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A Herculeah Jones Mystery
By Betsy Byars

Puffin/Sleuth (Penguin Young Readers Group), 2006 ($5.99)
ISBN: 0-14-240593-0
Ages 8 and up

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

At first Herculeah Jones is wary of her neighbor, the fortune teller Madame Rosa, but after "parrot sitting" for her parrot, Tarot, she gets to know and like the woman. When she looks out her window and sees Tarot outside the house, with the door wide open, Herculeah knows something is wrong. When she takes Tarot inside and sees signs of a struggle, her hair begins to frizz, a sure sign that danger is near. She then makes a grim discovery, and she frantically calls her father, a police detective, for help.

Nobody seems to care much about what happened to Madame Rosa, who had no close family or friends, so Herculeah decides to solve the crime, with help from her buddy Meat. Meat’s mother warns the kids to have nothing to do with the subject. She hates the woman for something she’d told Meat about his father, who’d disappeared from his life when he was an infant. This book reveals more about Meat, who desperately misses his father and envies Herculeah her relationship with her dad. He also hates clowns and mimes, and, strangely enough, there is a mime in the neighborhood who is always popping up and scaring him when he least expects it.

Herculeah and Meat are likable sleuths. Kids will get a shiver or two out of the mystery and the various creepy suspects, but it’s not too frightening for any but the youngest readers.

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