic struggle with a knife-wielding thief atop a rain-swept Mayan ruin. In between, Wells concocts a nonsensically contrived caper involving Hebrew orthography, poorly integrated “evidence” from false fingerprints to glimpses of the bad guy dressed as a museum guard, and an obvious, no-brainer clue to where the gold is hidden that has somehow gone misunderstood for decades. Moreover, even less-reflective readers will wonder how Edmund and Jonah can break into an apartment and bend various other laws in the course of their investigation without suffering any legal consequences. Along the way, Jonah’s practice of smearing a gift-store Mayan effigy with peanut-butter and blood “sacrifices” comes off more like cultural mockery than harmless fooling. Calo’s accomplished drawings bring characters and details to life but are both rare and, sometimes, too finished to believably represent Edmund’s quick sketches.

Comical and clever in spots but overall, a sad follow-up to Mystery on Museum Mile (2014). (appendix of Mayan gods) (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-30206-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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