Sunday, July 11, 2021

Enchantment Lake

Enchantment Lake
by Margi Preus
Recommended Ages: 15+

I don't know exactly why, but since I opened this book, I've had a feeling it's set in the county I currently live in, close to the headwaters of the Mississippi in north-central Minnesota. Billed as "a northwoods mystery," it takes place partly in a town of 2,020 souls and partly on the side of the lake named on the front cover that doesn't have a road leading to it, and the people who live there (mostly) like it that way. Francie Frye, a.k.a. Frenchie, a.k.a. French Fry to at least one childhood playmate, hasn't been back there in years – maybe since the accident that took her father's life. Seventeen, studying drama in New York City and struggling to find acting jobs, she lives on an allowance from her trust fund, doled out by her strict grandfather. But she puts her career on hold, and her allowance on the line, when her eccentric great aunts summon her back to Enchantment with a cryptic voicemail suggesting that their lives may be in danger.

The aunts, Astrid and Jeannette, think someone has been murdering people who own cabins on their side of the lake – a community that, at least during the summer, doesn't mind living without electricity or a road in and out. There certainly seem to have been a suspicious number of freak accidents – a drowning, a poisoned well, death by falling tree limb, a heart attack that doesn't sound quite kosher, even a bite from a snake that isn't native to the area. Some people, for example the sheriff, don't see anything to be concerned about. Francie puts on her detective cap – after all, she played one on TV, briefly – and starts to dig. And before long, enough scariness happens around her to make her all but certain that someone is bumping lakeshore residents off. If only she could figure out why, the who would soon follow.

But asking the wrong kinds of questions also puts Francie in danger. In only a few days, a local handiman dies of a gunshot wound (the old ladies don't think it was suicide) and a shady realtor succumbs to cyanide at the funeral luncheon. Drat it, he was Francie's prime suspect. Double drat, now the sheriff believes murder is being done, but he suspects Francie's aunties. Triple drat it, her grandfather shows up in town, breathing fire at her for skipping school, traveling without permission and getting herself tangled up in her aunts' affairs. With only one day to solve the mystery, and knowing the sheriff isn't going to look any further than the suspects he already has in custody, she kayaks into danger and before long, is threatened with drowning, gunfire and even a piece of heavy equipment before the night is through.

Francie is a smart, thoughtful heroine, despite her knack for missing the big clue until it's (almost?) too late. Maybe, as some of this book's other characters tell her, she really is cut out to be a detective, even though most of what she knows about detecting she learned while starring in a kids' TV show. She has a vulnerable place in her heart, a head for contemplative poetry, a headstrong and vibrant personality, and a way of coming to snap decisions that sometimes gets her into trouble. You see her knowingly going into danger – she actually compares herself, a couple times, to that character in a scary book or movie whose decisions make you yell, "Don't be stupid!" – and your guts clench in concern. You see her eyeing the attractive intern from the local law firm and the hint of romance makes you smile. So, even when she doubts whether she can solve the mystery, you don't.

This is the first of (currently) three Enchantment Lake mysteries, also including The Clue in the Trees and The Silver Box. Margi Preus is the Newbery nominated author of A Book of Grace, Sacred Words, Heart of a Samurai, Celebritrees, Shadow on the Mountain, West of the Moon, The Bamboo Sword, Village of Scoundrels, The Littlest Voyageur and a handful of picture books.

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