When Jason’s grandmother dies, he travels from Boston to St. Petersburg, Florida to help his father do whatever needs to be done. Funeral arrangements, house cleaning, house fix-ups, and eventually, house sale. Grandma’s death only heightens the stress between his father and mother, a relationship Jason fears is crumbling.
As Jason learns more about his grandmother, whom he never really got to know, he also learns more about his father’s history. The absent father. The hospitals. The fortune? How could these things not affect his father, and how could they not affect his parents’ relationship?
When Jason receives a mysterious phone call asking, “How smart are you?” and directing him to his grandmother’s desk, he discovers a postcard. It features the Hotel DeSoto, which his great-grandfather supposedly once owned. It’s blank, but upon further investigation, Jason notices some cryptic markings. Then Jason discovers an old magazine featuring a story by Emerson Beale. The story features a … postcard. And a woman named Marnie. His grandmother’s name was Agnes, but someone called her Marnie at the funeral.
Deciding it’s too much to be coincidence, Jason sneaks into the soon to be demolished Hotel DeSoto, following the clues left on the postcard, to find chapter 2 of Emerson Beal’s story. Soon the trail of clues leads to more story chapters, more family history, and more connections between the two.
The Postcard is a bit tidy the way all the clues and Jason’s good fortune seem to fall together, but Jason’s willingness to follow the clues makes it seem that his bold actions create his good fortune. A detective never gets any breaks if he doesn’t follow any leads in the first place, right?
Jason gets help with his family and literary mystery from Dia, a new friend from his grandmother’s neighborhood, who accompanies him on much of his search. When Jason gets frustrated, she encourages him to continue, sometimes simply through her eagerness and excitement.
Emerson Beal’s story is written in the book, so as Jason reads each chapter, so do readers. Jason discovers the first chapter in Bizarre Mysteries, a magazine from October 1944. The stories “were about kidnapping and murder, robbery and murder, robbery and kidnapping and murder, murder and murder, and just plain murder. And they were all written in rugged, tough-guy language.” I’m not an expert on the genre, but Tony Abbott does a good job of recreating it. I can see why kids of the 1940’s would be drawn to it, and why it probably would have caused the teachers and librarians of the time to make a face like they’d just smelt something disagreeable wafting from the mystery section. Readers will anticipate Emerson Beal’s next chapter as much as Jason does.
On A Personal Note:
What are the chances of this? Emerson Beal mentions “The Secret Order of Oobarab.” That name, coupled with descriptions of the more interesting members of the Order, led me to immediately predict what it took the characters 261 pages and Google to figure out. Of course, they didn’t have the fourth grade field trip experience that I’ve had here in central Wisconsin. Okay, that’s all I’ll say, but man, do I want to give it away. It seems nuts, but kids in Wisconsin may have a distinct advantage solving a piece of this mystery about a kid from Boston, Mass and his family in St. Petersburg, Florida.