It turns out that this is NOT the final book in the series. When I initially bought this series of books, there were only four of them, and I had thought that it was a complete set. So, as I sat down to read the Secret of the Staircase, I was expecting it to give some kind of finale to the adventures of young Sam and his older brother, Derek. Turns out, though, that author Steven K. Smith was not quite finished with his adventurous duo, as Amazon.com lists a fifth book that has come out, one I have yet to get but will eventually have to do, if for no other reason that to have a complete set (and those who know me, know that I am definitely anal-retentive about having complete sets! once I start a series, I have to get them all).
As this series progresses, it seems the mystery aspect becomes less and less and the adventure part becomes more and more the focus of the story. I'd almost have to compare these stories to the Hardy Boys, who always seemed to spend most of their time in their books stumbling through a mystery by having one grand adventure after another. Sam and Derek seem to be following in their footsteps.
The only real mystery in this book is who is stealing things. First, Nathan's Gameboy is stolen (and he blames Sam for it), and then the bride and groom's wedding rings are taken from their room. Could it really be the mysterious alligators that used to reside on the hotel premises? Or does the hotel have a thief on their hands? While Derek and Sam, along with Caitlin, never really search for the stolen items, they do stumble upon the secret door under the grand staircase in the ballroom, which leads them on a rather frightening adventure under the city of Richmond, where they come face to face with a most dangerous and unexpected guest!
Ultimately, though, the boys do happen upon the true thief, and the stolen items are returned to their owners. And while Derek and Sam do end up in trouble once again for their escapades, they (as well as the readers!) do end up soaking up a bit more of Virginia's rich history along the way.
RATING: 7 rusty oil lanterns out of 10 for keeping the history lessons fun, the characters real, and the boys always inquisitive.