A Strong Opening to an Appealing Middle Grade Mystery Series
The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit
by Octavia Spencer
Series: Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective (Book 1)
Publication Date: October 13, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Meet Randi Rhodes, the world’s first ninja detective! Mystery abounds in this delightful new middle grade series from Academy Award–winning actress Octavia Spencer.
Deer Creek is a small town whose only hope for survival is the success of their Founder’s Day Festival. But the festival’s main attraction, a time capsule that many people believe holds the town’s treasure, has gone missing.
Randi Rhodes and her best friend, D.C., are Bruce Lee–inspired ninjas and local detectives determined to solve the case. Even if it means investigating a haunted cabin and facing mean old Angus McCarthy, prime suspect.
They have three days to find the treasure…the future of their whole town is at stake! Will these kids be able to save the day?
Randi Rhodes doesn’t want to leave Brooklyn — the neighborhood needs her! Operating anonymously under the name Glenn Street (the fictional heroine of her father’s popular mystery series), she’s been solving crimes considered too petty for the police. As the book opens, we witness Randi on stakeout waiting to catch a garden thief in the act with a tulip-planted trap.
Randi’s mother has recently died. Life hasn’t been the same for her and her father who are both still clearly in mourning. Her dad’s stopped writing and has decided to replant the family in the small Tennessee town of Deer Creek. Trading the big city for a stick in the mud town leaves Randi feeling like her life is over. She soon learns, though, that this town also needs her investigative skills!
Octavia Spencer has created a spunky heroine in fiery redhead Randi, and assembled an agreeable cast of characters around her. This is another title for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Two of the supporting cast are Latino and African-American — Dario Cruz, who goes simply by “D.C.”, and the ironically named “Pudge” Taylor. The small-town setting is well conveyed with all the expected players present — the town gossip, the town sheriff (who happens to be female), and the town eccentric, Angus McCarthy. The novel is well paced, and the mystery unfolds naturally, with clues left for readers to follow and unravel alongside the fictional friends. Though I figured out a large chunk of the mystery, it’s sophisticated enough that kids aren’t likely to solve it prematurely.
As kids read along, they are encouraged to stop at certain places (or do it afterward) and flip to one of the eight appendices at the back to complete different “Ninja tasks”. These creative additions, that are sure to be a hit with kids, include things relevant to the story like instructions for conducting a stakeout, getting rid of skunk stink, and making caramel apples. I am reminded of the Curious George title I read as a child that came with instructions on how to make a boat out of folded paper that you could then sail in the sink or bathtub. So much pleasure can be derived from such a small task! And here at book’s end there are eight such pleasures awaiting!
Spencer injects just enough pathos into the story to lend depth without getting too sad or too “mushy” for kids. Randi is a generous heart and she finds that by helping someone else, she forgets her own troubles. At its core, this is a novel about family, friendship, and team-work.
— Dawn Teresa
4 of 5 Hearts. A Strong Opening to an Appealing Middle Grade Mystery Series.
Kids will get a kick out of this charming, fast-paced tale. The “Ninja tasks” are a unique addition that may inspire kids to do their own sleuthing. Engaging full page illustrations by cover artist Vivienne To bring the story to life. Recommended!