Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Virginia Mysteries, Book 5 - Midnight at the Mansion

That pre-teen trio of detectives - Derek, Sam, and Caitlin - return for their fifth mystery-solving adventure in this latest book from author Steven K. Smith. And as Smith continues writing this series, his familiarity with the characters shows in their development as individuals,  and his storytelling techniques improve in keeping the story moving and keeping the reader engaged!

As with all of his prior books, Midnight at the Mansion is set in Virginia, this time at Richmond's historic Maymont mansion and its sister palace, the Swannanoa up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mystery involves the theft of two bald eagles that were kept in the animal sanctuary on the Maymont estate, and an FBI agent that literally stumbles across the three children as he attempts to evade capture by the criminals.  He barely has time to whisper, "Save the eagles," before he is up and running, leaving Sam, Caitlin, and Derek to wonder who he is and what he meant.

This book definitely has a stronger mystery than the last one, and it's got all the spooky elements that make it reminiscent of the old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. There's an old, abandoned mansion isolated in the mountain.  There's a dark, creepy tower with a locked room.  There are cryptic clues that the kids have to decipher before it's too late.  And the villains are the heartless, ruthless kind who are kidnapping endangered animals and selling them for profit in the secret of night.

The characters of Derek and Caitlin are much stronger in this book - Smith definitely has them growing up, which is nice, as it gives the reader an opportunity to watch as they mature and change in personality. Sam, however, seems to do nothing but whine in this book, which is somewhat annoying at times. I realize that he is the youngest of the three characters, but it would be nice to see him do something other than worry and complain (in a lot of ways, in this book Sam reminds me a lot of Bess Marvin - and all the Nancy Drew fans out there will know what I'm talking about).

On the lighter side, it's nice to see Smith utilizing other supporting cast members, such as Caitlin's father (who is the one who takes the kids hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains) and their neighbor, Mr. Haskins (who is always ready to impart some knowledge on the kids).

And I can't let it go by without saying something about the cover. Not sure who the artist is, as he or she is never identified (all the copyright page says is "Cover Design by"), but I will admit to a smile at seeing the mansion, with the bird flying overhead. With all the blue and grey, the night sky, and the design of the mansion itself, I immediately had a flash of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? run through my mind.  It also bears some resemblance to the cover of the next Nancy Drew book coming out in January, The Haunting of Heliotrope Lane. It's nice to know the Gothic mystery covers are coming back in style!

Don't see any news about a sixth book in the series, but the author's website indicates there is an online short story available, so I supposed I'll have to check that out while I wait for the next book to be written (at least, there better be one on its way!).

RATING:  8 piercing warning whistles out of 10 for putting the "mystery" back into children's mysteries!

No comments:

Post a Comment