A reluctant detective, a criminal mastermind, and sugar?
Amanda Lester wouldn't be caught dead going into the family business. Her ancestor, Sherlock Holmes's colleague Inspector G. Lestrade, is a twit. Nevertheless her parents refuse to see his flaws, and she's going to a secret English school for the descendants of famous detectives whether she likes it or not.
When Amanda arrives at the dreaded school, she considers running away - until she and her new friends discover blood and weird pink substances in odd places. At first they're not sure whether these oddities mean anything, but when Amanda's father disappears and the cook is found dead with her head in a bag of sugar, they're certain that crimes are taking place.
Now Amanda must embrace her destiny and uncover the truth. The only snag is that arch-villain Blixus Moriarty, a descendant of Holmes's nemesis Professor James Moriarty, might be involved, and he doesn't like nosy little girls interfering in his business.
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Nancy Drew Meets Harry Potter, with a Holmes spin
I'd absolutely recommend this book for young readers into Harry Potter or Nancy Drew (since the story has elements of both), and for adults who have a fond nostalgia for Holmes or simply enjoy an engaging mid-grade mystery adventure. I especially recommend the audiobook because of the magical narration by Allan Corduner.
In the story, the young Amanda reluctantly enters a clandestine detective school for descendants of famous detectives, at her parents' request. Her ancestor is none other than Inspector Lestrade, of Sherlock Holmes lore. Not only is she embarrassed to be an ancestor of the police inspector that was always overshadowed and outsmarted by Holmes, but she really prefers to follow her passion, filmmaking. Once she enters the school, things begin to change. She meets a colorful cast of students and teachers and gets caught up in solving a perplexing, real-life mystery.
I particularly enjoyed the Holmes references, but also the "Harry Potter" feel to it, in an old school with various factions and oddball teachers.
I had read an ARC of the paperback, and when I saw that Allan Corduner narrated the audiobook, I had to give it a listen. Corduner is a masterful narrator and voice actor, and had narrated The Book Thief and served as the voice of Snape in the Harry Potter audiobooks. It did not disappoint. I felt he gave the story a whole new energy, bringing the creepy environment and standout characters to life in a way that would be hard to do in a print book. It added a dramatic flair that gives the story that classic feel, in the way that a John Williams score elevates the Harry Potter movies to a whole new level.
I think the most moving aspect was that this young girl feels the frustration of being made to do something she doesn't want to do, something the feels is lame. And yet she meets new friends and finds a way to use her natural strengths to make a difference in solving a perplexing mystery.
Overall, this is a wonderful middle-grade book that will capture the imaginations and hearts of young readers, and entertain adults as well. It doesn't "talk down" to kids and is extremely creative, even down to the bizarre names of the teachers. If I were to recommend a single format, I'd suggest the audiobook because of Allan Corduner's magical narration.
- Jerry Manas