Friday, February 24, 2012

Mystery Hound: Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis

On Sunday, I put on my softest jeans, my scuffed blue Pumas, and one of Finn's baggy old shirts. I dumped my schoolbooks out of my backpack and filled it with some dog-walking supplies instead. I slipped my camera into my back pocket and slung my dad's binoculars around my neck to complete the disguise.

Looking like a girl going after an evil dognapper was too dangerous, which is why I transformed myself into Maggie Brooklyn, Bird-Watcher.

I even looked up a bunch of bird facts in case I met another bird-watcher and had to act the part. I was ready.

Seventh-grader Maggie is used to being stealthy: she's a secretly employed dog-walker, a fact she hides from her parents, fearing that they'll say it takes too much time away from homework. When Isabel, the eccentric landlady of their subdivided Brooklyn brownstone hurt her foot and drafted her for doggie duty, Maggie couldn't refuse the two lucrative offers to walk other people's dogs, and she's already stashed over a hundred dollars in her hiding place in the unused fireplace in her room.

But when she catches ex-best friend Ivy in the process of pilfering her stash during her twin brother's party, Maggie gets drawn into the mystery of the disappearance of Ivy's dog Kermit. Ivy may now be a mean-girl frenemy, but her floppy -eared Kermit is still close to Maggie's heart, and she reluctantly agrees to try to discover the perpetrator behind the kidnapping of Kermit and several dogs in the neighborhood. Ivy shows her the ransom note and explains that she was just "borrowing" the money to get Kermit back. Maggie bones up on sleuthing with her mom's old Nancy Drews and agrees to go undercover on the case.

Between juggling her surveillance role, doing her daily dogwalking, and trying to come up with opening conversational gambits for her crush, Milo, Maggie is busy, but she is nevertheless drawn into a second mystery as her landlady discovers an unopened letter from her ex-husband, whom she had written off as a total jerk for stealing all her money, stating that in repentance he has hidden the returned money inside their brownstone in a hiding place she'll easily guess. But Isabel can't guess that hiding place, and when Maggie sleuths out the cause of the mysterious sounds inside her walls, she learns that when Isabel's impoverishment forced her to subdivide the brownstone into four apartments, concealed areas inside the walls remained and while her tenants are working, Isabelle has been feverishly searching their apartments for her hidden fortune. Suddenly Maggie knows just where the wayward husband must have hidden that money, prompting some secret sleuthing via secret passages herself.

Leslie Margolis' first book in the intended Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries, Girl's Best Friend (Maggie Brooklyn Mystery) (Bloomsbury, 2011) introduces an engaging girl sleuth to this popular genre. Margolis begins the novel in leisurely fashion, as befits the first book of a series, establishing her characterizations in telling episodes before the real mystery begins to unfold, but her usual comic flair for first-person narration carries the story along with plenty of energy until the plot thickens into a double mystery that puts the young detective through her paces in fine style for 'tween readers. The addition of Milo and Maggie's sometimes annoying twin brother Finn into the detection action makes this one good reading for both sexes. Don't judge this one by its less than exciting cover, because Maggie has a lot to offer. Also don't miss the just-published sequel, Vanishing Acts (Maggie Brooklyn Mystery) (Bloomsbury, 2012).

Margolis' earlier hilarious middle school stories include Boys Are Dogs and Girls Acting Catty.

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