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Book Reviews

Max Finder Mystery: Collected Casebook, Vol. 1

by Liam O'Donnell; Michael Cho, illus.

Like the fictitious hometowns of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, Whispering Meadows seems to have a disproportionately high number of crimes. But unlike River Heights and Bayport, the crimes in Max Finder’s hometown are petty and often perpetrated by a small group of middle-graders. Max and Alison Santos are preteen gumshoes who follow clues, interview witnesses, and round up suspects. In these comic-book mysteries, readers are invited to trace Max and Alison’s investigative steps to see if they can solve the mystery, too: not only whodunit, but how and why they did it.

These interactive stories, each four pages long, were originally serialized in OWL magazine. The cases are fairly challenging and require deductive reasoning and observation skills. Each is followed by a new puzzle activity specific to that mystery. Case solutions, puzzle answers, character profiles, and author/illustrator biographies are provided at the end of the book. Even though the comics provide adequate background information on each of the characters within the story, the section on character profiles is a helpful addition for anyone having difficulty sorting out the 14 regular characters.

The storylines contain elements of pre-teen experience that readers can relate to: school fundraising, dances, sports, bullying, and fitting in, while the characters reflect the diverse ethnic backgrounds of Canadian schoolchildren. The lively, expressive artwork is presented on glossy paper, and each panel is crammed full of characterization, interesting viewpoints, clues, and red herrings. The cover scene, with its flashlight-wielding sleuth and lurking dark figure, is loaded with shelf appeal.

In addition to appealing to amateur sleuths, these graphic mysteries offer reluctant readers short, manageable reads within an inviting comic-book format.