A haunted inn. A missing treasure. A hidden inheritance. A lost will. All of these things have the making of a great Nancy Drew mystery (isn't it funny how all children's mysteries all seem to compare themselves to the one great teen detective?). Only, this isn't a Nancy Drew book. Rather, these are all the elements of the very first Samantha Wolf mystery, The Mystery of Hollow Inn.
Author Tara Ellis definitely starts this series off right! This first book in the Samantha Wolf Mysteries series is well-written with a superb plot and a spunky protagonist. Samantha Wolf is an inquisitive twelve-year old who, when she finds out there is trouble at her uncle and aunt's new inn, is determined to get to the bottom of things. As with any good detective, Sam has her trusty sidekick, Alyson Parker (a/k/a Ally). While Sam is always ready to jump into the middle of things and never backs down from a challenge, Ally is a bit more timid and more ready to turn things over to the adults rather than try to do it herself. But, like Bess and George are to Nancy Drew, so is Ally to Samantha Wolf - a loyal friend who overcomes her fears to help her solve the mystery.
Sam and Ally, who don't believe in ghosts, quickly figure out that it's no ghost that's haunting the inn. Someone is looking for that gold, and the girls are determined to find it first. They face plenty of dangers - from a capsized canoe, to a rattlesnake in an abandoned mine, to being held at gunpoint - but no matter what they face, they never give up their search. An old poem written by Hollow himself provides them with an all-important clue that could lead them to the treasure that just might save the inn.
The characters are all believable, and while there are too few characters to be suspects, the mystery is less about "whodunnit" and more about "where's the treasure." At 141 pages, the book is an easy read, and it flows nicely and at a relatively good pace. Ellis provides her readers with some great descriptions, but does not allow it to bog down the story. She expertly lays the groundwork for the mystery, and all the clues are there if you know where to look for them.
The one distracting point of the book was the fact that it was written in present tense rather than the standard past tense. I'm curious if that is becoming the new writing style, as Linda Joy Singleton uses the same tense in her Curious Cat Spy Club series, and each time I get a new book in that series, it takes me a bit to become accustomed to the tense. Otherwise, I didn't really have any complaints about this book at all. A very satisfying read and a fantastic first book for a series.
The cover art is definitely spooky and mysterious, with Sam and Ally outside of Hollow Inn at night, surrounded by the dark woods. It is a wrap-around cover art that spills over onto the spine and around onto the back cover.
All in all, a definite recommendation for those who enjoy reading young adult and children mystery series. Looking forward to the next book in the series!
RATING: 9 bronze bird baths out of 10 for taking children's mysteries back to their roots with haunted mansions, secret passages, and clues in cryptic poems!