Remember the Famous Five? Like Enid Blyton’s series of page-turners from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, Ellen Schwartz’s newest book revolves around five children – siblings Genevieve, Sébastien, and Claire, and their cousins Alex and Olivia – who spend their summer vacation solving a mystery. And like those cherished Blyton books, The Case of the Missing Deed is fast-paced, and full of cryptic clues, secret codes, and red herrings.
When the kids converge on Grandma’s cottage on Otter Island, they find her distraught. The Tantalus Mining Company wants her property, and if she can’t produce the deed, she will lose her beloved home. The problem is, Grandpa (who died six months previously) has hidden the deed, and Grandma can’t remember where.
In an effort to cheer Grandma up, the children start going through her recipes, cooking up delicious meals. Hidden in the recipes (included in the text) are clues written by their late grandfather that lead them on a scavenger hunt around the island to collect objects whose meaning comes to light in a satisfying conclusion.The novel moves swiftly, but there are times when the juggernaut of a plot detracts from the story as a whole. Schwartz does not quite manage to bring all of her characters to life; she never reveals how old most of the children are, or clearly establishes their birth order. The story might have been stronger if she’d limited herself to two or three main characters and taken the time to develop them more fully.
There is one exception, however. While Sébastien, the brain of the family, solves most of the puzzles, his older sister, Genevieve, steals the show. Schwartz beautifully captures the agony, ecstasy, and exquisite self-centredness of a 13-year-old girl on a family vacation.
Minor quibbles aside, The Case of the Missing Deed is a great summer read for kids who love a good, meaty mystery as much as they love a delicious homemade dessert.