Friday, January 20, 2023

Today's read... The Dead Man in the Garden by Marthe Jocelyn

Good mysteries are another hard-to-find area in middle grade literature, especially those which don't underestimate or talk down to the readers. So, when I ran into this one, I hoped it would slide right into that genre. It's from an author across the sea and has a wonderful, English flair with spas and properness and all those things. It also should include a few deaths...and yet, never grow overly dark. 
So, let's just see if it does all these things.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen # 3
by Marthe Jocelyn
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
Tundra Books
Middle Grade Mystery
355 pages
ages 8 to 12

For young detective Aggie Morton and her friend Hector, a spa stay becomes a lot more thrilling when TWO dead bodies are found in this third book in the Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen series, inspired by the life of Agatha Christie as a child and her most popular creation, Hercule Poirot.

Aspiring writer Aggie Morton is ready to enjoy an invigorating trip to a Yorkshire spa, where her widowed mother can take the waters and recover from a long mourning period. Having solved yet another murder and faced extreme peril with her best friend Hector over Christmas, Aggie's Morbid Preoccupation is on alert when rumors abound about the spa's recently deceased former patient . . . and then another body appears under mysterious circumstances. Together with Grannie Jane, and often in the company of George, a young patient at the spa, Aggie and Hector take a closer look at the guests and staff of the Wellspring Hotel, and venture into the intriguing world of the local undertaker. Has there been a murder--or even two? As Aggie and Hector ignite their deductive skills, their restful trip takes a sudden, dangerous turn.



Wonderful characters, inviting setting, dead bodies, and a hard-to-guess mystery...there's nothing missing to make this one a good read.

Aggie Morton, her mother, and her grandmother are all off to a several week stay at the spa, so her mother can regain her health after mourning the death of the father for around a year. Luckily, Hector, Aggie's best friend, is allowed to tag along. They learn, before the arrive, about the mysterious death of an earlier visitor only days before and are soon determined to figure out the odd situation behind the woman's passing. But before they can collect too many clues, they discover another guest dead on a park bench in the same garden where the first one died. There are no obvious causes of death, and many assume it was a heart attack. Still, Aggie and Hector find everything too suspicious and are soon on that case as well.

I have not read the first two books in this series but had no trouble diving into Aggie and Hector's world with this third adventure. Hector and Aggie are both easy to like. Aggie is a little more shy and proper, where Hector is quick to grasp situations and makes up for her weaknesses. The two form a perfect team and have a fun and inspiring friendship. There's a little friction between the mother and Aggie, at times, but only a bit to make it come across in a natural and wholesome way...not that she gets too involved, anyway. It's fun to get to know all the characters, since each one has their own quirks and tempers—Mr. Hart with his gruff attitude and irritating flirtations, the inspector with a rough shell but  kind inside, and George, who is rude and prickly but really just trying to find a comfortable place as he comes to terms with his own situation after losing the use of his legs. It's a great cast to fit the mystery well.

The mystery is very well laid out. It doesn't seem like the first death can really be considered a murder, but as the clues start to stack, so does the suspicion. When Mr. Hart is found dead on the bench, it's also unclear if there is a murderer out and about. It might all be due to natural causes, too. This makes the entire mystery harder to solve, and even when the clues start mounting, they aren't clear cut. Aggie and Hector have a difficult task ahead of them, especially since no one will listen to two twelve-year-olds. 

Not only young mystery fans will enjoy this one, but older ones will be able to sink right in as well. It's well written from all angles and enjoyable to get lost in. I'm going to be adding the rest of this series to my to-be-read list as well.

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