The Start of a Uniquely Appealing Interactive Middle Grade Mystery Series
The Secret of the Skeleton Key
by Penny Warner
Series: The Code Busters Club (Case #1)
Paperback Reprint: October 9, 2012
Original Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Egmont USA
Awards: Agatha Award Nominee, 2011
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Cody, Quinn, Luke, and M.E. may all have different talents, but they share one thing in common: they love playing around with codes. In fact, they love codes so much, they have their own club, with a secret hideout and passwords that change every day.
When Cody and Quinn notice strange symbols on the window of a nearby house (the one owned by the guy they call Skeleton Man), they think it might be a message meant for their club. And they’re right —it’s a cry for help!
Now the Code Busters are on the case—and nothing will stop them from solving a mystery that involves fire, ciphers, and a secret treasure. But can they put all the pieces together before it’s too late?
Can you crack the code? Test your brain with the Code Busters to see if you have the right stuff to be an ace detective. Answers are in the back, if you ever get stuck.
Over the next few days, I’m going to be reviewing the first four books in this series. And on Monday, when I review the newest release, I’ll be offering a giveaway of all four books (the first three in paperback and the latest in hardback). So be sure to come back!!
Have you ever wanted to be part of a secret club with secret passwords, code names, and your own hideout? Then you’ll feel right at home with Dakota “Cody” Jones and the rest of the Code Busters Club! Cody’s the new girl in town, having recently moved when her parents divorced. She’s still dealing with the big DIVORCE, so it helped when she found a coded invitation from Quinn, the club’s founder. Alongside Quinn and the other Code Busters, Luke and M.E., Cody exchanges secret coded messages and cracks codes and puzzles for fun. They’re all in the sixth grade, and Cody likes school, but she’d never admit to it! One night Quinn and Cody notice some strange happenings at a neighbor’s house. The next morning they awaken to find the neighbor’s house on fire, and suddenly their code busting is put to the test, and the stakes are higher than any game. This could mean the difference between life and death!
From the moment you crack the cover of The Secret of the Skeleton Key, it is clear you’re wading in different waters. You’ll feel you’ve been granted special access as you are greeted with the club rules and club dossiers that disclose the identities of all four members, as well as their code names, descriptions, special skills, and other privileged information. And once you reach the table of contents, it’s clear your active participation will not only be encouraged but required! Each chapter title, both in the table of contents and at each chapter heading, is encoded in pictorial American Sign Language finger spellings. So you’ll immediately be flipping to the indexed key at the back of the book and learning finger spelling on the fly in order to figure out what the first chapter will be all about. And trust me, it’s a challenge! But I can also say that by book’s end, you won’t need to reference the key to figure out which letter each pictogram represents. Instead, you’ll be reading the chapter headings like a pro — nearly instantly decoding them and diving into the text to uncover the next piece of the puzzle! Have a sheet of paper and a pencil handy! And you’ll want two bookmarks — one to mark your place in the story, and a second to track your progress with the keys and solutions. Yes, the answers are in the back, but you’ll have so much more fun if you work out the answers first and check the back only to verify whether you got them right!
While there are a lot of mystery/adventure books on the shelves right now, the Code Busters Club books are much more interactive than the others. From American Sign Language finger spellings to Morse Code, Caesar’s cipher, semaphore, and even braille, these are puzzles and codes kids CAN and WILL want to crack. Readers will be actively uncovering the clues with the fictional foursome, solving the puzzles with them each step of the way. And that’s half the fun! It’s more thrilling than a Choose Your Own Adventure style story, and definitely less frustrating because there won’t be any dead ends.
Without getting into spoilers, let me tell you a bit of what the book’s about. When Cody and Quinn witness a coded message on the neighbor’s door, the Code Busters Club becomes embroiled in a dangerous and potentially deadly mystery. And it will take all of their collective skills to crack the case! In so doing, they learn more about their neighbor and regret having referred to him Mr. Skelton as “the Skeleton Man”. Adults and older readers may recall Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird) when the kids’ new knowledge of their mysterious neighbor reveals a man who is decidedly less strange and threatening than they had previously assumed. So there’s a lesson waiting in between these pages. But, more than anything, there is a whole lot of challenging F-U-N! And I’m convinced that every kid who reads this series will be inspired to start his or her own secret club. As well as a feeling of accomplishment, readers will walk away equipped with a new set of skills and tools that they’ll find useful, if only to exchange information in a secret or stealthy way, be it passing notes at school or driving their little brothers or sisters mad!
— Dawn Teresa
4 of 5 Hearts. The Start of a Uniquely Appealing Interactive Middle Grade Mystery Series.
Opening The Secret of the Skeleton Key felt a bit like discovering a hidden, precious gem. Though, since this first book and the third installment were nominated for the Agatha Award, and the second casebook won that honor, I’m clueless as to why The Code Busters Club series isn’t more widely known.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Egmont USA for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”