Twins Tara and Meera, 14, of New Delhi, aren’t identical. Tara is “a little princess” fond of clothes and accessories, while tomboy Meera prefers mystery novels and basketball. Together, they travel by bus to Dharamshala, home of cousin Samir, his younger sister, Deepa, and uncle Jeet Singh, a senior officer in the Secret Service. On the way, at Kangra, Meera notices a man in fluorescent green shoes with a distinctive buckle, but she must then reboard the bus. In Dharamshala, a guesthouse has been ransacked, a French tourist has gone missing and valuable idols are being stolen from temples. On a stroll, Meera glimpses a young monk, about 7 years old, with a shaved head and a maroon robe, but he moves quickly out of view, occasionally reappearing to her. In a tree, Samir finds a blue backpack containing a white powder, similar to talcum, which might be cocaine. After a birthday party, the children are joined by Samir’s friend Anurag. Although young Deepa is fascinated by television, Meera, Tara, Samir and Anurag prefer to solve the puzzles related to the disappearance, the thefts and a possible connection to an American named Greg. The story, set entirely in India, is a fine introduction to mystery for young readers, sustaining interest without the intensity found in YA staples such as the Harry Potter series. The characters are a balanced mix of athleticism (Samir), curiosity (Anurag), disinterest (Deepa), self-interest (Tara) and introspection (Meera), and their relations with family are positive. As events progress, the kids carefully collect evidence and use observation and reasoning to reach conclusions. Technology doesn’t save the day: A cellphone may be used for an Internet search, or it might be out of signal range, forcing reliance on other resources. Although Uncle Jeet plays a role in the investigation, the children, when at risk, take responsibility for extricating themselves from danger. Aside from a few distracting word mix-ups—e.g., “snooze” for noose, and “cookie” for kooky—the tale moves along nicely, with a satisfying ending that features a nifty spiritual twist.
Beginner mystery, light on menace, for young sleuths in the making.