Most mysteries featuring kid detectives – Nate the Great, Cam Jansen, the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins, and Harriet M. Welsch (better known as Harriet the Spy) – default to a white protagonist or a world where everyone is assumed to be Caucasian unless explicitly stated otherwise. The Case of Windy Lake, a contemporary mystery featuring a group of four Indigenous kids, is a game changer.
Debut author Michael Hutchinson is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation, and his first book tells the story of cousins Sam, Otter, Atim, and Chickadee. The foursome belong to the fictional Windy Lake First Nation and are known in their community as the “Mighty Muskrats” for their energy, playfulness, and astuteness at solving local mysteries. Their latest case focuses on a white archaeologist who has gone missing while working for a nearby mining company.
The Case of Windy Lake, the first in a planned series, delivers on many classic children’s mystery tropes; the Muskrats have a top-notch secret meeting place inside an abandoned vintage Bombardier snowmobile (which is the size of a small school bus) and a lively rapport stemming from their different personalities. Small cliffhangers cap each chapter and the Muskrats’ detective work is firmly in the not-too-scary, non-murderous category. In the end, the clues all stack up satisfyingly at a pace that will be rewarding both for those who solve the mystery before the Muskrats and those who need the process of deduction more clearly articulated.
In the midst of weaving a satisfying whodunit, Hutchinson also evokes Indigenous culture. The Muskrats consult different elders in the community for information and guidance; they view knowledge as a gift to be earned; and they watch their adult cousin, Denice, undergo a gruelling spiritual quest while protesting the local mining company. This all works in perfect harmony with the Muskrats’ goal of cracking their case. Hutchinson shows the young detectives relying on, and valuing, the problem-solving they do with their elders and their community; there is no half-baked attempt at getting the adults out of the way, nor are the children imbued with skills, knowledge, or access that pushes the boundaries of reality to bring about a resolution. The Muskrats feel like the kind of real kids that have been missing in children’s books for quite some time.