A talking cat with a penchant for problem-solving and self-reflection, a clever kidnapping-cum–jewel heist, a couple of kids and a friendly train conductor all collide in an atmospheric late-1930s adventure with old-time cinematic appeal.
Mystery author Beil returns to his Ohio roots with a main character, 10-year-old Henry Shipley from Ashtabula, and a climactic scene on board the Blue Streak roller coaster at Conneaut Lake Park. The bulk of the action, however, takes place on a train. Henry, an observant, artistic child, narrates while the eponymous Lantern Sam, a male calico, inserts chapters detailing his own earlier life and frequent narrow escapes. Both boy and cat are drawn into the mystery surrounding the sudden disappearance of Ellie Strasbourg, a wealthy young girl. The author balances his parallel narratives relatively well, though Sam’s story takes some unexpected directions, as when he details the danger posed by his brief flirtation with an older, female cat named Marmalade. The epilogue, written by an elderly Henry, makes sense of the occasionally arch, adult-sounding tone, but some readers may struggle to keep track of the multiple subplots and several sets of secondary (stock) characters.
Laden with retro charm and sly humor, this won’t suit every reader, but fans of fast-paced, far-fetched action will lap it up as enthusiastically as Sam swallows his favorite brand of sardines. (Mystery. 9-12)