As I recently mentioned, it’s very rare for my daughter to read print books. This is one that she first borrowed from a friend (whose recommendations are of course more reliable than my own) and then asked to buy because she loved it so much.
for Secret Sleuthing
by Briana McDonald
Simon & Schuster, 2020
Read from purchased copy.
Pepper and her father are visiting her Great-Aunt Florence’s mansion for the first time only now that she’s dead. Despite an old mansion being a perfect place for “summertime sleuthing,” her father has made her promise not to start searching for foul play. It is, after all, perfectly normal for old ladies to die. Pepper isn’t impressed with her bossy and cold Aunt Wendy (who wants to straighten her hair) and her openly hostile cousin Andrew, so she instead befriends the boy down the street, Jacob, who turns out to be trans. (All characters read as white.) Jacob’s fears of his parents having a baby sister to replace the girl they thought he was resonate with Pepper’s worries about her (so far disastrous) crush on another girl in her class at school. But with a yard maintenance guy hanging out around the mansion in his black van way more than he ought to need to, an owl-obsessed old lady across the street who might just have dementia but might also have clues, and Andrew’s tutor openly flirting with Pepper’s dad, Pepper can’t help using her mother’s old detective notebook just to make sure everything is as it should be. Andrew is increasingly angry at Pepper for suspecting his mother, but as the kids keep digging, more and more things come to light, putting the kids in more and more danger…
This has something of the feel of a classic children’s mystery series, but with a modern sensibility. Spoiler: Great-Aunt Florence was murdered, but as it has already happened when the story begins and Pepper has no emotional attachment to the victim, there is no gore or horror attached to it. Pepper’s sleuthing is about her connection to her own dead mother and her desire for adventure and justice, and these are certainly delivered. The relationships between the kids develop nicely over the course of the story, and I appreciated that the villain turns out not to be as wholly villainous as Pepper at first thinks.
Although it feels like a series, I don’t see that any more have been written. McDonald does have another solo mystery book coming out in October, The Secrets of Stone Creek.