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THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD LUCRETIA
By Susan Runholt
Viking, April 2008 ($16.99)
Ages 11 and up; 5th grade and up
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Ninth graders Kari Sundgren and her best friend Lucas Stickney just want to enjoy a day at the art gallery, but somehow they become involved with an international art crime. Kari begins the story, as her English teacher taught her, at the very beginning -- 6th century BCE Italy. A lady named Lucretia was married to a Roman soldier. While he was away, she was raped by a powerful man after she scorned his advances. Back then when that happened, women felt dishonored, as though they had done something wrong. Lucretia took her own life. Moving right along to the 16th century, a painter named Rembrandt, enthralled with her story, painted two portraits of Lucretia that are now worth millions of dollars. And that is why, says Kari, everything else happened.
The girls met in an art class when they were ten. Kariís dad is an artist, and she thought she had talent, until she saw Lucasís work. The girl was a genius! Lucas, who is a girl whose father wanted a boy, comes from what some would call a privileged background, but she might disagree. Her father is a mean-spirited lawyer, her mother a spoiled, self-absorbed Southern belle. At least her grandmother, a strong-willed activist, does love and support her, but she feels more at home in the modest abode Kari shares with her single mother.
When Kariís mom lands a job with a popular teen magazine that requires her to travel to Europe, the girls are thrilled. Their first trip comes soon after that fateful day when they visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see the two Lucretias, owned by different museums, exhibited together for the first time. They observe an odd, secretive gray-haired man copying one of the paintings. They name his The Gallery Guy, and promptly forget him, until he crosses their path again in the National Gallery in London. The girls are sure heís up to something illegal, and they combine their talents to find out what it is. They make a good team: Lucas has a photographic memory and an analytic brain, and Kari is creative, and daring. Their investigation takes them to other European cities, including the red light district of Amsterdam, a side trip Kariís mom does not at all approve of, and which almost proves fatal.
This is a great book for young readers. The characters are likable, quirky and funny. Kari provides bits of interesting history and art lore along the way, and there is plenty of detail about the cities and cultural aspects of the places they visit.
This title will be published in April, 2008 and is available for pre-order through online booksellers.
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