January 08, 2020

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano

Written by Marthe Jocelyn
with illustrations by Isabelle Follath
Tundra Books
336 pp.
Ages 9-13
February 2020
Reviewed from advance reader's copy

At the time, I did not see that a sequence was unfolding. One never does. Afterward, it was clear how the moments piled up, each leading naturally to the next, quietly altering the course of things. (pg. 4 in arc)

The events to which twelve-year-old Agatha Morton is referring are those that have lead to the death of their neighbour, the cankerous Mrs. Irma Eversham, at the dance studio of her sister-in-law Miss Marianne Eversham.  It's 1903 Torquay, England and the murdered woman has been discovered by Aggie the morning after the "Befriend the Foreigners" recital aimed at collecting clothes for needy refugees and immigrants, many of whom have fled persecution, hunger and political turmoil. Among the recipients will be Agatha's new friend, Hector Perot, a Belgium boy with impeccable manners and a brain blistering with reasoning, who becomes her compatriot in sleuthing.

When it is discovered that Mrs. Eversham has been given rat poison, Agatha and Hector lead their own investigation, sometimes with the assistance of Aggie's Grannie Jane, to ascertain who had the opportunity and the motive to murder the prickly widow who'd tried to control her daughter Rose's social life and disapproved of her sister-in-law's efforts to help newcomers and get the vote for women. But what of Mr. Roddy Fusswell who was interested in Rose and whose hotel had provided food and dishes for the charity drive event? Or the reporter Mr. Augustus Fibbley who keeps popping up and getting Aggie to reveal what she has learned? There are so many potential suspects and players in this middle-grade mystery that it's helpful that Swiss artist Isabelle Follath provides illustrations of 16 characters, including Aggie's dog Tony.
From Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn, illus. by Isabelle Follath
If the reader is a fan of cozy mysteries, they will recognize the names of Agatha and Hector Perot and Grannie Jane as homage to writer Agatha Christie and her sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. But for our youngest readers for whom Agatha Christie is an unknown, author Marthe Jocelyn will snag them with an excellent murder puzzle and a host of rich characters in a unique historical context while introducing them to Christie through a detailed author's note and list of information sources. Aggie is a precocious child who is developing her investigative skills while she tries her hand at writing descriptions and scenarios that could become part of future books. She inserts herself into police investigations and processes what she sees and what she knows into a logical interpretation and ultimately a resolution that will amaze the professionals and dumbfound her family and others. As a reader, I am so pleased that Marthe Jocelyn chose to introduce us to her Aggie in the context of a soft whodunit–there is absolutely no violence to distract from the plot–and look forward, as we all should, to the series's second book, Peril at Owl Park, set for a fall 2020 release.

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