Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (trade, $6.99)

The student of a customer insisted his teacher try this book. When she didn't read it soon enough to his satisfaction, he bought a copy with his own money and gave it to her. The teacher loved the book and brought the recommendation to Jean. Jean loved the book and waved it under the nose of anyone passing by. A large number of us who knew better than to pooh-pooh Jean's recommendation picked the book up and read it. So here it is in writing: I love the book. Thanks, Chris and Jean! And thank you to the anonymous student who wouldn't take no for an answer!

First of all, this is a "kid's" book. Whatever that means. There are a lot of us, ahem, older kids who enjoy Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lemony Snicket and -- my favorite -- Brains Benton (a 1950s book club offering). Universal themes applied well will attract a wide range of readers. What Stewart does especially well is not talk down to his audience, young or old. There is no arch, snide, wink-wink to his narration. And he has the requisite punny touches. For example, the villain is named Ledroptha Curtain!

Four children, whose regular lives are tumultuous and lonely, find themselves attracted to an advertisement in the paper, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" The narcoleptic Mr. Benedict administers a super-, ultra-, mega-difficult quiz to find just the right children to help him with an imperative mission to save the world. Reynie Muldoon, Kate Wetherall, Sticky Washington, and Constance Contraire exhibit just the right odd mixture of guts, intelligence, and creativity to qualify. The book is filled with neat little puzzles and problems the children must solve to proceed with the mission, and they tackle them with composure and resolution. Well, maybe Constance grumbles and whines just a little.

The story plays fair with the reader, too, who can wholeheartedly embrace the children without fear of a double-cross at the end. The book is gentle and kind and sticks to its moral guns.

The good news is there is a sequel, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.

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