“The driveway leading to the family home wound its way through a thick forest of tall hardwoods and then a large rolling field. Golden bales of freshl“The driveway leading to the family home wound its way through a thick forest of tall hardwoods and then a large rolling field. Golden bales of freshly cut hay peppered the landscape. On both sides of the road, a low-stacked stone wall corralled the vehicle as it sped toward the large brick Victorian resting at the edge of the pasture.” - from Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave
Letterford & Sons might not be the largest publishing house in the world, but it is widely considered to be the most prestigious. For over four hundred years the firm has passed from eldest son to eldest son, owned and controlled by one Letterford for the benefit of the entire family. The affable and scholarly Mull Letterford runs the firm currently and, though Mull is dedicated to the business and very good at what he does, the firm has recently been plagued by a series of bizarre accidents and unforeseen events which have threatened the bottom line. Now a distant cousin is launching a hostile takeover and Mull could lose control of the grand old firm forever.
Enter Mull's twelve-year-old daughter, Colophon. Exceedingly bright for her age and blessed with a mind for puzzles, Colophon is determined to keep her father where he belongs, at the head of Letterford & Sons. When her father's eccentric cousin Julian tells Colophon the tale of a long hidden family treasure, she decides to help him find it. A treasure will make it possible for her father to buy out the rest of the family and keep the publishing house in his hands. For his part, Julian is just odd enough to welcome the help of a mere school girl. He cares little for the value of the treasure, he just wants to prove that it exists. But dark forces are aligning against the mismatched duo - can they complete their quest before it's too late?
I've read a few critical reviews of this charming novel and I'll admit they have me puzzled. Some have said that it's unreasonable to believe that a mere girl could succeed where generations of her family's grown men have failed. Does Colophon unravel clues that have stumped adults for hundreds of years? Yes, of course she does. That's what happens in most middle grade mysteries. Nancy Drew, for instance, routinely proved more clever than the entire River Heights police force. What matters is that Colophon is likable, intelligent and devoted to her family - in short, a worthy successor to the likes of Nancy and Trixie Belden.
The characters are certainly a highlight here: Colophon, her studious father and sometimes jerky older brother (that pair have some hilarious adventures of their own), the disheveled Cousin Julian and the delightfully sinister Treemont . They all contribute to the mystery's clever plot. The real stars here, however, are the wonderful settings. From Le Mont Saint Michel in the prologue to the Letterford's grand ancestral London home in the ultimate chapter, every scene is lovingly described and brought to glorious life by Hicks' lively prose. The language is rich and always exactly right at all times and the quirky illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer enhance the story at every turn.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, the first book of the Letterford Mysteries and I await future installments in happy anticipation....more