________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 8. . . .October 21, 2011


The Case of the Missing Deed. (Teaspoon Detectives).

Ellen Schwartz.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2011.
189 pp, hardcover, $17.99.
ISBN 978-0-88776-959-7.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**** /4



Aunt Meg pulled back onto the driveway, and Charlie followed. Half a minute later, both cars had parked on a gravel pullout beside the cottage, and everyone was piling out. But instead of hugging and kissing and hauling out their gear -- the backpacks and coolers, Alex and Clair's fishing rods, Olivia and Aunt Meg's paints and brushes, the groceries and books and beach shoes and beer -- everyone rushed inside to see how Grandma was.

She was in the kitchen, leaning on the counter. Her shoulders were shaking.

"Mom!" Eve said, rushing over. "What's the matter?"

Aunt Meg took Grandma's hand. "Who were those people? What did they do to you?"

"Grandma, don't cry," Alex said, patting her on the back.

Grandma wiped her eyes with her free hand. When she turned to face them, Sébstien was shocked. Grandma was so thin, it looked like she'd barely been eating. Her gray hair, normally wavy, was an unkempt mess. Her whole body looked ... caved in. His mother exchanged an alarmed look with Aunt Meg.

Sure, Sébastien knew that Grandma was sad over Grandpa's death. They all were. The last few times he'd seen Grandma, she'd been down in the dumps. Her voice had sounded flat. She'd stopped painting. When he'd told her about the science prize he'd won, she'd said, "That's nice, dear," as if she hadn't really heard.

But this was worse. Now she looked ... old ... tired ... and very upset.

"I'm going to lose the cottage!" she wailed.

A treasure hunt, a family get-together, a beloved cottage threatened by by an evil mining consortium -- The Case of the Missing Deed has them all! The five cousins, aged between nine and thirteen, are determined to save Grandma's cottage from being bought by Tantalus Mining or, if the deed Grandpa hid somewhere before he died really can't be found, its reverting to the crown and the mining company getting it though the province. Finding the deed is essential, but Grandma can't remember where Grandpa told her it was hidden, and they all knew that he disliked banks and safety-deposit boxes. Grandpa did love puzzles and riddles, however, and so he provided the clues to where he put the deed, written onto a selection of Grandma's recipes. But which recipes of the hundreds she had, and what do the clues mean? How do they fit together? As well, Sébastien, in particular, is worried about who can be trusted. Is his mother's new boyfriend really a friend, or is he in cahoots with Tantalus; is the guy his sister has such a crush on really being helpful, or is he trying to lead them in a wrong direction?

      All the children contribute to the solution of the puzzle, even 13-year-old Geneviève who is cell-phone mad and love-struck into the bargain, but it is 11-year-old Sébastien who teases the final clues from their cryptic wrappings and sinks Tantalus's plans. Sébastien and his grandfather had always enjoyed working out problems together, and now Seb has a chance, in a sense, to repay Grandpa for the love and time they shared. All the cousins learn and develop during their summer together, and Ellen Schwartz manages to make all five of them individuals and not just a group. Seb is brainy all right, but Alex and Claire are the two that used to go fishing with Grandpa and so knew where to hunt along the shore for the 'treasure in the sand'. And so on.

      It will be interesting to see how this series develops, for a series it is labelled and is destined to be. This book was Sébastien's; perhaps the next will be Olivia's and have something to do with the passion for painting that she shares with her grandmother and her aunt? The Teaspoon Detectives will surely ride -- or cook!-- again, and I, for one, look forward to the results. I have not yet tried the recipes for Grandma's favourite pesto, or Claire's emergency fudge, but they sound delicious and designed to appeal to young readers. ("A bit heavy on the sweets!" as Aunt Meg notes wryly.) Since mysteries associated with cooking have become increasingly popular with the adult-reading crowd; why should they not appeal to the young as well? Schwartz has found a real recipe for success in this series.

Highly Recommended.

Mary Thomas has recently retired from working in a school library in Winnipeg, MB, and now has more time for cooking.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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