Friday, December 29, 2023

Today reads... The Seaside Corpse by Marthe Jocelyn

Today's read comes from a series I accidentally ran across earlier this year...and I'm so glad I did. It's a historical mystery, which weaves a younger Agatha Christie into a series of murders, which she has to solve despite being only twelve-years-old. I've only read book 3 in the series, so far, but was already hooked by the smooth writing, vivid historical elements, and fun characters. I hope this next installment holds as much goodness as the last.

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #4
by Marthe Jocelyn
Illustrated by Isabelle Follath
Tundra Books
Middle Grade Mystery / Historical
354 pages
ages 8 to 12

For young detective Aggie Morton and her friend Hector, an opportunity to dig up fossils becomes even more thrilling when a corpse washes ashore.

After an invigorating but not exactly restful trip to a Yorkshire spa during which she survived a near brush with death and foiled a murderer, aspiring writer Aggie Morton and her friend Hector are thrilled to have the opportunity to stay at a camp by the sea and watch real paleontologists at work. The famed husband and wife team of the Blenningham-Crewes are about to become even more famous with the recovery of the fossilized bones of an ichthyosaur from the sea by Lyme Regis. This news has already caught the attention of an American millionaire, a British museum and a traveling circus owner, who each want the bones for their own collections. Tensions are running high throughout the camp, from the cook, to the collectors, to the Blenningham-Crewes themselves, and become downright dangerous after Aggie and Hector make a discovery of their own: a body on the beach. Not a fossil, but a human body.



This is the last book in the series, and it not only ends with a full cast of characters (old and new), but rounds off the adventure in a wonderful way.

Aggie has every right to be excited. Not only is she the first female in the family to go camping, to attend an archaeological dig, and to ride in a motorcar, but she's going to spend the adventure with her best friend Hector before he heads back home. When her brother-in-law drops her off at the camp and digging site, things aren't exactly like she expected, but none of it is a problem...except for the dig's professor, who seems to make everyone hate him thanks to his horrible attitude. Then, there's the rich American, who wants to purchase the huge fossil they crew is working so hard to recover. And there's a circus. Every moment seems to carry something new until a corpse is left after the tide. Now, Aggie has to deal with another body, and it wasn't the kind she was expecting when she first came to the dig.

I just discovered this series with the last novel and am already sad to see it come to an end...which means I'll just have to go back and discover the first two, now. In this one, we find Aggie as she's headed off to an archaeological dig, not because she wants to become one (she's a writer through and through) but her brother-in-law managed to get her a spot. And that's also where the lovely dive into history comes in. Not only do we accompany her in her first exciting ride in a 'motorcar', but the attitudes of the time period surrounding women and social levels is very clear. There is also a rich setting thanks to the research done by the author, which surrounds the location, a well-known fossil discovery, and the involved people. Plus, this entire thing winks toward Agatha Christie (Aggie). While it's well done on the historic end, it also manages to keep the characters easy to relate to. Readers will have no trouble understanding the decisions, concerns, and thoughts of Aggie and her friends. And that without the mystery ever talking down to them.

One of my favorite aspects of this series is the ability of the author to open the door to 'adult' aspects while still staying true to the audience. There is a murder. Things aren't always pretty. Violence happens. Danger occurs. And the relationships between people isn't rosy or simple. Aggie handles everything as best she can and has a wonderful friendship as well as a terrific aunt at her side. It's quick-paced and doesn't leave a boring moment the entire way through. Each character has depth, and there are enough sub-plots to keep Aggie on her toes.

As to the mystery, I did find the other novel a bit better on the detective and clue end. This one has it's secrets and Aggie as well as Hector do have to figure things out, but not to the same depth or extent as before. This tale allows some aspects to unfold with time or observation, but considering there are other ends to wrap up (this begin the last in the series), there wouldn't be room for more. The author ends the series nicely, while still leaving enough of the door open to show that Aggie's life still holds much more to come. 

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