by Sheila Turnage
First sentence: “Desperado Detective Agency’s second big case snuck up on Dale and me at the end of summer, dressed in the happy-go-lucky colors and excitement of an auction.”
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Others in the series: Three Times Lucky
Content: There may be a few instances of mild swearing (but I really don’t think so), and some talk of abuse, and another (potential) murder. But it really is innocent and happily belongs in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.
Every once in a while, a series of books captures my fancy so completely that I fall head-over-heels in love with the characters. The Casson family books are that way. As is My Most Excellent Year. I’m adding the Tupelo Landing books to that list. I adore the town, even with all its quirks, and the people in it. I want to live next door and enjoy them every day.
This installment picks up as the school year is starting, and Mo and Dale are about to enter sixth grade. This is a good time as any: one of the amazing things about this book is that while it is a sequel, it really does stand on its own. Turnage works in the story from Three Times Lucky as you go along, in ways — like press releases or newspaper clippings or just dropped comments — that don’t stop the narration of the current story. It was lovely to get a refresher while being immediately immersed in the new story.
The case that the Desperado Detective Agency is working on this time is a good old-fashioned Haunting. Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy bought the old inn at an auction, mostly because they didn’t like the look of the “city” woman (whom Mo less-than-affectionately calls “Rat Face”) who was bidding on the property. They didn’t want her to come in, tear the dilapidated inn down, and put up condos in place. Unfortunately, buying an inn to renovate and then renovating it — especially when there’s a bona fide ghost lurking about — are two different things.
Mo and Dale get involved because of a history assignment. They’re supposed to interview one of the town “elders”, and Mo’s nemesis, Anna (whom Mo less-than-affectionately calls “Attila”) nabs Grandmother Miss Lacy first. So, Mo — in a fit of pique — says they’re going to interview the inn’s ghost. That sets them to unraveling a 60-year-old mystery of how a girl — one of Grandmother Miss Lacy’s best friends — met her death.
The only real criticism I have of this book is that all the conflict seems a little contrived. The outside city girl just lurks in the background being uptight, and the new character, Harm Cremshaw, turns out to have more bark than bite. Even the resident town grump, Red Baker, turns out to be mostly harmless. That said, I’m not reading these books for the conflict. Or even for the mystery. (Or the ghost story in this case, though it’s so slight, I’m not really considering this as a “speculative fiction” though it probably is.) No, I read this because I love the characters — Mo’s spunk and observations; Dale’s adorable cluelessness, Miss Lana’s optimism, the Colonel’s stoic nature — and I love the way Turnage writes them.
And that’s why you should be reading these as well.