First in a new series that, according to marketing copy, "imagines great literary figures as teenage crime solvers"—aye, there's the rub.
Fifteen-year-old Emily Dickenson encounters a young man she doesn't know in one of the fields near her Amherst, Mass., home. Playfully, they call each other Mr. and Miss Nobody, not revealing to each other their names. They meet again by chance, and then once more when Mr. Nobody is found dead in Emily's family's pond. While the rest of the town seems perfectly happy to bury the unknown man in the potter's field, Emily persists in seeing his death not as accidental, but murder. She roams the town, uncovering secrets at every turn, until at last she's solved the puzzle. But great literary figures aren't often teenage crime solvers; the device does justice to neither the historic Emily Dickenson nor to mystery lovers. MacColl has done her research, which shows in a wealth of detail that often, as in the case of Emily's father's letter, stands out as odd and doesn't advance the story. Various side characters seem mere puppets that bend themselves to Emily's will: The town doctor, for example, doesn't check for water in the deceased's lungs until Emily asks him to. Even Emily doesn't quite come alive: The novel captures her daily life and her poetry but not her living heart. MacColl's previous books are better.
A disappointment. (Historical fiction. 12-16)