Kassy O’Roarke, Cub Reporter

Kelly Oliver. (Pet Detective Mysteries: Bk. 1). Nov. 2019. 224p. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781643439037.
Gr 3-6–Middle schooler Kassy O’Roarke is destined to be a journalist, she just hasn’t found a breakthrough story. Kassy, her veterinarian mom, and her younger brother Crispy live in an old farmhouse and run a petting zoo. When Apollo the cougar cub goes missing, Kassy can finally use her journalistic instincts to solve the case. She knows she has to solve it quick, or Animal Control Agent Killjoy will shut down the zoo. Kassy still remembers the devastation of her parents’ recent divorce, and vows to protect her mom from further heartbreak by saving the zoo. Together, Kassy and Crispy work with new friends Butler and Oliver Patel to research leads and track down Apollo. This middle grade detective story has compelling characters but lacks cohesion. Kassy’s complicated feelings about her parents’ divorce, concern for her mom’s well-being, and love for her brother make her a realistic and sympathetic protagonist. Friends Butler and Oliver prove to be dedicated and supportive animal allies, but Kassy’s microaggressions about their food and culture are not satisfactorily resolved. The mystery is cobbled together with redundancies and inconsistency. For example, Crispy immediately states that he can understand animals and easily find Apollo. It’s not until late in the story that he actually leads Kassy to Apollo’s hiding place, despite stating he could do so at any time. Kassy’s main motivation is keeping Agent Killjoy from learning of Apollo’s disappearance, though her mother clearly states she has notified animal control about the missing cub. Readers may struggle to follow Kassy’s motives when they so often contradict each other.
VERDICT A weak plot and subpar mystery don’t redeem relatable characters. Recommended only where mystery series are extremely popular.

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