Combining chewing gum and gumshoes, this comical mystery begs to be read aloud.

THE CANDY MAFIA

Preteen detective Nelle battles organized crime during her city’s prohibition on candy.

From the start, snappy dialogue and mannered narration spoofs the traditions of film noir when 12-year-old candy smuggler Eddie de Menthe hires private detective Nelle Faulkner, also 12, to find a missing teddy bear while a candy prohibition hangs over their neighborhood. As Nelle pursues leads in a playground hideout, store backroom, and lonely mansion, she encounters more kid bootleggers as well as crooked adults also on the hunt for the missing teddy bear. Similarities to the real Prohibition reveal government corruption and the difficulties inherent in denying a population what it wants. When Eddie also goes missing, Nelle’s case turns to recovering a candy fortune, locating a hidden chocolatier, and restoring peace—and all kinds of sweets—to her sugar-starved city. Food fights, an abandoned candy factory break-in, and more sweets-themed antics add to the fun and intrigue. Breaking up a mostly white cast is Nelle’s South Asian friend, Bobbie Singh, who’s also integrally connected to the illegal candy trade. In film-noir fashion, grayscale cartoons highlight Nelle’s escapades and exaggerate the criminals. While poking fun at the genre, in his debut for children, thriller writer Tidhar also recognizes young people’s need for respect.

Combining chewing gum and gumshoes, this comical mystery begs to be read aloud. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68263-197-3

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Peachtree

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.

NARWHAL I'M AROUND

From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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