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By Eric Berlin

G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Division of Penguin Young Reader’s Group), 2007 ($16.99)
ISBN-10: 0399246932
ISBN-13: 0-978-399-24693-7
Ages 9-12

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Winston Breen loves puzzles, all kinds of puzzles, and he’s a whiz at solving them. When his sister Katie finds a false bottom in the antique box he gives her for her tenth birthday, however, he is as puzzled as everyone else at the party about the contents hidden there. What do the words printed on the four wooden sticks mean, and who put them there? Each party goer has a theory, and all of them are ridiculous. Katie proclaims that she is the owner of the pieces and she and her friends will solve the puzzle. When Winston objects, their parents tell Katie she has to share.

Winston bought the box at Penrose’s Curio Shop, and he suspects Mr. Penrose, who loves a good puzzle, put the sticks in the box as a challenge to him. Mr. Penrose denies doing so, and Winston’s buddies also claim to have no knowledge about it. The box belonged to Livia Little, a daughter of a local businessman, Walter Fredericks. Livia had recently passed away, and Mr. Penrose bought several items from her estate. Mr. Penrose tells Winston he should talk to the town librarian, Mrs. Lewis, Livia’s sister, and he and his friends do so. When Mrs. Lewis sees the puzzle sticks, however, she has a violent reaction that has the boys fleeing in panic.

The plot thickens when two strangers separately approach Winston, offering to join forces with him and Katie to find a treasure. Mrs. Lewis comes to Winston’s home to apologize and explain her strange behavior, and to throw in her four sticks to find something she’d never cared about finding before. For her own protection she brings along her neighbor, ex-policeman Ray Marietta. The oddly-assorted group attempt, more or less, to work together to solve the mystery.

This is a clever book, and Berlin sprinkles plenty of puzzles, brainteasers and word games into the mix to add to the fun. Young readers should have a good time with Winston and his gang.

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