Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Detective's Assistant

22875123Hannigan, Kate. The Detective's Assistant
April 7th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

E ARC: Edelweiss Above the Treeline; Book: Young Adult Books Central
When young Cornelia loses her last immediate relative in New York, a local minister hunts down her deceased uncle's wife, Aunt Kitty, who is working for Pinkerton's Detective Agency in Chicago. Kitty (who now goes by Kate) is not happy to see Cornie, whom she rechristens Nell, because she reminds the aunt strongly of Nell's father, who was responsible for the death of his brother, her husband. Since Kate can't find any organization who will take Nell, she lets her move in to her room in a boarding house. Nell manages to keep the landlady happy by helping out with shopping and other chores. She also manages to get sucked in to many of Kate's cases, where she makes herself invaluable, playing with the children of people Kate needs to interview, and keeping her eyes and ears open for information. The two manage to break several cases, and get to travel to Philadelphia and other cities, much to Nell's delight. They meet the rich and famous, including a young presidential candidate named Abraham Lincoln. Nell continues to correspond with her friend, Jemma, whose family had to leave quickly for Canada. They were free African Americans, but ran the risk of being shipped to the south. Jemma's father is still in the States, and when Nell hunts him down, she learns some secrets about her own family that make Kate feel a little more warmly towards her.

While Nell starts the book as a rough and tumble, rather unlikeable character, we quickly see that she has had to raise herself, and her built-in survival defenses serve her well while Kate is trying to find somewhere else to put her. Once Nell knows that Kate won’t abandon her as well, she is able to become more pleasant, and show her intelligent, enterprising side. Kate also thaws a bit, and both evidence the difficulties that women must have had at the time when left to care for themselves, which was not an easy task. The incidental characters in the various mysteries are amusing and add a lot of flavor to the stories.

While much of the book revolves around the cases that Kate takes on, the biggest mystery is the one that Nell has to solve concerning her friend Jemma and her family. This was a fascinating treatment of the issue of slavery, and my only objection was that the story seemed somewhat skimmed over because of the in-depth descriptions of the cases. I wanted to know a lot more about Jemma, and would have liked to see her in more than Nell’s letters.

Hannigan has clearly done her research, and uncovered a fascinating woman in Kate Warne, who really did work for Pinkerton. Nell is a fabrication, but a good way to interest younger readers in this period of time. The two characters are an excellent way to meet the rich and famous of the day, and the details of ordinary life are finely drawn. The fact that there is plenty of action and adventure will lure readers who are not usually drawn to historical fiction, and delight those who are. Fans of Chibbaro’s historical mystery Deadly, as well as readers who enjoy action-packed mysteries such as Beil’s Red Blazer Girls or Runholt’s Kari and Lucas books, will find plenty of clues to follow and mysteries to solve with Kate and Nell.

The 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination will no doubt be covered in a wide variety of books for young people about this famous president’s career, but this engaging mystery offers a refreshing perspective of the time period before the Civil War. Not a lot is written about Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, and the fact that Hannigan introduces readers to this unique business with a healthy dose of girl power makes this a fresh and engaging historical novel.

20983351Zink, Michele. Lies I Told
April 7th 2015 by HarperTeen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Grace spent years in foster care, so she is glad to be in a family now, even if her parents are hardened criminals who are constantly running a scam. In their newest one, the family has moved to a swanky California neighborhood and want to steal gold bars from a wealthy but mentally unstable man. To accomplish this, Grace is supposed to befriend the son and get him to divulge passwords, locations of the gold, etc. Her brother is supposed to do the same, and the parents cozy up to the parents and case the joint. Grace's brother Parker is done with being a criminal, and Grace falls for the son, so is conflicted about the whole job.
Strengths: Crime novels are interesting, especially when they involve romance and a wealthy lifestyle. This was certainly well written and fun to read.
Weaknesses: More of a YA novel, this had a lot of drinking and swearing.
What I really think: Voting with my dollars against random f-bombs and NOT BUYING THIS. Didn't appreciate the drinking, but not having a book in my library that has vulgar language. Nope.

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