Review of Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano
by Marthe Jocelyn; illus. by Isabelle Follath
Intermediate    Tundra    325 pp.    g
2/20    978-0-7352-6546-2    $15.99
e-book ed.  978-0-77352-6547-9    $9.99

In 1902 Torquay, England, twelve-year-old Aggie befriends a Belgian refugee, Hector Perot, and investigates a murder roiling the town. When Mrs. Eversham, known throughout town for her sharp tongue and bad temper, is found dead on the floor of her sister-in-law’s dance studio, Miss Marianne is the prime suspect. Aggie is certain her beloved dance teacher is innocent, so she evades adult oversight to solve the crime (with Hector’s help). Plenty of red herrings keep Aggie discovering and discarding clues, and she finds as her investigation intensifies that the adults of Torquay appreciate her assistance less than they should. The young characters have a good deal of autonomy, driving a plot where parents, grandparents, and police officers are merely tolerated presences in the children’s world. Aggie, an observant outsider, is an engaging protagonist, with wide-eyed curiosity balanced by acute insights about many of the people in her community. Jocelyn keeps readers guessing throughout the book, but the eventual reveal of the perpetrator is believable, carefully clued, and satisfying. A solid dose of tart wit (“Irma Eversham will be honored by more people as she enters her eternal slumber than she spoke to civilly in all of 1902”) makes it an extra-enjoyable read; readers will eagerly anticipate the (hinted-at) further adventures of Aggie and Hector. An author’s note explains that the story is inspired by Agatha Christie’s childhood, and while Christie fans may pick up on the many subtle references to her books and characters (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple), the mystery stands on its own.

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Rettger
Sarah Rettger is an independent bookseller in Boston.

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