Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Mystery of the Missing Everything

The Mystery of the Missing Everything
by Ben H. Winters
Recommended Ages: 12+

When the horrible principal of Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School announces that the eighth-grade class trip is off unless someone returns a stolen trophy – pretty much the only competitive trophy the school has ever won – Bethesda Fielding realizes that it's a case made for a master detective like her. But her investigation doesn't go smoothly. When weeks go by and she still hasn't found whodunit, the rest of her class starts to blame her for scotching the trip to Taproot Valley. The new girl, Reenie Maslow, who showed all the early signs of being best friend material, seems to hate her. And trouble magnet Tenny Boyer, who became something like her best friend last year, has mysteriously returned after three weeks at a private school and refuses to talk about why he came back. Plus, someone keeps targeting her with acts of petty sabotage and leaving threatening notes, warning her to drop the investigation. When frustration and injured feelings push her to the edge of desperation, Bethesda makes everything worse.

It's a troubling case, fraught with too many suspects and not enough clues, but Bethesda gets there on time. Besides whodunit, she also learns a few things about being a better friend and accepting that there are things you're not supposed to know. Meanwhile, other characters also shine – from the music teacher, Ms. Finkleman, who reaches out to a philanthropist to help the eighth grade pay for its class trip, to an up-and-coming leader named Chester Hu, who organizes a hilarious music video to raise funds online. The cast is also crowded with goofy characters, like Braxton Lashey, whose big talent is falling down; Custodian Steve, who believes the school is haunted by a vengeful spirit; Assistant Principal Jasper Ferrars, who jumps at every growl and snarl of the school's ridiculous principal. I know exactly which character I would have been if I had done eighth grade at Mary Todd Lincoln. There might be a character for just about everybody.

It's a sweet book full of characters who'll charm the sympathy right out of you. It's a funny book, too, with gags that are both outrageous and believably human. It also drops the names of bands and composers and titles of pieces of music that you may want to get to know on your own time. My research has, disappointingly, failed to uncover any proof that such a cartoon character as Wellington Wolf really exists – Bethesda's dad is a fan, and he makes it sound fun. I was almost sure there was a similar animated TV character in the 1970s, but maybe I'm thinking of Mumbly, the trenchcoat-wearing detective dog with the wheezy laugh.

This is a sequel to The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman. Ben H. Winters is also the author of the spoof novels Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina, the Last Policeman trilogy, several other novels, collections of poems, and plays including Uncle Pirate. He is also a co-author of several books in the "Worst Case Scenario" series and the editor of a humor collection titled The Jewish Comedy Thesaurus.

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