Mysteries, in general, have never been my thing. I read a little Agatha Christie, a little Encyclopedia Brown, and of course Nancy Drew, but the search for hidden clues was never as interesting to me as hidden Easter eggs (the real kind, not the DVD variety). I have had kids come to me asking for a good mystery, and for a long time, I had a very short reference list. The aforementioned Mr. Brown, “The Westing Game”, and for fun, Geronimo Stilton. But things have changed lately, and a group of smart, intrepid and funny young ladies have come to my attention. First came Flavia du Luce, the irrepressible star of a series of novels by Alan Bradley. Then I discovered a group of middle grade sleuths in The Red Blazer Girls by Michael Beil and Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes mysteries (Enola being the much younger sister of the famed Sherlock). Now Leslie Margolis has brought forward Maggie Brooklyn, a young lady on the move in her namesake borough. In Girl’s Best Friend, Maggie must help rescue a missing pet, uncover the truth behind her landlady’s odd behavior and solve the biggest riddle of them all, boys.
Maggie is a twin, and she and her brother share a room in their brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Maggie also loves dogs, but because of her brother’s allergy, cannot have one of her own. So she starts, almost by accident, a small dog walking business in her neighborhood. Yes, she’s keeping it a secret from her parents and hiding her earnings in a secret box behind the fireplace, but at least she’s keeping her grades up. At her 12th birthday party, she catches former best friend Ivy trying to steal some of her hard earned cash, and discovers that Ivy’s beloved Lab/Dalmatian mix, Kermit, has been dognapped and is being held for ransom. Maggie promises to help get the dog back, for Kermit’s sake, if not for Ivy’s, and along the way finds a network of missing dogs and a dodgy dog-walker named Jane.
It’s a tricky thing, reading a middle grade mystery as an adult. I’m always wondering if clues that may seem obvious to a grown up might be more puzzling to a book intended audience (this is partially why I enjoy both the Red Blazer tales and Enola Holmes, as both of these series involve puzzles and ciphers that, while solvable, present at least a little work to be done for any reader). Thankfully, Margolis has layered her mysteries with plenty of hints and red herrings, so that even the sharpest detective of any age will have a few surprises.
The best thing Margolis has always brought to the table is her characters, and her truthful capturing of a pre-teen spirit. With Maggie, Margolis has a young lady who is clever, funny and a tad unsure of herself, as any 12-year-old would be. She worries about talking to boys, the dress code at her own party, and calling her former 3rd grade teacher by her first name, which just feels weird. She’s a real girl, and a real girl really worth the effort of getting to know.
Girl’s Best Friend: a Maggie Brooklyn Mystery by Leslie Margolis