Author: Ellen Schwartz
Publisher: Tundra Books
Date: September 2011
Buy the Book • Goodreads
Take a dash of colorful characters, a pinch of danger, and generous scoops of adventure and you have a terrific culinary mystery for young readers.
Five cousins are looking forward to their annual vacation at their grandmother’s cottage. None of them knows that this may be their last such summer. A mining company has set its sights on the land and is determined to seize it. Grandma must produce the deed to prove that the property is really hers, but her memory is not what it used to be, and she can’t find it. The children suspect there may be clues to the deed’s whereabouts somewhere in the family’s cherished trove of recipes. But can they solve the mystery in time?
The Case of the Missing Deed is reminiscent of the great children’s detective stories I used to read as a kid. One part Famous Five, one part Encyclopedia Brown, one part Nancy Drew and/or Hardy Boys (depending on your gender) and sprinkle in a whole lot of heart.
Aimed at children/pre-teens, the writing is simple but effective and I found myself unable to put the galley away. The story follows the adventure of five cousins on their annual vacation at Grandma’s cottage on Otter Island, after Grandpa passed away. The island is rich in tantalum, a metal used widely in modern electronic equipment, which pretty much makes it a goldmine. A mining company is trying to buy up the island and is forcing Grandma to produce the deed that proves the property is hers or her lovely cottage will be seized.
Sadly, Grandma has a bad memory and can’t remember where Grandpa told her he kept the deed, however Grandpa was famous for being a mystery and puzzle lover. When the children start going through the family recipes in order to cook something to cheer her up, they discover little hidden clues written by Grandpa that they believe will lead them to the deed.
It was fun to watch the cousins sampling recipes, deciphering clues and finding little objects tagged with a number that their Grandpa left for them. The book also captures the essence of the different children well. Genevieve has fallen for her first boy and is letting it cloud her judgment. Sebastian is a genius who takes the lead on the ‘mystery’, but it’s making him extremely paranoid and suspects everyone is in cahoots with the mining company. Claire is younger and tries to see the best in people. Alex is the practical problem solver, and tends to approach things the most rationally. Olivia is an artist who paints beautifully and is the best in the kitchen. The mix of all the cousins working together is really great, and I wished the book was aimed at an older audience because I would’ve loved more character development.
The story paints all non-family members ambiguously, which lets you delightfully unfold the mystery with the children. Sebastian is especially suspicious of his mother’s new boyfriend, which adds a very real touch to the story. The people who represent the mining company are suitably threatening, and in the end the story becomes more than finding the deed, it becomes about saving the island.
In addition having simple, easy and delicious sounding recipes, book also explains basic ciphers and codes. There are so many things in the book for the reader to take away and to learn from. The ending is suitably happy (if not a little sudden), but all the little story lines were tied up neatly. I highly recommend this mystery for young readers and know that they would enjoy the Teaspoon Detectives and their adventures. It would’ve been 5 wings if I was between the ages of 9-12!