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By Barrie Summy

Random House Children's Books, 2008 ($6.99)
ISBN-10: 0385736037
ISBN-13: 978-0-385-73603-9
Ages 10 and up

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Sherry (short for Sherlock Holmes) Baldwin is a typical thirteen-year-old girl, longing for her own cell phone, clamoring for the right to wear makeup, and wanting desperately for the most handsome boy in school, Josh Morton, to notice her. Her mother was a policewoman, killed during a drug bust several months ago, and while Sherry misses her, well, she resents her too. Mom was so focused on her job that she didn't have much time to devote to Sherry and her little brother. Sherry has a stubborn streak, is resistant to change, backs off from challenges, and is mortified and incensed that her dad is getting remarried — to a teacher at her school who is so strict and unbending she is called The Ruler.

If that's not bad enough, while her dad and The Ruler are on their Hawaiian honeymoon, her little brother Sam gets to stay in Arizona with their grandmother, while he's shipping Sherry off to a great-aunt in San Diego that she barely knows. The only saving grace is that he allows her to take her BFF Junie along. Even that is not without strings — Junie's seventeen-year-old cousin Amber, an airhead boy magnet, is coming too. At least she has a driver's license. That comes in handy when they arrive in San Diego and find out Great Aunt Margaret will be staying with a sick friend, leaving the girls on their own for several days.

Sherry needs transportation because she has been given a mission by her mother. Yes, the dead mother. Just before the trip, Sherry was pouting in her favorite secret hiding place, a big tree in the back yard, looking at an old mangy cactus wren who was giving her the beady eye, when she smells coffee, the tree branches started swaying and her mother spoke to her. Needless to say, that was a major shock. Mom explained that when she died she was given a choice. She could cross over immediately, reincarnate in a different form, or join the Academy of Spirits, an organization of former law enforcement members who watched over particular people or situations back on earth. Mom chose the Academy so she could watch over Sherry and Sam. She apologized for not being there in life when they needed her, and said she wants to make it up to them. There is one problem, though. Despite her background in crime solving, she's about to wash out of the academy. She needs Sherry's help to solve a mystery involving potential rhinoceros slaughter, and the rhinos who need saving are in an animal park in San Diego. Sherry stalls, saying she's just a kid, she doesn't DO mysteries. Her mom tells her she needs to have more confidence and stop backing down from challenges. Reluctantly, Sherry agrees. There is one rule, one thing she must never do: never tell anybody about this. If she does, there will be dire consequences for Sherry and her mother.

After having a meltdown at her dad's wedding, Junie tries to calm Sherry down and comfort her, and, well, they've never kept secrets, so she tells Junie about Mom. Surely her BFF will understand, and help solve the mystery. Won't she? She won't. She thinks Sherry's gone off the deep end. Oh well, they're staying in a luxury condo on the beach near the historic Coronado Hotel, there's a movie being filmed, the Ruler gave her a cell phone as a bridesmaid present, and Josh just happens to come to San Diego to visit family and asks her to hang out with him.

Mom is distraught when Sherry tells her she spilled the beans to Junie. That means they cannot get help from Mom's study group, so Sherry, Mom and Grandpa, in the form of the beady-eyed cactus wren, are on their own. So be it. With a little unexpected help from her friends, Sherry and Mom face the challenges and all turns out well. With her mom being a police officer, one might think she would tell her daughter to ask for help from the police once she'd discovered the identity of the criminal and the time and place of the crime, instead of telling her to dial 911 after she caught the culprit, but that would have taken all the danger out of it, right?

This is the first in a series, and even though I'm not the intended audience, I enjoyed it and think the younger readers will too.

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