Two mysteries for middle grade readers take different approaches to investigations. One is a classic whodunit, while the other focuses more on the what, where and why of searching for a missing person.
Connect the Dots
Connect the Dots is as much a philosophy lesson as a mystery. Frankie and Oliver are dealing with the usual stresses of middle school when a new student, Matilda, hacks into their friendship (literally so, in one instance, appearing during a video chat they assumed was private) and suggests something sinister is taking place. In fact, there do seem to be a lot of unexplained coincidences, but what do they mean? Could it be karma? The hand of fate? Or something more complicated?
Author Keith Calabrese (A Drop of Hope) is a screenwriter, and it shows in these pages. Many scenes seem designed to visually pop as they unfold like Rube Goldberg machines. One subplot, about a bully whose comeuppance turns out to be his salvation, is especially fun to follow, and the story’s resolution makes a poignant point about the need for human connection. Calabrese takes an equally empathetic view of the mundane aspects of the kids’ lives, which include the ramifications of divorce and the aftermath of an incident of gun violence. This mystery is neatly plotted but as emotionally messy as real life.
★ Premeditated Myrtle
When Myrtle Hardcastle’s elderly neighbor dies, she suspects foul play, but her concerns are dimissed. Still, you can’t deter a 12-year-old with a passion for forensics and a governess generally inclined to take her side. Premeditated Myrtle is a book young readers will love and adults may well sneak out of backpacks and off of nightstands for their own enjoyment.
Set in a small English village in the late 1800s, Elizabeth Bunce’s first book for middle grade readers charmingly evokes the spirit of Harriet the Spy, if Harriet were a bit more inclined toward afternoon tea. Myrtle has an investigator’s tool kit and access to her prosecutor father’s law library; she is curious to a fault, brave and persistent. Bunce keeps secondary characters grounded in reality as well—even a cat has an interesting character arc—and the quest to determine who killed Miss Wodehouse is as keenly plotted as the best adult cozy. Readers will encounter plentiful red herrings along with lessons in jurisprudence, and Myrtle helpfully defines period-specific language via chatty footnotes.
Myrtle faces down scary moments, such as being locked in a coroner’s office as a prank, by leaning into her curiosity. Her frustration with her father and governess, Ms. Judson, who maintain professional boundaries despite a clear attraction to one another, speaks to the affection she clearly feels toward both—even as she rolls her eyes. Their household is warm, and a through-line about the cook who perpetually attacks the stove in an attempt to fix it will make readers feel like part of the family. Here’s hoping for more adventures with this delightful, heroic protagonist.
(Editor’s note: Premeditated Myrtle was originally scheduled for publication on May 5, 2020, but its publication was delayed until Oct. 6, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.)