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The Detective's Assistant

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,682 ratings  ·  327 reviews
The incredible tale of America's first ever female detective and her spirited niece!

Eleven-year-old Nell Warne arrives on her aunt's doorstep lugging a heavy sack of sorrows. If her Aunt Kate rejects her, it's the miserable Home for the Friendless.

Luckily, canny Nell makes herself indispensable to Aunt Kate...and not just by helping out with household chores. For Aunt Kate
Kindle Edition, 368 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,682 ratings  ·  327 reviews

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There are any number of reasons a book ends up on your to-be-read stack. In the case of one of my most recently read titles, a middle grade novel, it was first a reference made on social media about the illustrator creating the artwork for the dust jacket and interior images. This particular illustrator, John Hendrix, is respected for his signature depictions of history. His interpretations and details direct our attention to the most fascinating aspects.

When mystery, history, Chicago, and two
Lesley Burnap
Aug 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this story of an orphan finding refuge (and employment) w/ her last living relative. Not quite the story I thought I was going to read...this was more exciting & intense! With mysteries to unravel, including the biggest one about her uncle's death, 13 year old Nell learns the ins and outs of being a female detective by helping her "Aunt Kitty" solve several cases. I would recommend to some 3rds & older.

Also, I need to do some investigating of my own & learn more about Nell's "aunt", who w
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was okay. It was cool that it was based on a true story's about spying. I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in true story's. ...more
Jan 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked it because it was back then and everyone was once real but Nell. There was a lot of action which I really liked because those are my favorite types of genres. And I loved how they were in different places and wrote letters to each other.
Sandi Hudson
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cute little romp through some historical moments with a tween and her pickled onion aunt. Fun story for that age group but also just an escape read for adults in their lives that they can enjoy together.
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya
This is really more like a 3.5, as the plot/ characters are very strong, but the "mysteries" / cyphers themselves are incredibly weak. There is not enough challenge (rearranging letters?), and there is certainly some stretch to credulity that adults would put children at risk, as they do here, for the sake of "justice." But perhaps that is what is meant to be questioned: do the ends justify the means?

To that end, I am also struck by the cruelty of continuing to use the child for solving cases,
Quick witted orphan, Nell, helps her Aunt Kate, a Pinkerton Detective solve cases and capture evil doers. Based on the real female detective, Kate Warne, this is well researched historical fiction that tells a compelling story set in Baltimore and Philadelphia at the time of Lincoln's election. The story thread about the Underground Railroad as well as the mention of the Booth brothers add much to the historical backdrop to Nell's adventures as well as give a thoughtful foreshadowing of events t ...more
11-year-old Cornelia Warne of Chemung County, New York has been unceremoniously dumped on her Aunt Kitty in Chicago. Cornelia, now the only living member of her family, really wants to stay with her aunt (by marriage ) but Aunt Kitty (she prefers Kate) seems to dislike Cornelia. Ever since the night Cornelia's Daddy shot his brother, Kitty's husband, Kitty has had no contact with the Warne family and wants nothing to do with raising a child. She would prefer to dump Cornelia, now renamed Nell, o ...more
Rebecca Petruck
This is an empowering tale of a young teen and her aunt, inspired by the real Kate Warne, Pinkerton's first female detective, in the tumultuous days leading up to President Lincoln's inauguration. Hannigan deftly weaves in interesting facts about America's history when it was still young enough to have only 33 states! I loved spying those unique details, and the crafty adventures of sleuthing kept the action high and fun. ...more
Excellent middle grade historical fiction; great audio. Based on the real life Kate Warne, the first female detective at Pinkerton, with the added bonus of a fictional niece who is a master of disguise and detection. Plot lines tie to 1860s -- abolition, the Lincoln presidency and an assassination attempt (the "Baltimore Plot "). ...more
I had trouble with this book and debated between giving it two, and even sometimes one stars and four stars. So, I settled on a generous three.

On the one hand, I enjoyed the stories and adventures of the characters. I appreciated the setting in the mid-late 1800s in the U.S., an interesting time in their history. I also enjoyed that the author highlighted a character (Kate Warne) who was based on a real, intelligent, kick-ass woman who is worth noting. The addition of Nell and another female cha
Stephanie P (Because My Mother Read)
I listened to this one as an audiobook and the narrator did a really great with it! I loved the voice she used for Nelle and for all the different characters.

The story was very fun, fast-paced, and entertaining. Nelle is a loveable main character with all her sassiness, stubbornness, and cleverness. Her interactions with her aunt were very interesting to read.

I've been reading a lot more about Kate Warne (the first female detective) recently and I thought having a story told from the perspectiv
Ashleigh Rose
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so fun and so well done. I have not been on much of a historical fiction kick recently but this was such a fun jaunt back into the genre! Based off of the incredibly cool lives of detectives Pinkerton and Kate Warne - this book weaves together fiction and fat and social issues of the time in an informational and exciting way. Highly recommend!
Emily G
Jul 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very sweet book about family, history, and the power and courage of young women. Plus ciphers!
Jennifer Doyle
Read this aloud with Ainsley. We both really liked it and were surprised by the author's note at the end! ...more
Vanessa Linares
The book “The Detective’s Assistant” by Kate Hannihan is a good book but this book didn’t really caught my attention Because I love books that have exciting moments popping out, out of nowhere so you have to discover and find what’s happening, but my favorite thing about this book is that it’s about adventures. But other than that I would recommend this book.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great historical fiction about an interesting woman detective in the 1800's. The "assistant" is fictional . The historical notes at the end are worth reading and very interesting! Well researched. I enjoyed this and will recommend it to elementary school readers. ...more
Ben Langhinrichs
When eleven year old Nell Warne is dropped off at her Aunt Kitty's door not long before the Civil War, she is not wanted and not welcome. Kate thinks she has no use for the girl, but Nell's indomitable spirit, clever mind and dare devil attitude soon prove to her aunt that there is more to the girl than meets the eye, as Nell helps with some of the dangerous and tricky cases her aunt has to solve. Because Kate Warne is a detective with Pinkertons, and they are called to solve jewel heists and mu ...more
Mary Louise Sanchez
It's 1859 and eleven-year-old Cornelia Warne, now an orphan, arrives in Chicago to stay with her only living relative--her estranged Aunt Kitty, who is not happy to see her husband's niece. Aunt Kitty believes Cornelia's father killed his brother (her husband).

Cornelia dies everything she can to try to win over her aunt by helping out in the boarding house and soon Aunt Kitty comes to rely on Cornelia (now Nell) too in the detective business she's involved in. Nell wears disguises and even watc
I would like to rate this 3.5 stars. I absolutely loved how Kate Hannigan tied this novel to actual historical facts and she did a great job explaining it in the "Author's Note" at the end of the novel. Her use of ciphers throughout the text added a complexity to the story which was great. The only downside which turned me off was the constant bickering between Nell and her Aunt Kate throughout the book. This made it difficult for me to identify with them and slowed the pace of the book for me. ...more
Liam Walsh
Jan 23, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so great -- how can you resist that cover?! It's narrated in first person by rough-around-the-edges Nell, whose voice and personality make the book an irresistible page-turner on their own. (Sometimes she reminds me of Maddie from True Grit, which I adore.) The history and research is cleverly integrated into the plot, not just squeezed in, and the plot is fast moving. I'd just abandoned an adult thriller as too dull and badly written (okay, it was Everything to Lose, by Andrew Gros ...more
A solid mystery/historical fiction story set right before the beginning of the Civil War. I loved that Hannigan used a real life female detective, Kate Warne, to frame her story. Both Kate and Nell, our protagonist, are strong, stubborn, great characters. Historical fiction can be a tough sell to kids, but I think the fact that this is based around a real woman will make a lot of kids intrigued to read it.
Cara Schaffer
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished The Detective's Assistant. Interesting! It can serve as Historical fiction. The main character was really the first woman detective. It takes place during the 1800's and talks about the Underground Railroad and Abe Lincoln. It would be great in a 4-6th grade classroom!! ...more
Lori Rader-Day
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Great adventure tale starring a brave GIRL. Who wanted to be a detective when they were Nell's age? ME. ...more
Melissa ONeal
Jul 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-grades
Such a delightful, fast-paced read full of mystery, intrigue, and bravery!
This is a fun historical fiction mystery/adventure for middle grade kids. A great nonfiction companion would be Lincoln's Spymaster (Allan Pinkerton bio). ...more
Jenn Bishop
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my very favorite historical MGs. I love Nell!
Belles Middle Grade Library
Finished this earlier, & I LOVED it! It is inspired by the real life Kate Warne-the First female detective in the US. The real Pinkerton detective agency, & some of their cases, including where they saved/protected President Lincoln. The niece in the story is fictional. History was my favorite subject, so I ate this book up! Also, y’all know I love my detective MGs. This book was amazing. I’m from the south so I knew a lot of the other history going on during this time-it was drilled into us. -B ...more
In 1860, Cornelia Warne, age 12 (I think), has lost her parents and brothers one after the other. Her only remaining relative is an aunt by marriage; widow of her father's brother. When the powers that be track "Aunt Kitty"--Kate Warne--down in Chicago, the absolute last thing she wants is a niece and a burden, especially when she blames Nell's father for the death of her (Kate's) husband. She makes it clear to Nell that she's extremely unwanted, but Nell, knowing the alternative is an orphanage ...more
Sep 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you know labor history and you support unions, you'll hate the name "Pinkerton." In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the capitalists hired Pinkertons to spy on union organizers and break strikes, and the Pinkertons killed and were killed in the process. Oddly, though Scotsman Allan PInkerton hated unions, he was also an abolitionist who gave money and supplies to John Brown and harbored escaped slaves in the Underground Railroad when they reached Chicago. His agency, unlike others at th ...more
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