Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blue Period: The Ransom Note Blues (An Alec Flint Mystery) by Jill Santopolo

Dear Newspapermen and women:

Please print this in tomorrow's paper. I have reclaimed something from the town of Laurel Hollows that is rightfully mine. I am not asking for ransom. I will not return it. All I ask is that Laurel Hollows agrees not to press charges and lets me leave the town peacefully. I will be at the art show Wednesday night, before the event begins. Please have an agreement there, transferring the ownership of the hidden object.

If you do not, I will turn your town blue."

Alec Flint and his partner sleuth-in-training Gina Rossi have been yearning for a juicy new mystery to solve after the success of their first case which made them front-page news. But when Gina's reporter mom receives a strange non-ransom ransom note, the super sleuths don't know where to start. Alec's dad, police officer Flint tells them that the town officials haven't reported any missing public property, and even after checking all the town's monuments and outdoor sculpture, they find nothing suspicious either.

Back in art class at school, working on their own drip paintings in the style of Pollack, the two admit that they seem to be at a dead end in their case. Then their class's study of artist Jackson Pollack takes them on a field trip to the public library, where Alec and Gina decide to look for the missing object among the art and rare books there. Persuading the school library volunteer "Mr. Grandpa," on fill-in duty at the temporarily short-handed library, into taking them to the lower floor to check on missing valuables, they discover that their library actually owns a famous Pollack painting, "Full Fathom Five," which Mr. Grandpa proudly shows them. Required to check out a book report book with his class, Alec opts for a biography of Pollack, and to his surprise, the color photo of "Full Fathom Five" in the book does not match the one they have just seen in the library basement. Now the kids think they know what is missing, but they must figure out why it is, where it is, and who the thief may be.

Back at school Alec sends Gina a note in their own secret code:
Blf szev gl tug blfi nin gl wirev bif gl nb sifhv zugvi gsv yfh wilkh nv luu. Du szev gl tl levi ifi xofuh uli gsu xzhv yvoliv gsv zig hsld. Rg'h lfi ozhg xszmxu gl urtfiv. Ifg dszg ' h hglovm yvuliv gsv gsrvu hsldh fk.

You have to get your mom to drive you to my house after the bus drops me off. We have to go over our clues for the case before the art show. It's our last chance to figure out what's stolen before the thief shows up.

At the library, Alec and Gina find their class's look-alike drip paintings in a beautiful display, ready for the public show, but as the kids search for the real Pollock painting among the dozens of faux abstractions, they realize that all the paintings have been switched, with the wrong name on each one. Can they find the real Pollock painting in time to sleuth out the thief and save the whole town from its threatened blue period?

As in her first mystery, The Nina, The Pinta, And The Vanishing Treasure (Alec Flint, Super Sleuth), Jill Santopolo's second, The Ransom Note Blues (An Alec Flint Mystery) Scholastic, 2009), combines a great deal of incidental learning about modern art embedded within an engaging beginning chapter mystery adventure. Alec and Gina are kid sleuths in the same tradition as Donald Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown, combining believable clues, close observation, and logical detecting skills within a comfortable elementary school setting. An appendix translates the encoded messages and an author's note adds to the information about Jackson Pollack contained within the text. For fans moving up from David Adler's Cam Jansen, Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries, and George Stanley's The Third Grade Detectives, Alec Flint is the super sleuth with just the right stuff.

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