The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin (J Mystery)

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)

Ellen Raskin (Juvenile Mystery)

It’s a funny thing about names.  Some are long, some are short; some mean something, others don’t; but everyone and everything has one, or two or three.

Caroline “Little Dumpling” Fish Carillon has quite the backstory for someone so young.  She was married at five years old (business is business, after all), orphaned at twelve, and widowed (maybe…no one is quite sure) at nineteen.  Throw in twins, an unfortunate incarceration, a cross-country manhunt, and a watery clue that seems practically insolvable and you have a mystery for the ages!  With the help of the glub blubs, Mrs. Carillon is quite sure that she’ll be able to find Leon (I mean Noel).

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) is the perfect read for any young detective.  Raskin provides readers with plenty of clues along our heroine’s journey of finding her lost love.  While her Newberry Medal mystery The Westing Game can easily be enjoyed by older readers, this book is clearly written for a younger audience.  The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) provides pages and pages of slapstick fun and silly good humor.  It’s delightful in its utter absurdity and endearing in its over-the-top implausibility.  Readers are encouraged to sleuth along with Mrs. Carillon and her twins—Tina and Tony—and are helpful tips and hints make for a totally immersive reading experience.

Throughout Raskin’s book, Mrs. Carillon is forever searching for what she thought she wanted.  Endlessly chasing an idea that she thought she needed.  American author Meg Cabot—best known for The Princess Diaries—wrote “Sometimes what you want is right in front of you. All you have to do is open your eyes and see it.”  Ironically, it was only after Mrs. Carillon stopped chasing a dream that she was able to find her heart.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods

In the Woods

Tana French (Adult Mystery)

On August 14, 1984, Jaime Rowan, Adam Ryan, and Peter Savage—all twelve years old—were playing in the surrounding woods of their small Dublin neighborhood of Knocknaree when the unthinkable happened.  Jaime and Peter disappeared and Adam was found in blood-soaked sneakers clinging to a tree with no memory of the event.  Flash forward twenty years and Adam Ryan, now Detective Rob Ryan, is investigating the murder of twelve-year-old Katy Devlin in Knocknaree.  Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, diligently work the case to find Katy’s killer while Ryan grapples with lost memories that may link the two cases together.  But Knocknaree is a small place.  What are the chances that two different child murderers live in the same village?

In the Woods is French’s debut novel and she handily presents an interesting and compelling police procedural.  Clocking in at 429 pages, she manages to hold our interest throughout her novel while creating a slow and steady momentum as our main characters flesh out four different threads of theories and begin peeling back multiple layers on two seemingly-connected murder cases.  Her characters are multi-dimensional and French gives us time to become familiar with them; however, the portrayals are a bit biased since we are seeing everything through Ryan’s eyes, our story’s narrator.  By his own admission, he lies and so we are already aware that throughout the case, we’re going to run into credibility problems.  (Personally, I don’t like unreliable or untrustworthy narrators, but I digress.)  The thing which pleasantly surprised me was the relationship between Ryan and Maddox.  French chose a professional relationship for these two versus the obligatory romantic/sexual conflict that readers often get when presented with a male/female partner pairing.  We see the ease they have around one another, as well as the mutual respect they share.  This platonic relationship allows the reader to concentrate on the case rather than muddy the waters with “will they/won’t they” expectations.

Despite these positives, I found this book fell short on multiple levels.  In the Woods starts off riveting and suspenseful and then—through a series of professional negligence (some folks should have lost their jobs), self-destructive decisions, and just plain sloppiness (or laziness) on the author’s part—the story begins to unravel and disintegrate right before our eyes.  Ryan is not a very likeable guy and he knows this: “I am intensely aware, by the way, that this story does not show me in a particularly flattering light.”  More often than not, he comes off as whiny and immature and his love for the bottle (which leads to more hangovers that I could count) makes me wonder how he manages to stay gainfully employed let alone be put in charge of a murder investigation.  Despite his horrifying backstory (which should have earned him at least a few pity points), it was simply impossible for me to connect with Ryan and feel any kind of sympathy for him.  Conversely, Cassie Maddox is bright, intuitive, hardworking, and a much more likeable character, which is probably why Tana French gave her the starring role in her novel’s sequel The Likeness (book two of six in the Dublin Murder Squad series).  Positives and negatives aside, the biggest problem I had with this book is the giant red herring that French made the cornerstone of her story.  I won’t divulge any spoilers, but I will say that by the end of the book, I was left feeling irritated, unsatisfied, and frankly duped.  I did stop myself from throwing the book against the wall so I guess this can be added to the positive column.

In the Woods won several awards and inspired an eight-episode series for the BBC and Starz.  Obviously, a lot of people thought that this novel and its sequel were the greatest thing since the melon baller.  However, between an annoying main character and a plot line that utterly evaporated, I hope to find satisfaction in French’s sequel.  Until then, any closure that I thought I would find in this book will remain elusive for I believe that it is still probably hiding somewhere.  Somewhere in the woods.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com

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Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath (J Mystery)

Mr and Mrs Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire 

Polly Horvath (Juvenile Mystery)

The summer solstice has arrived and the residents of Hornby Island are preparing for the festival of Luminara.  While Madeline’s parents are busy making luminaries, she is getting ready for her school’s awards ceremony where Prince Charles himself will be handing out the awards (Madeline is getting three!).  All is pretty much as it should be until Madeline returns home that night to find a mysterious note on her door stating that her parents have been taken in for questioning.  It was signed by “The Enemy” and even included a “mwa-haha”, which is NEVER a good sign.  With her decoder uncle in a sudden and rather inconvenient coma, Madeline is alone and truly in over her head.  She seeks help from Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire and although these two don’t seem to know what they’re doing, they DO have rather smart-looking fedoras and that has to count for something.  So, with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny on the case, this mystery is officially afoot!

Although Polly Horvath merely translated this story from Mrs. Bunny’s personal account, she still delivers a funny, quirky, and lighthearted romp that will delight and entertain young readers who enjoy a good mystery.  Filled with fiendish foxes, garlic-bread-eating marmots, exploding chapeaus, and high-speed chases, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire is an action-packed thrill ride where faith is blind, reason is deaf, and hope springs eternal.

Despite its whimsy and charm, Horvath does give readers a few poignant lessons that hopefully won’t get lost amongst all the fur, fluff, and fun.  Through Madeline, we see a girl caught between two worlds: the happy hippies of Hornby and the more mainstream children at her school on Vancouver Island.  Her classmates have already formed an opinion of her based solely on where she lives and nothing Madeline does can alter that prejudice: “[Madeline] didn’t know how to make the other children like her, and she felt she constantly had to defend herself from unspoken accusations about a way of life she hadn’t chosen to begin with.”  Pretty weighty stuff, but this is why Polly Horvath is one of my favorite children’s authors.  She never writes down to her audience and presents real-life problems in a way that young readers can easily relate to and connect with.  She also shows us that family is what you make it for the Bunnys, not all that familiar with humans or children, manage to see and appreciate something in Madeline that her own parents have chosen to either overlook or ignore and end up loving her as their own.  Lastly, she shows us the absolute wonder of simply being noticed and appreciated (see previous comment about Madeline’s parents).  Madeline has the unique gift to understand and communicate with animals.  When she mentions this to Prince Charles, he replies, “I’ve often heard animals speak.  Plants too.  It’s all a matter of noticing, isn’t it?  The richness of our lives depends on what we are willing to notice and what we are willing to believe.”  In this world of clatter and clutter and non-stop input, it’s hard to just stop and notice the beauty that surrounds us every day.  It’s quiet and subtle and often goes unnoticed.  But lucky for us, we have a ten-year-old girl, two clever bunnies (with rather smart-looking fedoras), and the heir apparent to the British throne to remind us that it’s there and it’s well worth the effort.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (J)

The Westing Game

Ellen Raskin (Juvenile Mystery)

After missing for 13 years, millionaire industrialist Sam Westing is discovered dead in his bed.  Sixteen letters are hand delivered to each heir of his $200 million estate, thus setting in motion a most frantic and fantastic game.  The rules of Sam Westing’s game are simple: heirs compete in teams of two and, by using a unique set of clues, attempt to be the first to discover the identity of Westing’s killer.  The catch?  The murderer is one of them!

So begins Raskin’s classic mystery thriller that bombards readers with burglars, bombers, and bizarre characters.  The book’s initial pace allows readers to comfortably become acquainted with each character (16 is a lot to keep track of!) before zipping along at a whirlwind pace as situations become more perilous and characters grow more desperate to claim the coveted Westing Game prize.  Raskin gives us a whodunit that is a delightful, witty, and suspenseful read for any age.  Are you ready to play?

Rating: 4/5

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