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What's the story?
When four New York Catholic school middle-schoolers meet the old lady who lives next door to their school, they are drawn into a mysterious series of puzzles and clues set long ago by the lady's now-dead father. Centering on the church attached to their school, the clues involve math, art, literature, religion, philosophy, and more, and may lead to an ancient treasure -- the Ring of Rocamadour. But someone else is after the ring too, and the girls are not sure whom they can trust -- except each other.
Is it any good?
For kids who love mysteries laden with puzzles and clues, this will be sheer delight. Those who enjoy reading, and clues from literature, art, religion, and philosophy will love it even more. And those who love math will be ecstatic, as math is the central unifier of the clues. None of the clues or puzzles will be too terribly challenging to the kind of brainy kids who will gravitate to this, and in any case, they are all explained (occasionally at rather greater length than some readers will have patience for). But trying to solve them enhances the fun of the story.
That story, told in the first-person, present-tense, humorous voice of Sophie, would be a hoot even without the puzzles. The villains, only mildly villainous and mostly offstage, are almost distractions to the main pleasure -- watching this charming group of girls work together to solve a clever scavenger hunt made up of clues that reference Dickens, Aquinas, equations and coordinate geometry, anagrams, and Catholic traditions (the author teaches in a Catholic girls' school much like the one in the book). This first book in an intended series will doubtless have young fans waiting eagerly for the next installment.
From the Book:
Every fall, Mr. Eliot hosts this wacky event he calls "A Dickens of a Banquet." He dresses up like Charles Dickens and reads from his favorite novels, and the cafeteria ladies serve a traditional old-fashioned English meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Brussels sprouts, and something rumored to be fig pudding for desert. (My dad raised a suspicious French eyebrow when I explained the concept of the Dickens banquet. "An English feast? I think not.")