Thursday, March 03, 2016

Read All About It! Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

"Isabel," Miss Giddings said--still sounding worried. "You just be careful out here. Then she glanced down the street. "I've got to run now. Izzy. Take care, okay?"

"Yeah, you, too," I said. That was when I realized a man was waiting for her down the street in the shadows, his hat pulled low. They were obviously arguing, and the man was rough with her as they walked into the darkness. I bent to pick up my newspapers. The winter wind, as strong as it was, couldn't drown out the sound of a gunshot. A single, sharp report that echoed from the alley into which Miss Giddings and that man had just disappeared.

I probably shouldn't have run
toward a gunshot, but Miss Giddings always looked after me, if only by buying a paper she probably didn't even want, and I couldn't seem to stop my feet, flying toward the alley.

Chicago Tribune newspaper girl Isabel Feeney is the sort of girl who runs toward adventure, and when she rounds the corner into the alley, she finds her favorite customer Miss Giddings bent over a bleeding man, a gun beside her on the concrete alleyway, looking dazed and speechless. A police car screeches to a halt in front of the alley, and two cops rushed toward them.

"I'm Detective James Culhane," he barked. He looked at me and and Miss Giddings, pointed to the weapon lying in the snow and asked point-blank, "So, which of you fired the gun?"

Isabel Feeney, a ten-year-old truant and newspaper girl, supplementing her mother's scant earnings as a night janitress, finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, with the pretty and stylish clerk Miss Giddings the chief suspect. Under questioning at the police station, Isabel has to admit that the man and her friend seemed to be quarreling, and Miss Giddings is held, pending an arraignment.

Isabel just knows her friend is not a murderess, even though she becomes a prisoner on Chicago's famous "murderesses' row," and when she read the Tribune's headliner written by star female report Maude Collier, Izzy sets out to set the reporter straight on Miss Giddings' innocence. Miss Collier is sympathetic to her story, but explains that she writes her crime stories based on the existing evidence. Isabel realizes that it's up to her to set the story straight and write it as it happened--when she has all the evidence--that is.

And Isabel Feeney is on her way, sniffing out the evidence behind the shooting of Charles Bessemer, a known gangster, with a prissy, bossy diva of a daughter, Flora, the star of the Bakery Pride Bread commercials and billboards and wannabe movie star. Izzy investigates the crime scene, proving herself a real gumshoe, discovering two bits of evidence the police ignored, snowy footprints outside a door in the alley that go nowhere, and a smelly piece of chewed Pepsin gum in the snow, and a memorable investigative crime reporter is born.

And investigate Isabel does, with the help of Maude Collier, Miss Giddings' crippled son Robert, and even the snooty Flora, who knows more about her father's gangster world than anyone. Izzy finds herself attending the gangster's funeral, crawling through a broken window at midnight to check out what's behind that alley door and even chased down that same alley and knocked out by someone bent on foiling her sleuthing, and at last turning star witness at Miss Giddings' trial.

Isabel is part Nancy Drew, part the orphaned Annie, and an altogether delightful character, in Beth Fantaskey's newest novel, Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).

Fantaskey is a writer who can spin a fascinating yarn with the best of them, and in her newest, she takes two of the cliches of pop lit, the girl sleuth with plenty of smarts and the plucky girl reporter going for a above-the-fold lead story, and runs with it. As you would expect, Isabel Feeney takes to both roles tenaciously, with a deliciously written first-person account of 1920s-era cops and robbers and strong female figures making their way among them.

Set in a cold and windy Chicago in the days when Al Capone was its de facto mayor, Isabel's voice is likewise breezy, savvy, and brassy in a way that fits her time and place, right at home in the merrily melodramatic cast of jazz age characters that Fantaskey digs up. Short chapters and shifting action keep the story moving to the beat of the city, swirling like the snow around Isabel as she hustles between leads in her case. Middle readers will willingly follow Isabel Feeney down any dark alley to get the story, and no doubt will be rooting for more Izzy stories from this talented storyteller.

"Isabel's innocence and intelligence combine to form a complex character full of moxie," says Booklist in its starred review.

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  • Thank you for such a nice review of my book! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

    By Blogger Beth Kaszuba, at 3:19 PM  

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