May 28, 2013
The Case of the Missing Deed
by Ellen Schwartz
Five cousins gather at their grandmother's cottage for their annual summer vacation. However, they find their grandmother in a severe depression. A mining company is threatening to seize her land unless she can provide proof of ownership. Her late husband, an eccentric puzzle-loving secret keeper, hid the deed somewhere and she can't find it. The cousins, ranging in age from 9 to 13, are determined to help her. They discover clues that their grandpa wrote onto old recipe cards, which should lead them to the deed.
The Case of the Missing Deed is a very wholesome, undemanding mystery. The clues are easily deciphered, except where code-breaking occurs. The author describes various codes that one of the cousins, Sébastien, tries to decipher, but the explanations tend to weigh down the narrative. Sébastien actually does most of the sleuthing, hindered at times by the others' skepticism. This is due to his paranoia and suspicion of nearly everybody close to his grandma. His sister, Geneviève, is his most vocal critic. She's supposed to be 13, but behaves and sounds a lot older. Boy crazy, she's immediately attracted to Shane, who's new in town. But that's about all we know about him. He appears so seldom, it's a wonder why Schwartz created him in the first place.
The other characters, Claire, Olivia, and Alex, aren't as clearly defined, but they do contribute in small ways. As for the villains, they're not very menacing or dangerous, so expect no violence or inappropriate behaviour.
Not the most satisfying of mysteries, the book is nonetheless a good way to pass a lazy summer day. Kids will be tempted to try out the many recipes.