Lynn: The audience for the charming Nooks & Crannies (June 2015) has probably never heard of Agatha Christie, but if that venerable author had written for children, this is just the book she might have produced. A country house, a mysterious Countess, snow-bound guests who have no idea why they’ve been invited, and, of course, a heroine who is far more capable than anyone thinks. Pure cozy pleasure!
The mysterious but fabulously wealthy philanthropist, Countess Camilla DeMoss, sets the world agog when she sends out invitations to six children to come for the weekend. Tabitha Crum is especially thrilled since her horrible Dahlesque parents have just announced that they are leaving for a year-long holiday and that Tabitha will be left at the orphanage after the weekend. This will be an adventure—something as rare in Tabitha’s life as love. And there is a mystery to solve! Tabitha has whiled away many lonely hours in the attic reading her one battered copy of The Case of the Duplicitous Duke’s Doorway, featuring the brilliant detective Inspector Pensive and his sidekick, Timothy Tibbs. She knows Inspector Pensive’s methods inside out and when the children at Hollingsworth Hall start to disappear, Tabitha puts those methods to work.
Each chapter begins with a quote from Inspector Pensive:
“Remember, my dear Mr. Tibbs, that mysterious circumstances frequently begin with an arrival.”
Tabitha has her own Mr. Tibbs sidekick in her little pet mouse, Pemberley, and not only does Tabitha start to unravel the mystery, she makes friends for the very first time and also discovers that the mystery involves secrets about her own life as well. Kids’ little grey cells will get a pleasant workout in this oh-so-charming mystery.
So, dear Booklist readers,
keep reading those mystery and crime novels
as you never know when the knowledge
will come in handy in your own life’s tight spots
Cindy: It would have been a crime if I’d missed this story. I was reading something else to come later this month and told Lynn to go ahead and blog this as a solo so we could cover more mystery territory. My curiosity got the better of me, though, and I had to investigate. Two chapters later I was hooked and I have just resurfaced after reading the whole novel. I will be handselling this to a student first thing tomorrow. Tabitha’s parents make Harry Potter’s Dursleys worthy of a parents-of-the-year award. And Tabitha is reminiscent of dear Charlie, whose good manners and positive outlook helped him when he was summoned into a mysterious tour of a chocolate factory.
This is the perfect book for us to launch Mystery Month on Bookends. Tabitha loves nothing more than her Inspector Pensive mystery novels, much to the dismay of her mother, Mrs. Crum: “Remember, men don’t like readers, they like pretty.”
Fortunately, Tabitha is her own woman and keeps reading anyway.What she has learned from her mystery novels serves her well in this adventure. The chapter-opening quotes that Lynn mentions also double as hints to the unfolding story. So, dear Booklist readers, keep reading those mystery and crime novels, as you never know when the knowledge will come in handy in your own life’s tight spots.
Besides the gallery of famous crime paintings, bookcases that reveal hidden passageways, and nightly ghostly noises, thumps, and screams, there are pure moments of terror for young readers. Electrical outages at inopportune times, a dead body, a knife-wielding hostess, and other dangers. This novel will span ages. Savvy younger good readers will eat this up, but despite the youngish cover art, middle-school students will enjoy the send-ups to other favorite classics and to the classic mystery genre where all is revealed in the library at the story’s end.
Mystery talk aside, Tabitha won my heart with her humble, intelligent, vulnerable nature. She is so sure and strong and yet longs for family, friends, and love. Her pet mouse, recently acquired, has filled a part of her emptiness, but when she uses her found key to unlock a hidden passage and has this thought, your heart just breaks for her:
It was an exact fit, and for the briefest of moments, she had the odd wish that she could be key-shaped and could find a place where she fit so perfectly.
Tabitha is an optimist, though, and tries to convince herself that there are worse things than being lonely. There’s nothing better than a heroine who gets what she so justly deserves—it’s even more satisfying than when the villain does, or the evil parents do. Kindness should win out.
And with this, let the Mystery Month mania begin!