I seem to be on a middle grade girl detective kick this summer. The trend continues with the first in the Red Blazer Girls series, The Ring of Rocamadour. Of all the books I compare to Nancy Drew, and there are a lot of them, this series is the most direct descendent. One of the things I liked best about the ND books was that at some point Bess and George came along to help out with the investigation. This spirit of camaraderie and cooperation in sleuthing is what kept me reading all 56 books*. This same spirit is present in The Red Blazer Girls, though Sophie’s counterparts are far more active participants and get more credit than George and definitely moreso than poor “attractively plump” Bess.
The mystery is lots of fun, but what I love best here is the narration. Sophie starts off by telling us she wants to be a writer, and then proceeds to tell the story of how she and her best friends (and one very cute potential love interest from the boys school down the street) get involved with a quirky old lady and a mysterious scavenger hunt centred around their school’s adjoining church. Her descriptions are clear and believable. These girls are smart and articulate, but they are also tweens. This balance can be difficult to achieve, slipping into the too-wise child or the cliched-tweenster, but Michael D. Beil walks that fine line with flair.
Ten points for great chapter titles, including “In which I enter an alternative universe where burly men read Cosmo and giant house cats roam sacred corridors,” or “In which I learn that ice cream saves lives,” or this one, which is indicative to Sophie’s fun, direct address style of narration, “This is the one you’ve been waiting for.”
Many of the clues have to do with actual codes and math puzzles, which are printed out in grids in the book so those of us who need to SEE math being done rather than hear about it can follow along. To this I say Bravo! It isn’t often you see mathematics getting a lot of love or attention in fiction. Girls loving and succeeding in math is even more rare. There are also literary clues, religious references, even a nod to dead playwrights. There is alot of brain candy here for the mystery-lover who appreciates an intellectual challenge.
The Red Blazer Girl, who return again in two successive mysteries, The Vanishing Violin and The Mistaken Masterpiece, will be a hit with female mystery lovers, particularly fans of Ally Carter, Barrie Summy, the Nancy Drew books, Kiki Strike books (although the Red Blazer Girls books are a wee bit younger), and so on.
The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour is available now in paperback from Yearling.
*And even the Nancy Drew Files. I would like a coffee table made of THOSE book covers, please. Check out the Danish editions.