The Detective's Assistant

368p. ebook available. Little, Brown. Apr. 2015. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316403511; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316403504. LC 2014015131.
Gr 5–8—When 11-year-old Nell is unceremoniously left on her Aunt Kitty's doorstep, she is whisked into a new life of treacherous detective work. Though Aunt Kitty wants to send the girl to a suitable orphanage, Nell has some ingenious ways of tracking down suspects that are great assets to her aunt's detective work. While the child's quick wit helps with securing confessions and truths from suspects (in decidedly unorthodox ways), she encounters difficulty when attempting to solve the mystery of her uncle's murder—and how her father was involved. Nell is an irrepressible character: spirited, thoughtful, and intuitive. Horrifying details about American slavery, such as lynchings and kidnappings, are woven into the narrative through letters exchanged between Nell and her African American friend, Jemma. Although there are plenty of madcap adventures, grief and the longing for a home are at the forefront of the story. Although tales of children softening the hard hearts of lonely adults are a dime a dozen, the inevitably changed relationship between Nell and her aunt is remarkably free of mawkish sentiment. An extensive author's note about the real Kate Warne, America's first female detective, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency is included, along with answers to ciphers scattered throughout the book and resources for further information about the era. Letters between Nell and Jemma are written in legible penmanship that can be read by readers unfamiliar with script.
VERDICT Recommend to readers who enjoy adventure, history, and stories featuring independent, strong-minded girls.

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