Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Thief on Nob Hill: The Silver Guitar (A Julie Mystery) by Kathryn Reiss


Oil from a disastrous tanker spill in San Francisco Bay is reaching the shoreline, fouling the grasses and beaches and threatening to kill pelicans and other seabirds. As president of her school's student council, Julie has to do something to help.

The council decides that each class should create a quilt square honoring one type of sea life in the Bay and auction the resulting quilt to raise money to help rescue the birds. As a possible venue for the quilt's sale, Julie's mom invites her to go along to a pre-auction viewing of donated treasures in the Vernon mansion on posh Nob Hill, and Julie's friend T.J. tags along, drawn to the guitar collection of Robert Vernon, an eccentric and eclectic buyer of objects relating to the rich and famous.

Julie is intrigued by an old black hat purportedly belonging to Abraham Lincoln, but T.J. spends his time admiring famous guitarist Danny Kendrick's silver Fender Stratocaster. When Mr. Vernon's cat Mr. Precious takes a liking to him., Mr. Vernon asks T.J. to care for his favorite pet while he is away on a trip. But when Danny returns to Nob Hall the next day to feed Mr. Precious, he just has to sneak a peek at that famous guitar once more. Quietly he tiptoes into the guitar room, Mr. Precious trailing behind him, and takes it gingerly down from the wall. But while he is reverently fingering the strings, Mr. Precious tries to jump onto his shoulder, and the startled T.J. drops the valuable guitar, cracking the sound box.

T.J. is horrified, and when Julie discovers what has happened, she urges him to have the guitar quietly repaired. In the guitar shop, the owner and his helper, a curly-haired boy their age named Matt, tells the two something shocking. The Stratocaster is a fake! Apparently, someone has taken the original from Mr. Vernon's display and substituted a cheap copy. Who could have taken the real Danny Kendricks guitar?

There are plenty of suspects--ditzy and nosy neighbor Mrs. Bizbee, Robert Vernon's indolent unemployed nephew Jasper, Mr. and Mrs. Olgivie, the photographers who were working on site during the society event and have motive and means to steal objects from Vernon's collection. And why does Matt suddenly seem to be shadowing them as they investigate? Unless Julie can sleuth out the real thief before Mr. Vernon's return, it looks like T.J. is going to be the leading suspect. Can the two young detectives concoct their own sting operation to flush out the real thief?

Kathryn Reiss' latest addition to this historical mystery series, The Silver Guitar: A Julie Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) (American Girl, 2011), again takes the reader into a complex mystery built around the scene in San Francisco in the early 1970s, this time beginning with the investigation of a tanker accident which threatens the ecological stability of the Bay itself. As always, the mystery story is backed up by an appendix providing history of the period and photos of artifacts from the time, including one of Jimi Hendrix's famous guitars which serves as a model for the silver guitar of the fictional "Danny Kendricks." Plenty of local color in its setting, convincing red herrings in the case, and a hint of danger make this story a great read for fans of the detective mystery genre and of the well-written and popular American Girls Mysteries.

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