A 12-year-old investigates suspicious circumstances surrounding a death in this middle-grade novel.
Sixth grader Sam Parsons, 12, isn’t enthused about accompanying his mother to the funeral of his great-uncle Buster. But Sam’s mom, Eva, insists, so they drive from Jacksonville, Florida, to Ashe County, North Carolina. Right away, things don’t seem right at Uncle Buster’s. He’s said to have died of a heart attack, but there are wounds on his hands, and no autopsy was performed. A fishy will leaves everything to his sisters, and they plan to sell his land for a tasteless tourist development; his books and papers have disappeared. Sam is “convinced that somebody murdered Uncle Buster. And I’m not about to let them get away with it.” Back in Jacksonville, Sam mulls over the case; meanwhile, his ambition to befriend Joey Sabatini (Joey’s father works for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sam’s favorite team) brings him into conflict with his best friend, Oscar Ruiz, and gets him in trouble at school. When Eva’s doubts grow, the family makes a return trip to North Carolina, where suspicions lead to arsenic poisoning. The clues are all there, but what do they add up to? In her second children’s book, Koehler offers a clever mystery with an appealing narrator. Sam is intelligent and observant, earning him praise by a local sheriff as “a fine detective.” Koehler does a great job of keeping him, as well as the reader, guessing through multiple convincing red herrings. In this entertaining mystery, Sam grows as a person. His desire to join Joey’s cool lacrosse crowd challenges him to reflect on friendship, loyalty, and empathy while a school project awakens a new interest in nature conservation.
An enjoyable twisty mystery and coming-of-age story.