If you're looking for a good, middle grade mystery, this is a must read. I'm sometimes cautious about mysteries, because they can be too far-fetched or too easy to solve, but this one hit it just right.
“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.
Howard Wallace, P.I. was written by Casey Lyall and published by Sterling Children’s Books in 2016.
Why you want to read this book…
The clues for the mystery and the mystery itself were believable, with lots of neighbourhood adventure as Howard and his sidekick scoped out crime scenes and interviewed suspects. I liked the creative details, like Howard’s playground office. Social issues of middle school, such as dealing with friends and bullies, were nicely woven into the plot and I loved the growing friendship between Howard and Ivy.
“One of the greatest investigative advantages is the opportunity to observe your subjects when they’re unaware of being watched. People behave more like themselves when immersed in their natural environment.”
If you’re a writer…
Something to study here is how the author created the quirky, first person narrator. The novel has a strong, consistent voice. Howard’s obsession with being a detective came through loud and clear through all his actions and dialogue, but we also got to see his sensitivity.
“Telling her to buzz off was the most sensible thing to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words.”
If you’re a teacher…
It can be hard to find contemporary mystery novels for kids in the 9-12 age group that have an age-appropriate mystery. It was nice to see that Howard was solving mysteries for other kids his age.
Casey Lyall's website is very teacher-friendly and has lots of resources, a scavenger hunt for students based on Howard's rules for detectives including:
“She didn’t knock, just barged through the door like she owned the place.”
Word on the street has it that Casey is writing a sequel – I hope so!